UNESCO strengthens regional and ministerial dialogue to build the future of the cultural sector amidst COVID-19


Ministers of Culture from 54 Member States of the Islamic World Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (ICESCO) gathered on 17 June for an online meeting to discuss the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the cultural sector in their respective countries. UNESCO’s Assistant Director-General for Culture, Ernesto Ottone R. participated in the meeting.

The meeting, under the leadership of the Director-General of ICESCO, Salim AlMaalik and the Presidency of H.E. Noura Al Kaabi, Minister of Culture and Knowledge Development of the United Arab Emirates, addressed the challenges of the culture sector in lockdown that affects in particular cultural sites, living expressions, and employment.

“UNESCO remains committed to support ICESCO Member States as they respond to the impact of COVID-19 on the cultural sector,” declared Ernesto Ottone R., UNESCO Assistant Director-General for Culture. He praised the concerted action of Ministers of Culture of the Arab region in response to the crisis, noting that their recent meetings have demonstrated their determination to integrate fully the culture sector in the response to the crisis. They have identified areas to be strengthened such as the development of the digital transformation in order to ensure expanded access to cultural resources from cultural institutions, the development of diversified cultural contents online, and synergies between education and culture, in particular focusing on museums as knowledge spaces and heritage education in schools

Ministers voiced the criticality of investing in digital transformation and expanding digital culture, including for cultural institutions and technical and vocational training, and in support of youth employment in culture. Reaffirming the region’s strong cultural identity and vitality, Ministers expressed their concern over the consequences of the crisis on cultural tourism, and the challenge of sustainability of cultural interventions, including on historic sites from the Islamic world on the UNESCO World Heritage List.

The meeting of ICESCO is one of a series of online meetings held in recent weeks with Ministers of Culture coming together to find joint solutions to tackle the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the cultural sector. On 22 April, UNESCO convened some 130 Ministers of Culture from around the world in an online meeting that clearly highlighted their commitment to coordinating responses to the unprecedented crisis.

As a follow-up to this meeting, the Arab League Educational, Cultural and Scientific Organization (ALECSO) held an extraordinary virtual meeting of the ministers responsible for cultural affairs in the Arab world on 11 May, with the participation of 20 Arab countries, which focused on digital transformation and artificial intelligence in the cultural sector, as well as legislation related to intellectual property and copyright.

The African Union (AU) also convened on 27 May some 31 Ministers of Culture in a Virtual Forum whose aim was to discuss the impact of the pandemic on the arts, culture and heritage sector, including urgent actions to support the sector in line with the AU Continental Strategy in Response to the COVID-19 Pandemic, after which the participants issued a joint communiqué. Countries of the Ibero-American space are also stepping up cooperation in reaction to the pandemic, for example, on 9 June, Rebeca Grynspan, Ibero-American Secretary General, the Spanish Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs and Ibero-America, the regional director for Latin America and the Caribbean at the UNDP, and the Latin America coordinator at the Fundación Alternativas held a live virtual debate 'Ibero-America after the COVID-19 pandemic: boosting the economy, safeguarding society'

Furthermore, UNESCO is also exchanging with a number of regional development banks, following the meeting convened by the Organization on 17 April, in order to develop a concerted strategy to tackle the profound, structural impact of the global pandemic on the cultural sector. The Organization will continue to support regional, as well as national, initiatives for ensuring that culture is an important element of the immediate public policy response, as well as long-term strategies for Sustainable Development.