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The UNESCO Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions: Bold new instrument or just another document?

 

One of the key clauses adopted as part of this Convention (certainly from the perspective of the so-called developing world) is Article 18 which establishes an International Fund for Cultural Diversity.  Parties to the Convention are invited to “provide voluntary contributions on a regular basis towards the implementation of this Convention”, with such a Fund potentially playing a major role in investing in the development of the creative industries in the south, and providing access to markets in the global north.

 

Yet, since the adoption of the Convention in 2005 and notwithstanding the list of signatories which now stands at one short of 100, in the last four years, only 14 countries have contributed towards this Fund, with the total contributions being a paltry US$1 321 145.10 - probably less than the catering bill of the meeting at which the Convention was adopted!

While many countries may have bilateral relationships and probably believe that their funds can be more efficiently invested through such bilateral relationships, the insignificance of this fund at the moment calls into question the political commitment and political will of the signatories which raises the further question: is the Convention doomed to suffer the same toothless fate as numerous other international instruments?  

Below, is an imaginary cabinet meeting in the north – a sketch which I penned for the publication After the Crunch, a collection of articles on the potential impact of the economic recession on the creative sector. 

 

A CABINET MEETING, SOMEWHERE IN EUROPE…..

 

Finance Minister:   

So then, to conclude this item gentlemen…and ladies…it is likely that we will

be in recession for the next five quarters.  We are all going to have to tighten

our belts a lot more.  Every department is going to have a budget cut in the

next financial year.  Except Defence, of course.  Thank you.

 

Prime Minister:       

That’s not exactly what we wanted to hear.  And with an election due in eleven

months, this is a rather frightening forecast.  At the end of this meeting, we’ll

set up a cabinet subcommittee to look into this matter of the elections and the

recession.  So, moving along, the next item on the agenda is our contribution

to the International Fund for Cultural Diversity….

 

Arts Minister:          

(clearing his throat, embarrassed) Er, yes, that’s me.

 

Finance Minister:   

Why’s this even on the agenda?

 

Arts Minister:          

Well, we…er…signed the UNESCO Convention on the Protection and

Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions…

 

Sports Minister:     

(drily) That’s a bloody long name for a Convention….

 

Prime Minister:       

Well, it is UNESCO….(general laughter) What’s the connection to this

International Fund?

 

Arts Minister:          

All signatories - especially in the developed world – commit themselves to

contributing to an International Fund to help grow the creative industries of the

third world….

 

Finance Minister:   

(sighs) More handouts…

 

Prime Minister:       

Who else signed?

 

Arts Minister:          

Everyone…except the US…

 

Environment Min:  

They never sign anything…..

 

Arts Minister:          

And Israel.

 

Defence Minister:  

Good for them!

 

Arts Minister:          

That was in George’s time.  Obama has included an allocation to the arts as

part of his stimulus package.

 

Finance Minister:   

Well, maybe superman Obama gets some things wrong!

 

Defence Minister:  

You can take the African out of Africa…but can you take Africa out of the

African?

 

Finance Minister:   

Well, clearly, we can’t make any contribution now….

 

Arts Minister:          

We signed this two years ago…our contribution’s due…

 

Finance Minister:   

(irritated) With all due respect, the world economy is in recession.  It is not

exactly the time to be throwing money at non-essentials like the arts.  And

especially in developing countries like Africa which are a huge black hole

anyway…(laughs) if you’ll excuse the pun.

 

Trade Minister:       

If I may come in here…trade in cultural goods and services has actually been

among the most dynamic sectors in global trade in the last decade.

 

Prime Minister:       

Really?

 

Trade Minister:       

I’ve got the figures right here. The average annual growth rate in this sector

was close to 9% from 2000-2005.  In 2003, the turnover of European creative

industries was 654 billion Euros, and employed more than 5,6 million people.

 

Arts Minister:          

Even in the developing world, exports of creative goods grew from $51 billion

in 1996 to $274 billion by 2005.

 

Finance Minister:   

So why do we need to contribute to a global Fund?  They seem to be doing

okay….

 

Arts Minister:          

Because most developing countries are not yet operating anywhere near their

potential in this regard.  They need investment, expertise, expansion of

markets….

 

Finance Minister:   

(cutting in) We’re cutting the budgets for our own opera and ballet companies. 

How are we going to explain to them that we’re supporting music and dance

in…in…Timbuktu?

 

Foreign Minister:   

The annual budget for our national opera is probably more than the total arts

and culture budget of Mali…        

 

Finance Minister:   

What does Mali have to do with this?

 

Foreign Minister:   

It’s where Timbuktu is…

 

Finance Minister:   

Oh…

 

Arts Minister:          

And Mali has a very significant music industry.  Which could do even better

with a bit of help.

 

Finance Minister:   

Why would we want to help them?  At a time like this we should be looking

after our own, surely!

 

Prime Minister:       

Especially with an election coming up!

 

Defence Minister:  

That’s the bottom line, isn’t it?  How is the Mali music industry going to secure

our seats – not just in this Cabinet – but in Parliament?

 

Arts Minister:          

May I remind you that this Cabinet took a decision a few years ago to support

cultural diversity as a key component of our security strategy?

 

Defence Minister:  

I was against it then, I’m against it now.

 

Arts Minister:          

Maybe.  But most of us agreed that in a post-9/11 world, and after the London

bus bombings, we need to place more emphasis on building a multi-cultural

society and a multi-cultural world.

 

Defence Minister:  

I still think it’s bollocks.  You don’t see Israel signing cultural diversity

agreements to ensure its security.  It invests in the hardware they need to

protect themselves!  And then they use it!  None of this limp-wristed soft

power, cultural diversity crap!

 

Home Affairs Min:  

For me, the question is…even if we have the funds to invest in the developing

world…are the creative industries the place to be doing this?  It’s a key part of

our strategy to invest in the developing world to provide their people with jobs

there, so that we wouldn’t face this wave of immigration, which creates this

diversity issues, and with these, the security problems.          

 

Prime Minister:       

This is getting more complicated….

 

Sports Minister:     

Let’s set up a Cabinet subcommittee to look at it….then the rest of us can get

a drink.

 

Prime Minister:       

(ignoring the Sports Minister as usual) As I understand it, there are three

issues here.  The first is about cultural diversity in terms of global trade in

cultural goods and services.  And it seems as if trade in this area could help to

stimulate the economy. 

 

Trade Minister:       

Correct.

 

Prime Minister:       

The second issue is about cultural diversity as a security issue…assimilating

migrant communities into our way of life and value system so that they don’t

plant bombs and do other nasty things…

 

Defence Minister:  

I say bomb them back!

 

Prime Minister:       

And the third issue is about creating jobs in the developing world to counter

the wave of economic migrants to our shores….

 

Home Affairs:         

That’s right.

 

Prime Minister:       

We can’t fund all of these like we used to, or maybe like we would like to.  So

the question is…what are our priorities?

 

Defence Minister:  

Security.  Definitely security.

 

Finance Minister:   

It has to be the economy.  Without a strong economy, our security is

vulnerable.

 

Arts Minister:          

We’re vulnerable anyway….unless we deal with issues of cultural diversity.

 

Prime Minister:       

(impatiently) We’re going around in circles….

 

Sports Minister:     

Can we take a comfort break?

 

Still continuing…..

 

One of the roundtables at the forthcoming World Summit on Arts and Culture will deal with the Convention.  As with many such instruments, the challenge is to civil society to use it for advocacy purposes, to act in terms of its Articles, and to prevent the Convention from being just another collection of good intentions.

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