Greniers Collectifs Haut-Atlas, Tighrems, Maroc ©RitaAlaoui

Culture and Development: the beginnings of the relationship and the future challenges

Blanka Konopka
The first high profile public recognition of the significant contribution culture could make to development agendas was made by the Director General of UNESCO at the inauguration of the World Decade for Cultural Development (1988-1998) with the statement that ‘Culture cannot be dissociated from development in any society’[i]. The end of the decade saw the elevation of the status of culture amongst policy makers and the wide acceptance of the symbiotic relationship between culture and development, was presently written into a plethora of international policy documents and agreements such as the Cotonou Agreement 2000, the Dakar Declaration 2003 and the Declaration of Santo Domingo 2006, to name just a few.
Although culture’s key contribution to development has thus been recognised for some time, recent policy developments, most notably the 2015 Declaration on the Inclusion of Culture in the Sustainable Development Goals and also the UN’s Agenda for Sustainable Development until 2030, have cemented this still further and bare testament to the continued importance of culture within development frameworks and the recognition of its impacts on the international policy making arena. Recent initiatives at the EU level have also placed renewed emphasis on the strengthening of this relationship, with the recent announcements made by Federica Mogherini as part of the ‘Culture in EU External Relations’ agenda once again emphasising culture’s critical role.
In light of this policy context, which has once again placed a renewed spotlight on culture and development, there is now an impetus on finding new and innovative ways to adopt culture for developmental purposes, yet it is not always obvious how. Part of the challenge of ‘culture and development’ as a term and as a policy leading to practice, is precisely because of the broad nature of both terms and their multiple definitions. Development of course, has many facets, which include economic, social and educational, whilst culture is a notoriously ambiguous, dual natured term, which can both relate to activities in the arts and creative sectors as well as more broadly denote a way of life and ‘what shapes our identity’[ii]. Culture in this latter definition and the fostering of a diversity of different cultures is of course an essential and important aspect of sustainable development, as was articulated by UNESCO’s ‘Our Creative Diversity Report’[iii] (1996), yet cultural projects offer the clearest means of analysis.
A key aspect of my research will be to try and demystify the connection between culture and development, to break it down into specifics and to find the causal relationship of how precisely culture can impact positively on the development of individuals, communities and nations in need. Capacity building is often seen as one of the key elements and tools of development and one of the key focuses of Arts Cabinet is on the ways in which culture can contribute to capacity building, something that will also be a key area of my research.

Blanka Konopka
Associate Researcher, Arts Cabinet
PhD Candidate, University College London

[i] FEDERICO MAYOR Director-General of UNESCO, A World Decade for Cultural Development
[ii]Culture for Sustainable Development, UNESCO
[iii] Our Creative Diversity, UNESCO 1996,