UNESCO advocates for a robust and resilient cultural economy at the Abu Dhabi Culture Summit 2021

From 8 to 10 March 2021, culture practitioners and experts from around the world gathered in the first-ever online edition of the Abu Dhabi Culture Summit, organized by the Abu Dhabi Department of Culture and Tourism in partnership with UNESCO, the Royal Academy of Arts, Google, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, The Economist Events, the British Council, Louvre Abu Dhabi and the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD). The theme for this year’s edition of the Summit, “The Cultural Economy and the Economy of Culture”, is particularly relevant, as 2021 has been declared by the United Nations as the International Year of Creative Economy for Sustainable Development.

In recent years, the creative economy has gained increasing recognition as a significant driver of economic growth, contributing to economic development, as well as social inclusion and the empowerment of women and youth. It has spurred innovation and knowledge transfer across all sectors of the economy and represents an effective means of promoting economic diversification.

In her message opening the Summit, UNESCO Director-General Audrey Azoulay announced the launch of a global study on the impact of COVID-19, in partnership with the Abu Dhabi Department of Culture and Tourism. It will assess the social and economic impact of the pandemic on the culture sector worldwide, map mechanisms, policies, measures and initiatives implemented at the national and local level in response to the crisis, and highlight best practices, with a view to developing strategic recommendations for framing national and local recovery policies for the culture sector and beyond.

UNESCO’s contribution to the Abu Dhabi Culture Summit aimed to raise awareness of the importance of the creative economy for building sustainable and people-centered societies. UNESCO led panel discussions related to funding for culture in post-crisis situations, the role of artists and digital technology for the development of a resilient creative economy, and the contribution of the cultural economy and creative industries to urban recovery and resilience. Case studies on public and private support to the rehabilitation of Beirut following the August 2020 blasts, and mainstreaming culture in city reconstruction and recovery, were also presented.

Ernesto Ottone R., UNESCO Assistant Director-General for Culture, highlighted that the cultural and creative industries, one of the fastest growing sectors in the world, contribute 2,250 billion USD annually to the global GDPs. For the creative economy and the economy of creativity to continue to grow, investment, legislation, regulatory frameworks, strategic government policies and digital infrastructure must all be targeted. These factors are particularly pertinent at a time when cultural and creative industry workers worldwide have suffered from the unprecedented economic impact of COVID-19 – one study forecasts a $32 billion loss for the global cinema industry in 2020. Panelists discussed how these industries are searching for ways to strengthen their resilience and to reinvent their business models in the ‘new normal’, as reflected also in the UNESCO ResiliArt movement which offers artists a platform to exchange on challenges and solutions. Additionally, the COVID-19 crisis has put a spotlight on culture’s strategic role in strengthening the resilience of communities, reflected in an increased global demand for online cultural resources.

Experts and culture sector professionals also provided examples of how culture helps rebuild the fabric of societies, promoting reconciliation following conflicts and supporting development following crises, as, for example, through UNESCO’s Revive the Spirit of Mosul initiative. By fostering shared values and identities, culture contributes to uniting conflict-affected communities and plays an important role in crisis prevention, response, and recovery. In this context, mainstreaming culture in urban recovery and resilience frameworks is critical.