The UNESCO Proclamation and Cultural Economic Development

The UNESCO Proclamation and Cultural Economic Development

By: José Francisco Ávila
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As we enter the last week of Garifuna Arts & Culture Appreciation Month,in honor of the 17th anniversary of the UNESCO Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity, I’d like to address the important and often overlooked aspects of the proclamation, the Promotion of the Diversity of Garifuna Cultural Expressions. According to the2005 UNESCO Convention, the production and dissemination of cultural expressions increasingly conform to an industrial and economic logic.

While the Action Plan for the Safeguarding of the Garifuna Language, Music and Dance
focuses mainly in the preservation of the Garifuna language. It also indicates the need to develop an inventory of Garifuna art forms and promote regional Garifuna festivals with a view to confronting the erosion of the Garifuna culture in the heart of modern day communities. As a general objective, the project seeks to strengthen the capacities of the Garifuna communities in order to promote the safeguarding of its heritage.

Heritage consists of the intangible and tangible aspects of the whole body of cultural practices, resources and knowledge systems developed, nurtured and refined by Garifuna people which have been transmitted or continues to be transmitted from generation to generation, and are crucial for the sense of identity and continuity of their communities. Heritage is transmitted through Cultural Expressions. These expressions are passed on within and among groups and societies.  The term “Cultural expressions” refers to the various ways in which the creativity of individuals and social groups takes shape and manifests itself. These manifestations include expressions transmitted by words (literature, tales…), sound (music), images (photos, films) by activities (dance, theatre) or objects (sculptures, paintings).

The UNESCO 2005 Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions called for the creation of an environment, which encourages individuals, and social groups to create, produce, disseminate, distribute, and have access to their cultural expressions. “Cultural diversity” refers to the manifold ways in which the cultures of groups and societies find expression. Cultural diversity is made manifest not only through the varied ways in which the cultural heritage of humanity is expressed, augmented and transmitted through the variety of cultural expressions, but also through diverse modes of artistic creation, production, dissemination, distribution and enjoyment, whatever the means and technologies used. [1]

Cultural expressions are transmitted largely through “cultural activities, goods and services”, which have become the main vehicles of culture.  Cultural activities, goods and services, refers to those activities, goods and services, which at the time they are considered as a specific attribute, use or purpose, embody or convey cultural expressions, irrespective of the commercial value they may have. The production and dissemination of cultural expressions increasingly conform to an industrial and economic logic.

The 2005 Convention recommended that developing countries should endeavor to integrate culture in their development policies at all levels for the creation of conditions conducive to sustainable development and, within this framework, foster aspects relating to the protection and promotion of the diversity of cultural expressions. They should also endeavor to support cooperation for sustainable development and poverty reduction, in order to foster the emergence of a dynamic cultural sector by strengthening of the cultural industries in developing countries through: (i) creating and strengthening cultural production and distribution capacities in developing countries; (ii) facilitating wider access to the global market and international distribution networks for their cultural activities, goods and services; (iii) enabling the emergence of viable local and regional markets; (iv)  adopting, where possible, appropriate measures in developed countries with a view to facilitating access to their territory for the cultural activities, goods and services of developing countries. [2]

The cultural industry is an economic driver in communities throughout the United States, a growth industry that supports jobs, generates government revenue, and is the cornerstone of tourism. This is particularly true in New York State. While New York City shines as the cultural capital of the country, the arts are central to economic growth and community development throughout New York’s urban, suburban and rural areas. The arts are driving economic revitalization in cities large and small, from Yonkers to Buffalo. In rural areas, the arts are infusing new life into downtowns, boosting tourism, and helping communities to develop appealing and distinctive identities. [3]

According to the Center for an Urban Future’s 2015 Creative New York Report:  “Many immigrant artists sustain and promote unique and deeply rooted cultural traditions. Leading practitioners of Garifuna music and dance reside in the Bronx.”   New York City is home to the largest Garifuna population outside of Central America with an estimated 200,000 living in the South Bronx, Brownsville and East New York in Brooklyn, and Harlem.

New York City has long been recognized as a capital of arts and culture—a place where artists come to create and the world comes to be inspired. In every way the arts are a critical part of the New York City’s economy, identity and quality of life. Arts and culture are what make New York New York. New York City’s relationship to the arts and culture is unique. Culture gives New York World-Class stature. It always has.Spending on arts, entertainment and recreation rose to11.8% share in 2016. At$5.06 billion, it is the highest it has been since 2010.

Garifuna arts and culture represents fertile ground for partnerships and projects that will help the community shape its own future in ways that are more holistic and intentional. The interfaces between a community’s arts and cultural interests and its economic development interests are particularlyfertile ground for shaping a community’s future because of the unique combination of complimentary talents, strengths and assets that can be assembled when you partner the two.


It’s no secret that the economic landscape is shifting. We are moving from an economy that has been primarily industrially based to one that is increasingly influenced by technology, knowledge and creativity. 
Against the backdrop of this shifting landscape, human capital is fast becoming the most valuable commodity. What this shift means for communities trying to shape 
strong economic futures is that the nature of how they go about developing their economies is changing. It also means changes in who is involved in that process. [4]

For decades, the business of economic development has been built around the basic strategy of attracting the companies that bring the jobs that in turn bring the people. With access to human capital (creative, knowledgeable workers) increasingly driving economic decisions and investment, the economic development business is rapidly expanding to include the work of attracting the people who in turn attract and/or start the businesses that bring the jobs. In short, the nature and scope of what is involved in economic development is changing.

If developing the economy now includes the work of retaining and attracting people, particularly creative, knowledgeable people, to live and work in our communities, then economic developers are going to need new partners who can help them create the kind of culturally vibrant communities that will retain and attract the workers and entrepreneurs we need to fuel this new knowledge-based creative economy. The individuals and organizations that make up the cultural sector of your community are uniquely equipped to be partners of choice in this effort. Bringing together cultural and economic development players holds great potential for your community, but it is not without its challenges.

First of all, economic development and cultural players do not necessarily know or interact with one another in any kind of systematic or structured way when it comes to shaping the futures of their communities. Add to that the fact that members of the cultural sector have not traditionally seen themselves as players in planning and developing the overall economic futures of their communities. Even those who have embraced this broader understanding of their role have not necessarily been at the table when it comes to shaping their community’s future.

On the other hand, most economic developers have typically viewed the community’s cultural sector as having an impact on the overall quality of life of the community. And they have always viewed quality of life as a major factor in their ability to attract businesses and corporations to locate in their communities. In that sense, economic developers have always seen the indirect impact of the cultural sector on the economy. They have not, however, thought of the individuals and organizations that make up that sector as potential partners in shaping economic development strategies. They have not viewed them as economic development partners.

The production and dissemination of cultural expressions increasingly conform to an industrial and economic logic. Therefore, communities should endeavor to integrate culture in their development policies at all levels for the creation of conditions conducive to sustainable development and, within this framework, foster aspects relating to the protection and promotion of the diversity of cultural expressions.

The bottom line is that bringing economic development and cultural interests together in communities will require new thinking on nearly everyone’s part. As challenging as that might be, the benefits to communities of doing so are tremendous.

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