Unesco chief Audrey Azoulay explains how to harness the power of culture

It is time to talk seriously about the contribution of culture to society and economies, says Audrey Azoulay, Director General of Unesco.

Talk to The National after delivering a speech at the World Conference on the Creative Economy event on Tuesday, the UN official describes how Covid-19 has accelerated understanding of the role of culture in the public and private sectors.

“One of the lessons of the pandemic is to truly appreciate the power of culture, and that doesn’t just apply to the economy, but also to the importance of heritage,” she says. “We see that, for example, by not being able to come together in places and experience events, we felt like we were missing something important.

“At Unesco, we have worked very hard to show the impact of the creative industries and in this process we have found that it has been seriously undervalued.”

However, the ignorance surrounding the creative and cultural industries is not the only reason for this estimate, says Azoulay.

“It’s a very fragmented industry and it’s not full of big industries, but rather much smaller ones,” she says.

“So we need to bring all of this information together and present a holistic view that shows the immense impact of the industry, and it’s not just in terms of numbers but also in value like soft power and inclusiveness.”

Work is already underway, Unesco and the Abu Dhabi Ministry of Culture and Tourism launched in March a landmark report on the impact of Covid-19 on the cultural and creative industries.

This report will be the centerpiece of future advocacy by government and financial institutions to increase support for besieged industries, which – according to Azoulay’s opening speech – have lost more than $ 750 billion and 10 million jobs in 2020.

“You need to have those kinds of numbers available when you talk to these kinds of organizations,” she says. “It’s about showing how culture is also about job creation and how it’s an important way to include the next generation. These are all essential steps.

The regional effect

With his parents originally from Morocco and as a frequent visitor to the Arab world, Azoulay says culture and the creative industries can play a galvanizing role through Mena.

“We are talking about a region with a huge population of young people and unemployment,” she said. “So these industries can play an important role not only in bridging these critical gaps, but also in bridging intergenerational barriers in terms of mutual understanding. “

Azoulay saw firsthand some of these connections formed in the Iraqi city of Mosul.

A Unesco project co-funded by the United Arab Emirates government in 2018, titled Revive the Spirit of Mosul, aims to reconstruct the city’s historic monuments, such as the 12th-century Al Nuri Mosque and its leaning minaret, the Al Saa’a Church and the 800 – Al Tahera Church, one year old.

The United Arab Emirates have invested $ 50 million (MAD 183.6 million) in the projects.

“This is one of our great success stories because it shows what culture can offer people to give people a sense of hope for the future through employment and understanding the importance of their past.” , said Azoulay.

“Mosul is a city renowned for its cultural diversity, a center of knowledge with its libraries destroyed by terrorism.

“So the initiative has people from different generations and religions working together in a project that unites them all.”

Abu Dhabi joins prestigious UNESCO list

Another collaborative initiative that continues to bear fruit is the Unesco Creative Cities Network.

Launched in 2004, the program promotes cooperation between cities recognized as cultural hubs on a regional and international scale.

Abu Dhabi recently joined the esteemed list, which includes more than 50 cities, including Liverpool in England, Ramallah in Palestine, Seville in Spain and Mannheim in Germany.

Azoulay said cultural institutions and creatives in the UAE capital should benefit from the full global spectrum of industry contacts, including musicians, festival organizers and influential cultural figures, to create new collaborations at home and abroad.

“We also saw the effect of this initiative during Covid-19 with many cities working together to help Beirut, which is also part of the network, after the port explosion,” she said. “Some of these measures included sharing knowledge when it comes to best practices for certain initiatives taken during the pandemic. “

These are all encouraging signs that discussions and initiatives around culture and creativity have evolved far beyond the prism of entertainment and recreation, she says.

From its economic and social benefits to building bridges with communities and cultures, Azoulay says the creative industries will only grow in size and importance.

“In this time of crisis, we have seen more than ever the essential role of culture in the cohesion of society and in bringing people together,” she says.

“We must seize the long-term opportunities offered by the creative economy because it is a sector that employs more young people than others … [and] essential to the development of societies.

The World Conference on the Creative Economy runs through Thursday, December 9 at the Dubai Exhibition Center, Expo 2020 Dubai. For more information, visit wcce.ae

Update: December 7, 2021, 3:07 p.m.


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