Artistic Freedom & Creativity Key for Sustainable Development – Irina Bokova with Nordic Culture Ministers

Cultural policies which ensure freedom of expression and promote creativity are essential for a country's long-term development. This was the main theme of a debate on 2 May, between UNESCO’s Director-General, Irina Bokova and six Nordic culture ministers, marking the start of this year’s World Press Freedom Day events in Helsinki, Finland.

Held at the National Museum, the High Level Debate was led by the Nordic Council of Ministers on the theme of ‘Re-shaping Cultural Policies for development, Promoting Diversity of Cultural Expressions and Artistic Freedom in a Digital Age.’

"Culture is an essential part of sustainable development," said Ms Tarja Halonen, President, Chair of Finnish National Gallery, in her Keynote speech, underlining the importance of gender equality to reshape cultural policies.

Moderated by Jussi-Pekka Rantanen, Senior News Presenter and Producer, Finnish Broadcasting Company, the debate featured a lively discussion between Irina Bokova, Sanni Grahn-Laasonen, Minister of Education and Culture, Finland, Alice Bah Kuhnke, Minister of Culture and Democracy, Sweden, Linda Hofstad Helleland, Minister of Culture, Norway, Bertel Haarder, Minister of Culture, Denmark, and Illugi Gunnarsson, Minister of Education, Science and Culture, Iceland -- including also a comment from Minister of Culture Rigmor Dam, Faroe Islands, representing the Ministers of Culture of the three autonomous Nordic areas Greenland, Faroe Islands and Åland.

“I thank the Nordic Council of Ministers for this initiative – and, for linking this debate with the celebrations of World Press Freedom Day,” said the Director-General.  

“This is important and innovative, reflecting the deep commitment of the Governments and societies of the Nordic Council of Ministers to promote cultural diversity, creativity and freedom of expression, as essential pillars of healthy, open and dynamic societies.”

UNESCO’s 2005 Convention on the Protection and the Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions underscores human rights and fundamental freedoms of expression, information and communication and the right of governments to implement policies that support creativity and artistic freedom. Indeed the cultural and creative industries have a dual economic and  cultural value that have a significant role to play in contributing towards the global economy and in building tolerant societies.

Remarks during the high level debate in Helsinki centred on better integration of culture in national development policies and in international development assistance programmes in line with the new 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda, adopted by UN Member States in 2015. 

In support of the 2030 agenda, UNESCO’s global report Re|Shaping Cultural Policies, funded by the Swedish Government, showcases the contribution of freedom of expression through the creative industries, such as film, music, art, performance and media, and shows how this supports the development of countries around the world. It is the first report to begin monitoring the impact of the 2005 Convention, a decade after its adoption.

Cultural and creative industries represent one of the most rapidly expanding sectors in the global economy with a growth rate of 17.6 % in the Middle East, 13.9 % in Africa, 11.9 % in South America, 9.7 % in Asia, 6.9 % in Oceania, and 4.3 % in North and Central America.

All of the Nordic countries taking part in the debate have ratified the 2005 Convention which guides states on how to introduce better cultural policies to protect and promote the work of creative and media professionals.

The Swedish Minister, Alice Bah Kunhnke, was clear: "ratification is one thing, now we need to implement the Convention fully."

With an increasing number of attacks on artists reported in 2015, moderator and journalist with the Finnish Broadcasting Company YLE, Jussi-Pekka Rantanen, called on the ministers to share their priorities on the protection of artistic freedom.

The discussion focused on the power of the diversity of cultural expressions for human rights and dignity, for jobs and revenue, as well as for gender equality. This is how culture drives forward and enables pathways to more inclusive and sustainable development -- notably for developing countries -- to take forward the 2030 Agenda.

On the occasion of the roundtable, the Nordic Ministers of Culture issued the Declaration on Promoting Diversity of Cultural Expressions and Artistic Freedom in a Digital Age. This Declaration calls upon the international community, in particular, to enhance global monitoring in areas such as artistic freedom, gender equality, civil society participation and challenges of the digital age.