Culture as a “global public good”: MONDIACULT 2022

Just as a new international consensus was being struck that reaffirmed culture as a “global public good,” the Russian president delivered a “lunatic” speech, railing against the “satanic” culture in which he forcibly annexes Ukrainian territory.

The historic “Declaration on Culture” unanimously adopted by 150 UNESCO member states was followed by a declaration by 55 states calls for the immediate withdrawal of Russia from Ukraine. When Russia responded, there was a mass exodus of the assembled delegates, including Australia, captured here by the UN Special Rapporteur on Cultural Rights.

It is the greatest contrast that reflects the circumstances of the founding of UNESCO: The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization was founded in 1945 because “to achieve lasting peace, economic and political agreements between states are not sufficient. We must bring people together and strengthen the intellectual and moral solidarity of humanity through mutual understanding and dialogue between cultures.”

What is MONDIACULT and what has it achieved?

Convened for the first time in forty years, MONDIACULT is UNESCO’s World Cultural Conference. 2,600 participants gathered in Mexico for three days at the end of September, with 150 states represented – and in the case of 135 of them by their ministers, reflecting the great importance of this meeting.

The declaration on culture is the first confirmation that culture is a “global public good” that should be included “as a specific goal in its own right” in the next United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

The explanation:

  • outlines the common political, social, equitable and environmental concerns – as well as concerns about the vulnerability of the cultural sector and the precarious work of artists – that give this moment a “new impetus” for culture-centricity;
  • advocates “a systemic anchoring of culture in public policy” and “the integration of cultural heritage and creativity in international discussions on climate change”;
  • Presents a set of cultural rights that should be incorporated into public policy, including the rights of indigenous communities to protect and transmit ancestral knowledge, the social and economic rights of artists, the protection and promotion of cultural and natural heritage and the right to artistic freedom;
  • Calls for comprehensive regulation of the digital sector to safeguard cultural diversity, intellectual property rights of artists and fair access for all, given the “deepening inequalities in the global exchange of cultural goods and services, in particular due to the unequal concentration of global cultural platforms”;
  • supports “the development of a revised UNESCO framework for cultural and artistic education”;
  • commits to ‘fighting illicit trafficking in cultural property’ through increased cooperation between cultural and law enforcement agencies, and calls on UNESCO to step up its own efforts;
  • Committed to promoting “an enabling environment … to building a fairer and fairer world and reducing inequalities”.

Once considered a far-fetched dream, said UNESCOa unanimous agreement by all states “has now become a reality”.

What role did the Australians play?

Magdalena Moreno Mujica lives in Australia and is Executive Director of the International Federation of Arts Councils and Culture Agencies (IFACCA). She is the former Head of International Affairs at the National Council for Culture and Arts in Chile.

At MONDIACULT, Moreno Mujica warned that there is no future for the creative industries without urgently addressing the injustices that are now apparent fault lines around the world.

“We need to recognize the uniqueness of cultural sectors and the atypical nature of their work, understand the complexity and differences,” Moreno Mujica told ArtsHub, “and we need to support them appropriately. How do we do that? We have to work together.”

Immediately prior to MONDIACULT, IFACCA held its General Assembly, followed by an In-Focus Dialogue titled Who can afford to work in art? The discussions were supplemented by the IFACCA dossier for MONDIACULT entitled “ Symbolic Recognition to Tangible Recognition: Ways to Harness the Culture’s Values. The crisis that the world’s cultural industries are going through due to conflict, the pandemic and climate change, as well as the precarious conditions artists and cultural workers are facing, has been heavily emphasized.

Australia was represented by Ann Campton, First Assistant Secretary, Office for the Arts, and for the duration of MONDIACULT representing Arts Minister Tony Burke. The Australia Council was represented by CEO Adrian Collette AM, who is also a member of the IFACCA Board.

What’s next? How is the declaration implemented?

The Culture Declaration provides a new policy framework for world governments and advocacy frameworks for civil society organizations.

Instant results were shared social media – including the Commitment of the Zimbabwean government Eliminate tariffs and tariffs on film and music equipment for three years from 2023.

This was announced by the European Union an investment of 5 million euros in the EU-UNESCO Expert Facility in the field of cultureSupporting the work needed to develop the concrete cultural goals that meet the Declaration’s call for culture and cultural diversity to be at the heart of the Sustainable Development Goals.

UNESCO has also announced that, as a result of MONDIACULT, it will organize a World Cultural Policy Forum every four years, the key debates of which will be informed by a World Cultural Policy Report prepared by UNESCO.

IFACCA will now get to work analyzing the Culture Statement to produce briefing notes for members on the impact on artists, the cultural sector, governments and civil society. Determining how best to put the Declaration into action – and maintaining that global consensus – will also be a focus of discussion at next May’s IFACCA World Summit in Stockholm.

All of this is timely work for Australia, where the focus is on finalizing national cultural policy. A global consensus on culture as a public good strengthens this work: it avoids economic and other justifications and inspires the expectation that politics will effectively put culture at the center.

However, how this could be implemented in our local political context is a complex undertaking that depends on all of us.

The UNESCO MONDIACULT World Conference 2022 was hosted by the Mexican government on September 28-30, 2022.

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