Promoting the status of artists and artistic freedom – experts debate at UNESCO

Key players from the world of culture debated the status of artists and freedom of artistic expression at a special side event, held on the sidelines of the 38th session of the General Conference at UNESCO HQ on 13 November. Special guests include Ole Reitov, Executive Director of Freemuse independent arts organisation (Denmark); Deeyah Khan, Norwegian Film Director, Music Producer and Human Rights Activitst and Mika Romanus, Deputy Director-General of the Swedish Arts Council.

The event was organized by Denmark, Norway and Sweden together with the UNESCO Secretariat and in the presence of the Director General, Irina Bokova. Questions focussed on the following topics: Is the freedom of artistic expression understood and protected as part of the broader system of fundamental rights - or not? How can we support artists that are threatened? How to follow-up on the recommendation of the UN Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights  - for Member States to review  legislation imposing restrictions on the right to freedom of artistic expression and creativity. The debate concluded with discussions on UNESCO's future work in this field. 

"I believe we need multi-faceted strategies to support artistic freedom. Cultural actors need direct support. Independent networks for monitoring threats to artistic freedom need to be established and supported. Safe spaces for artists must be nurtured," Irina Bokova, Director General UNESCO.

A new report on how UNESCO Member States are implementing the 1980 Recommendation Concerning the Status of the Artist, was also presented and discussed at the side event. The 2015 report tracks the gains and pitfalls facing creative professionals globally.  It  highlights the need for better social protection, to support the mobility of artists and exposure of their works in international markets, particularly through digital technologies. It highlights how countries are taking measures to promote artistic freedom, for example, the recent adoption by the French National Assembly of a law on artistic freedom, architecture and heritage as well as Denmark’s strategic framework “the Right to Art and Culture” which stresses that freedom of expression for artists and cultural actors is essential to development of modern, democratic societies and should become an integral part of development policies and international development assistance programmes.

 The 1980 Recommendation covers a wide range of issues which can affect the social and economic status of the artist and calls on Member States to introduce policies and measures to improve the professional, social and economic status of artists.  These include cultural policies to support artistic works as well as specific measures that provide artists withformal training opportunities, social security protection such as pensions, disability and unemployment insurance, safe working conditions as well as relevant taxation frameworks. It also calls on Member states to respect guiding principles encouraging freedom of artistic expression and creativity as well as the right to organize in professional associations or trade unions.

The 2015 report has been compiled from a survey sent out to 195 countries - focusing on four significant contemporary issues, digital technologies and the Internet, ease of travel for artists, social protection and artistic freedom. These issues are highlighted both in the Recommendation and the 2005 Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions.

Since the last monitoring report in 2011, several countries have shown solid commitment by adopting regulations geared toward improving the status of the artist, including Burkina Faso and Lithuania. Morocco has built on its comprehensive law for better inclusion of artists.

The report recommends that Member States should continue to develop policies  benefiting of the collaboration with artists and their associations, as well as other relevant NGOs, to help ensure their laws and policies are as supportive as possible for artists.