The Role Of Culture (And Creativity) In Realizing Sustainable Development

Culture, like a sleeping giant, can be awakened to address the most pressing social and economic concerns.

learn more about Dr. Naïma Chikhi

By Dr. Naïma Chikhi • Nov 29, 2022

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Today, halfway through the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, we are facing emergencies that we can no longer afford to ignore. Climate crisis, pandemics, economic turmoils, and rising inequalities are forcing us to confront this harsh reality.

These struggles require innovative responses that include all sectors of the economy, and encompass our whole society. But to bring about effective solutions, we need a diversity of actors, resources, and tools that have the power to unleash our collective imagination, and to strengthen communities in common efforts.

And this is where culture and creativity come into play. Too often, we forget their great potential, their ability to help us -always- to understand the complex realities that we experience. The contribution of culture in various areas of society and other sectors is not always correctly and structurally recognized. And this lack of recognition, in turn, affects the sustainability of the cultural and creative sectors, like a snake that bites its tail. Yet, these sectors provide us with tools to design more sustainable ways of living together.

Today, while continuing policies and reviewing actions undertaken to meet the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development (and hope to fill the gaps), an open and horizontal dialogue between civil society and decision-maker policies is needed. We must rethink together the position of culture in national and international agendas to consolidate fragile sectors- the real breeding grounds for innovation.

No one can deny that the COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the ways most countries fail to value artists and creatives as essential to culture. The sad feeling that culture itself is not considered essential to social and economic prosperity is still present. Unfortunately, this observation is still relevant in too many countries.

Related: A Leadership Roadmap for Sustainability Success

However, given the vital contribution of artists, cultural sector workers, and associations in advancing the theme of sustainability, it is essential to integrate their perspectives into this important debate. Civil society plays a role in the multi-stakeholder approach required for participatory governance of culture. It is essential to bring decision-makers and civil society together for a productive dialogue, based on the common desire to build a better world for all. Together, we must analyze disparities and how they are embedded in policies, cultural practices, mindsets, values, and international relations.

However, some worlds seem to want to anchor themselves eternally in an opposition that it is high time to overcome. Besides, we are running out of time. Whether from the global to the local, from the city to the suburbs, there is a systematic undervaluation of communities that find themselves marginalized, because they are simply a minority. In this multi-crisis context, inaction is no longer an option.

Related: Surviving The Art World During A Crisis: A Crash Course For The Art Entrepreneur

In order to build a more sustainable world, there is an urgent need to rethink the dominant narratives that define access to resources, decision-making, and visibility in the cultural sector. This process must place local populations and communities at the heart of national cultural policies. Tourism must be handled by policies that perceive culture as a resource not only of, but also for local communities.

We can't wait to rethink the ways institutions create, program, and curate their content. By doing so, we will have the opportunity to change cultural codes and include underrepresented voices. There is also a need to support and promote small -emerging or traditional- artistic disciplines, cultural practices, and sub-sectors, including in rural and remote areas. These actions are not to be opposed to those of popular culture and institutions based in large cities. But it is a question here of complementarity, and this balance must be reflected in the education systems, the financing systems, and the programming strategies.

Culture, like a sleeping giant, can be awakened to address the most pressing social and economic concerns. Its strength goes far beyond the production of powerful works of art alerting us to the dangers that await us, or even the creation of employment and the growth in gross domestic product that comes along. There is, in fact, a whole range of possibilities to consider without delay. The potential is limitless if you bother to even consider it.

A new paradigm is thus necessary, and it must be inspired by a sustainable reflection at each level. Only then will a continuity of practices and policies designed for the good of all be ensured.

Related: The Arts Supported Us During The COVID-19 Crisis- Now, We Need To Make Sure We Return The Favor

Dr. Naïma Chikhi

Researcher, Sorbonne University in Paris, and Lecturer, Sorbonne University Abu Dhabi

Dr. Naïma Chikhi is a researcher at Sorbonne University in Paris, and a lecturer at Sorbonne University Abu Dhabi. Her areas of expertise include cultural policies in the Arab region, public diplomacy, and cultural management. She has worked for international organizations, governments, and philanthropic institutions in the US, GCC, North Africa, and Europe, where she is currently based.

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