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  • Writer's pictureJohanna Kouzmine-Karavaïeff

Culture in the Context of Economic Diversification

Updated: Mar 28, 2023

Part 1: How can the right conditions for art and culture sectors be assured?


Culture has been seen as important element in recent economic diversification strategies in the Gulf region and in oil and gas states where important investment has been made in many different aspects of arts and culture. In the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the Vision 2030 has a clear and evident line for culture. In the United Arab Emirates, different strategies, policies, and investments have given culture and art focus. Also, in Qatar important investments have been made in art institutions and public art.

Last autumn I worked in Algeria at the foresight department at the Ministry of Finance. This was in the context of the Programme for the support to the implementation of the EU-Algeria Association Agreement (P3A).I made more than 120 consultations among private and independent practitioners and government authorities, and it led to suggestions on operational mechanisms for cultural economy development.

Thinking of culture, in all its aspects, in the context of economic diversification is a brilliant idea. However, it is crucial to understand the importance of the cultural eco-system and the ways in which it should be extended to other sectors and the wider economy. It is key for sustainability and wider economic development to move beyond the access to arts and culture offer (which of course is very important as such) and to identify how the skills and competency condensed in the culture sector can feed into human capability development and human driven innovation.

There are many pitfalls for culture sector development. One danger is that culture is still undervalued, and often it is not seen in its full potential. When it is seen as a “nice to have” then sometimes cultural programmes are developed without cultural competency. Sometimes culture must fit into agendas of promotion and public relations, which can undermine the true potential of culture and cultural practitioners. It is not always necessarily bad, but awareness is needed while doing this. Sometimes there are great short-term initiatives created, but as they are not part of a coherent longer-term strategy, unfortunately they do not have any great impact for the sector professionals or for the image of culture that is discredited when expectations are not met.

So, what kind of policy and strategy favours a culture and creative economy?

It is crucial to create sustainable inter-ministerial dialogue, that not only has an objective to directly implement policy coherence and streamlining between policy programmes, but also to raise awareness and build capacity amongst ministries, departments in the intrinsic, economic, and instrumental values of culture. That inter-ministerial dialogue is needed as a permanent element over time - it is impossible to avoid it. Let us not forget that institutions are built on individuals and that initiatives tend to go under when the convinced individuals are no longer in position.

Let us remember that culture and creative sectors are today in many countries economic powerhouses with important GDP contributions and promising employment numbers, and the reasons for reaching those levels of results and contributions are different and unique. However, there are some elements that always are central when planning to develop cultural and creative economies. Several basic conditions for artistic and cultural practice must be in place.

It is evident to think about an economic return from the culture and creative sectors to a country’s GDP. However, without the basic conditions in place it would be quite wrong to expect it. A metaphorical example could be to chronometer an athlete runner with a severe injury. Competing when you are not at the best of your ability results in impeded performance. This links back to the discreditation of the culture sector, as when it is dysfunctional or fragmented, it fails to deliver. Not because culture does not work, but because policy does not work, or is lacking.

A cultural policy for the economy must have asked the profound questions on how an eco-system can be developed that favors all citizens and all levels of society. It is important to give access to art and culture, far too many times it is still as sector open only for the privileged.

Efficient inter-sectoral and inter-institutional procedures and dialogues must be put into place in regards to education and training, infrastructure, freedom of expression, diversified and balanced financing from both private and public sources, quality cultural management, promotion of cultural entrepreneurship, scholarship & exchange programs - and associated training. An adequate social and legal framework must be built that is founded on conclusions stemming from inclusive and integrated policy making with the sector.

With these conditions in place, it is possible to enable a dynamic cultural offer and a prosperous culture sector which, in turn, leads to more entrepreneurship, more autonomous and partly self-financed cultural sub-sectors, profitable opportunities and incoming investment for the sector.

The kind of cultural policy that leads to a dynamic and economically viable sector is subject to unique contexts and cases, but cultural policy must be underpinned by a political will that rolls up its sleeves for the sector assuring the existence of structures that have the power to act for the culture and the creative sector; to orchestrate, and to facilitate and regularize the sector’s work. It is important to integrate cultural strategy at a high intersectoral level to guarantee and sustain suggested and undertaken actions and created programmes. It is important to assure a long-term vision for the sector with measurable objectives and KPIs. That will also motivate sector professionals.

Entrepreneurship must be supported by flexible administrative procedures, and fiscal and parafiscal measures. If the right conditions are in place, the market will open.

In conclusion, the development of culture and creative economies is sometimes more complex than envisioned and that the competencies that are needed for this kind of development should always include a profound knowledge of culture. Equally it is important to understand the interrelations between existing government authorities, and the facilitation that is needed on the subject between many different entities, functions, and people.

Johanna Kouzmine Karavaieff is founding Partner & Principal Consultant in Culture and Creative at Artisans of Innovation. She specialises in cultural strategy, culture in external relations and cooperation, transfer of skills & perspectives from creative sectors to business sectors, creative economy development and innovation.

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