Re|Shaping Cultural Policies for the Promotion of Fundamental Freedoms and the Diversity of Cultural Expression – the Palestine project.
After two very difficult years brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, there has never been a better time to invest in culture, to allow creativity to thrive, and to enable the creative economy to build back our communities and societies better.
In 2019, Palestine was one of 16 countries selected to implement the project Re|Shaping Cultural Policies for the Promotion of Fundamental Freedoms and the Diversity of Cultural Expressions, which was implemented by UNESCO and generously funded by Sweden. The project is within the framework of UNESCO’s 2005 Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions, and aimed to support Parties to the 2005 Convention to strengthen the human and institutional capacities of government actors and civil society to monitor and report on policies and measures that protect and promote the diversity of cultural expressions. A key element of the project was supporting beneficiaries to submit Quadrennial Periodic Reports on the implementation of the 2005 Convention. The project also prioritized facilitating discussion and cooperation across ministries and the public on issues such as gender equality in the cultural sector, media, diversity, and artistic freedom, amongst other topics.
Despite the challenges imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic which broke out a few months after the project commenced, Palestine, through the Ministry of Culture, submitted its QPR in October 2020. The QPR referred to 55 cultural policies, programs and best practices implemented between 2017 and 2020 and which correspond to the provisions of the 2005 Convention. The QPR also highlighted the challenges facing the creative sector in Palestine and outlined future plans to overcome these and enhance the cultural scene.
As part of the project, UNESCO Ramallah planned and carried out several initiatives and activities designed to boost the culture sector, particularly amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. On the latter, UNESCO conducted two studies on the Effects of COVID-19 on the Palestinian Culture Scene and Digital Culture in Palestine. These studies were carried out following a request from the Ministry of Culture to explore the possibility of investing in and utilizing various technical and digital means as an alternative to ‘in-person’ activities, to continue supporting and promoting Palestinian culture during COVID-19 and similar crises. These studies provided a set of recommendations which will help to design a contextualized national digital strategy for culture.
In addition, UNESCO Ramallah and the Bethlehem Municipality collaborated to celebrate Bethlehem, the Arab Capital of Culture (2020), as well as the International year of Creative Economy for Sustainable Development (2021). This resulted in a study and a video that highlighted the most prominent cultural creative industries in the city and assessed their contribution to the local economy. The video and study findings were presented during a May 2022 symposium in Bethlehem. The event gave the floor to concerned stakeholders, including cultural practitioners and activists, so they could share their feedback and pinpoint not only the challenges facing the sector in Bethlehem, but also their recommendations to improve it.
As celebrating the International Year of Creative Economy for Sustainable Development was anticipated to run over an entire year, UNESCO recognized the importance of illustrating the concept of creative economy to ensure a better understanding of it at a national level. Therefore, UNESCO Ramallah organized a 3-week virtual training on Creative Economy in partnership with City, University of London. Through reading materials, podcasts, explainer videos and live sessions with the facilitators, the training tackled 3 different topics related to creative economy, namely its broad definition and understanding, policy related to creative economy and digitization.
UNESCO Ramallah and the Ministry of Culture also organized a conference to discuss the status of culture post COVID-19 with cultural centers from the West Bank and the Gaza Strip and explore cultural policies and measures towards enhancing cultural industries and the digitization of culture. The conference that took place on 31 May 2022 was also a platform for UNESCO to nationally launch the 2022 Global Report; Re|Shaping Policies for Creativity – Addressing culture as a Global Public Good. The findings of the report and its Executive Summary were presented and discussed, as were the outcomes of the aforementioned studies on the Impact of Covid-19 on the Culture Sector and Digital Culture in Palestine.
Lastly, within the framework of the project, UNESCO Ramallah sponsored four radio episodes that were broadcasted on 5 local radio stations addressing the various components tackled throughout the lifespan of the project, including the Global Report Re-Shaping Policies for Creativity and the experience of developing the QPR. The studies on the Effects of COVID-19 on the Palestinian Culture Scene and Digital Culture in Palestine were presented in another episode, and the third episode focused on gender equality in cultural policies and creative industries in Palestine. The final episode was in English and addressed the mandate of UNESCO in the Culture sphere and its role as a technical advisor on cultural policies
The different components of the project and the various outputs and outcomes of the activities that were planned and executed during its lifespan clearly demonstrated the richness and diversity of Palestinian cultural expressions, and the potential they have in influencing development and sustainability at the national level. Yet the project also outlined the urgent need to revise cultural policies and re-think the cultural and creative sphere in a manner that enables the concerned stakeholders to address the challenges facing the cultural sector, and adopt the change needed to support the main actors in the sector and beyond.
After two very difficult years brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, there has never been a better time to invest in culture, to allow creativity to thrive, and to enable creative economy to build back our communities and societies better. UNESCO will build on the conclusions and lessons learnt from the project and will continue to advocate for the fostering and advancing of the creative sector and cultural expressions in Palestine.