The Tracker Culture & Public Policy | Special Issue

29/04/2021

This monthly Tracker is produced by UNESCO to monitor culture in public policy with regards to the UN Sustainable Development Agenda. It highlights developments within national and regional contexts, as well as emerging debates on culture's contribution to sustainable development. Drawing on a variety of sources, it provides a broad overview of cultural policy trends worldwide at the national, regional and international level and looks at ways in which countries integrate culture into other policy areas.

Message from Ernesto Ottone R., Assistant-Director General for Culture of UNESCO

It has been one year since COVID-19 was declared a pandemic. It catalysed a year marked by the escalation of a crisis of devastating proportions, impacting heritage and the creative industries, and exacerbating the vulnerabilities and inequalities of the sector at large.

Since then, museums, cultural venues and World Heritage sites have been deeply affected by travel restrictions, lockdowns and physical distancing measures, which have impacted entire communities around the world. Artists and cultural workers are among those who have been – and continue to be – heavily affected by the restrictions and lockdowns. Many freelance workers, the lifeblood of many areas of culture, have been left without work from one day to the next.

At the outset of the pandemic, UNESCO took decisive steps to combat the impact on the culture sector through strengthening global policy dialogue and promoting the continued access to culture. In April last year, when UNESCO convened 130 ministers of culture in an online meeting to discuss the pandemic’s impact on the sector, it activated and laid down the foundations for an ongoing global policy dialogue with its Member States to carry forward consolidated action in ensuring the sector is supported in crisis response strategies. Monitoring the impact of the pandemic has been essential to gauge the needs and gaps, and help Member States in shaping appropriate policies. This is also why UNESCO mobilized a broad network of actors within the scope of its work in culture to better understand the situation in order to develop adequate responses. UNESCO launched a wide range of monitoring tools to guide policymakers and practitioners in the various dimensions of cultural policies.

This Tracker on Culture and Public Policy was initially published last April as a weekly global policy monitor and later consolidated into a monthly format beginning in September 2020. The past year has seen each of UNESCO’s Culture Conventions and programmes develop unique monitoring mechanisms to track the impact of the pandemic, ranging from monitoring World Heritage site closures, to carrying out surveys amongst Member States, site managers, living heritage bearers, and local authorities, among others.

Since UNESCO's Resiliart movement was launched last April, it has boosted the voices of countless artists and cultural professionals around the world to raise awareness about their first-hand experiences in order to inform policy. The Organization’s regional partners and regional development banks have also been instrumental in supporting this work on the ground, where it is needed most. We know what is at stake, which is why we are resolute in advocating for the integration of culture in recovery strategies and plans.

The pandemic has shone a light on the vital contribution of culture to the full development of our societies

While the year paints a picture of a sector that has struggled to survive in the face of huge financial strain, culture remains resilient and adaptable. Today, is this creativity, innovation and resilience that is also helping to keep our sector afloat. The pandemic has shone a light on the vital contribution of culture to the full development of our societies, and how it has adapted to changing circumstances. COVID-19 will leave its mark on how we operate both as a sector and as an Organization.

It is also an occasion to look forward, and decide what steps are needed to move towards a more resilient and sustainable culture sector. Turning the page into a second year of the pandemic, our experiences have shown that we cannot continue in the same way as before. It is an opportunity to build back better.