The Tracker Culture & Public Policy | Special Issue n°1 : Countdown to MONDIACULT 2022

The UNESCO World Conference on Cultural Policies and Sustainable Development – MONDIACULT 2022 will be the next major milestone in UNESCO's work as a global platform for intergovernmental dialogue and policy development. It comes 40 years after the 1982 MONDIACULT conference that set out new directions, standards, and frameworks for cultural policies at the global level for the following decades. The world has changed radically since then and it is time to reposition culture across the broad public policy spectrum in the face of sustainable development challenges.
Main image Tracker 19

MONDIACULT 2022 will be convened from 28 to 30 September 2022, hosted by the Government of Mexico and aims to be a historic occasion where global decision-makers, cultural policy-makers and key figures from the sector will share their perspectives and ambitions, placing culture at the center stage of sustainable development prospects. Previous UNESCO ministerial conferences on culture have shaped new concepts, leading to the development of regulatory frameworks as well as new strategic approaches building on cultural capital, from heritage to creativity, and forging inclusive societies.

Key objectives

  • Reinvigorating the reflection on cultural policies in today’s context, discussing related priorities and instruments with a view to adapting them to encompass sustainable development challenges, including, the adaptation of the cultural sector to the digital transformation, the contribution of culture to social and economic development as well as to climate action;
  • Supporting the global policy dialogue on the transversal role of culture as a global public good to sustain the resilience, well-being and prosperity of societies with a view to ensure more robust integration of culture across the public policy spectrum at the global, regional, and national levels, while also converging multi-stakeholders’ efforts at all levels; and
  • Identifying core areas of future policy perspectives for the cultural sector in the coming decade, notably filling potential gaps in policy engagement and mechanisms, with a view to guiding Member States in policy design, as well as international and regional organizations, while also informing UNESCO’s future work in the field of culture, including across its Culture Conventions and Recommendations.

Key themes at a glance

A history of MONDIACULT

Culture’s impact in contributing to sustainable development across policy domains has been recognized for over 40 years. Culture reaches beyond the narrowly defined field of cultural policy itself, more broadly informing environmental, economic and social policies. Speaking at the opening of the 1982 MONDIACULT World Conference, then-Director-General Amadou-Mahtar M'Bow stated that “its purpose [was] ... to encourage thorough reflection of the fundamental problems of culture in the world as it is today and spell out fresh guidelines both for strengthening the cultural dimension in development and for facilitating cultural cooperation."

The broad definition of culture, adopted by the very first World Conference, gets to the heart of what it means to be human. It affirmed that “Culture should be regarded as the set of distinctive spiritual, material, intellectual and emotional features of society or a social group, and that it encompasses, in addition to art and literature, lifestyles, ways of living together, value systems, traditions and belief.” (Mexico Declaration, 1982).

Following the United Nations World Decade on Culture (1988-1998), the United Nations set up an independent World Commission on Culture and Development, headed by former Secretary General of the United Nations Javier Pérez de Cuéllar and hosted by UNESCO. The publication of "Our Creative Diversity" in 1995 marked a turning point in the global reflection on culture shifting the focus from a purely sectoral approach to cultural policies towards a more transversal one which sets culture across the broad development spectrum underlining the recognition of cultural diversity as a precondition for content- and context-relevant development (i.e. "no one size fits all").

The recognition of cultural diversity as a basis for development

Article 1 – Cultural diversity: the common heritage of humanity

Culture takes diverse forms across time and space. This diversity is embodied in the uniqueness and plurality of the identities of the groups and societies making up humankind. As a source of exchange, innovation and creativity, cultural diversity is as necessary for humankind as biodiversity is for nature. In this sense, it is the common heritage of humanity and should be recognized and affirmed for the benefit of present and future generations.

Article 5 – Cultural rights as an enabling environment for cultural diversity

Cultural rights are an integral part of human rights, which are universal, indivisible and interdependent. The flourishing of creative diversity requires the full implementation of cultural rights as defined in Article 27 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and in Articles 13 and 15 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. All persons have therefore the right to express themselves and to create and disseminate their work in the language of their choice, and particularly in their mother tongue; all persons are entitled to quality education and training that fully respect their cultural identity; and all persons have the right to participate in the cultural life of their choice and conduct their own cultural practices, subject to respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms

2001 UNESCO Universal Declaration on Cultural Diversity

The United Nations General Assembly, for over ten years, has increasingly anchored culture in broader development prospects, particularly through specific resolutions on “Culture and Development” (2010 and 2011). arguing that “too many well-intended development programmes have failed because they did not take cultural settings into account” (UNGA, 2013). Subsequent General Assembly resolutions on “Culture and sustainable development” were adopted by Member States at the UNGAs in 2013, 2014, 2015, 2017 and 2019 leading to the integration of culture into UN programmes in countries, as illustrated in the UN Development Assistant Frameworks (UNDAFs): whereas in 2008 less than 30% mentioned culture and by 2013 this had risen to 70%.

The Hangzhou Declaration: Placing Culture at the Heart of Sustainable Development Policies (2013), further honed the ways in which culture contributes to sustainable development: identifying that, firstly, culture should be considered as a fundamental enabler of sustainability due to its “extraordinary power”, particularly when fostering people-centre and place-based approaches, and when integrated into development programmes and peace-building initiatives. Secondly, culture should also be seen as a driver through the specific contributions that it can make – as knowledge capital and a productive sector - to inclusive, social and economic development, environmental sustainability, peace and security. Today the contribution of culture to social development and economic growth is undisputed globally.

Renewing cultural policies: A sense of urgency

Over the last four decades, the global landscape – and the cultural sector itself – have profoundly evolved. Newly emerged fault lines in the international order as well as overarching transnational challenges, such as inequalities, conflicts, the technological revolution and climate change, have pushed countries to adapt their public policies to better fulfill their role in ensuring the provision of global public goods – an imperative which is particularly relevant to culture. Meanwhile, the COVID-19 pandemic has starkly exposed the shared vulnerability of countries and the cultural and creative industries themselves. In this context, the cultural sector has faced widespread disruption, bringing to the forefront the urgent need for the sector to adapt within the broad public policy spectrum.

Despite these prevailing challenges, the nexus between culture and sustainable development has gained clear recognition for its role in supporting continuity, engagement, employment, resilience, and well-being, This nexus also reveals the value of culture in our societies and the weight of the cultural sector in advancing social and economic development at the global and national levels. This momentum led the way for a renewed vision of cultural policies to gain ground in the broad public policy spectrum. It is against this background that UNESCO is reinvesting in the global policy dialogue in the field of culture, building on its historic and constitutional legacy of fostering multilateral cooperation and policy dialogue in the wake of its landmark conferences on cultural policies held respectively in 1982 and 1998 – whose conceptual and policy outcomes laid the ground for major advances in the conceptualization and architecture of cultural policies. As we entered the last Decade of Action for the implementation of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals agreed by the international community as our common aspirational roadmap, UNESCO is engaging its Member States and the international community to embark on a renewed reflection on cultural policies to tackle global challenges and outline immediate and future priorities in order to shape a more robust and resilient cultural sector, fully anchored in public policies and sustainable development prospects.


When culture is understood as the basis of development, the very notion of cultural policy has to be considerably broadened.”
Independent World Commission on Culture and Development, chaired by Javier Pérez de Cuéllar, Extract from Our Creative Diversity, 1995

Culture as a global public good

Over the last few decades, the world has witnessed the emergence of global challenges, whose scope and complexity have urged countries to reshape their public policies. Rising inequalities, climate change, the digital transformation, accelerated urbanization, and the upsurge in conflicts and migratory flows are among the overarching challenges that now shape the global policy landscape. These policy trends directly impact the cultural sector, bringing up both challenges for its resilience and opportunities for its transformation. The cultural sector, more than any other policy domain, has a capacity to adapt across time, building on the dynamic essence of culture itself. More substantially, the global policy landscape sheds a fresh light on the fundamental and transformative role of culture in our societies. The urge to shift the focus of public policies towards global public goods – an imperative recently reiterated by the UN Secretary General in the Our Common Agenda report – cuts across all policy domains but is particularly relevant to culture.

In this more fragmented world, the foundations of multilateralism have been eroded. The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated these fault lines, while also exposing the deep interdependence between countries and the need to forge common responses to transnational phenomena that are also affecting the cultural sector. In a very uncertain, unregulated global environment, multilateral dialogue is needed more than ever before to address issues that transcend national borders. This aspiration was clearly reflected in the UN world consultation Shaping our Future Together, whose 1 million respondents around the world, particularly youth, have expressed an unequivocal yearning for international cooperation and global solidarity. What culture has to bring, in that context, is its power to bridge people and countries, offering more inclusive, participative and collaborative models, to foster mutual understanding and forge a renewed paradigm for multilateralism, which places human dignity at its heart. Shifting international relations from competition to cooperation is a global endeavor, in which culture should fully contribute.

The global landscape of cultural policies has also profoundly evolved over the past decades. Unlike the global context which prevailed in 1982, many countries around the world have now set up culture ministries and institutions and have enacted cultural policy documents and frameworks – although to an uneven extent across the different regions. While cultural policies have tended to remain relatively isolated from other policy areas, their scope has expanded to encompass more comprehensive approaches to culture – including cultural diversity, intangible heritage and the creative economy – and interact more broadly with other domains, as reflected by the growing policy investment in cultural tourism or cultural diplomacy or novel approaches such as cultural literacy. While the role of the State remains central to devise public policy, guarantee fundamental rights, and regulate the cultural sector, cultural policies have gradually transitioned towards multilayered governance patterns, involving a multiplicity of stakeholders – from local governments and civil society organizations, to subregional and regional organizations – which have become more influential and engaged on cultural policymaking. Cultural policies have gradually incorporated the conceptual approaches which took shape in Mexico in 1982 and Stockholm in 1998, thus highlighting the historical significance of such world conferences and their profound impact on cultural policies over the following decades.

This upward trajectory has been directly supported by the gradual commitment of countries towards expanding regulatory frameworks in the cultural sector – an endeavor that was supported by UNESCO through its normative function by the development of a set of soft law and binding normative instruments over the past decades. Concepts around the definitions of cultural heritage, cultural expressions, creativity and their significance for peoples and societies were subsequently refined, systematized and translated into international legal instruments through the emergence of the UNESCO Culture Conventions in 2001, 2003 and 2005, adding themselves to the already existing “first generation” normative instruments and frameworks such as the 1954, 1970 and 1972 UNESCO Conventions. These global policy discussions also triggered the “first generation” Conventions to evolve their approaches in light of contemporary challenges, leading to the emergence, for example, of concepts such as historic urban landscapes or underwater heritage. Overall, UNESCO Culture Conventions, Declarations and Recommendations provide Member States with a robust set of policy and standard-setting instruments, whose ratification and implementation has been instrumental in strengthening and updating the cultural sector’s legislative frameworks at the national level. In recent years, the implementation of UNESCO’s Culture Conventions and programmes at country level has also allowed States to review their policy approaches to better demonstrate the impact of these regulatory frameworks on sustainable development, notably by integrating the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) into their assessment and monitoring mechanisms.

Despite these fundamental structural advances, the cultural sector remains vulnerable – a fragility which was starkly exposed by the COVID-19 pandemic. While bringing out the essential role of culture – as well as the undisputed economic and social value of the cultural sector in the sustainable development paradigm – the pandemic also served as a reality check, exposing preexisting vulnerabilities within the cultural sector. As millions of artists and cultural professionals were abruptly left out of work, the necessity to consolidate social security to build a more resilient and thriving cultural sector was particularly highlighted. With many cultural venues and institutions now facing permanent closure, putting cultural diversity at risk, renewing and stabilizing their economic models emerged as a key priority. As international travel was put on hold, the dependence of the cultural sector on the tourism industry and the need to forge more inclusive and sustainable tourism models was made more pressing. Likewise, it also unveiled the reality of social inequalities and the digital divide.


Now is the time to re-embrace global solidarity and find new ways to work together for the common good.
Antonio Guterres United Nations Secretary-General

A renewed momentum on culture and sustainable development

Linkages between culture and sustainable development were already at the core of both the 1982 and 1998 UNESCO World Conferences on Cultural Policies, reflecting the historical grounding of this rationale, as soon as the notion of sustainable development itself took shape in global policy discussions in the early 1980s, notably fostered by the United Nations World Decade for Cultural Development (1988-1997), with UNESCO as the lead agency. The World Decade was aimed at broadening development concepts to place greater emphasis on its cultural dimension, fostering creative skills and cultural life, thus redressing the limitations of a development concept that had been based primarily on quantitative and material growth since the end of the Second World War, towards a more global concept of development, embracing the aspirations of peoples and societies to shape the twenty-first century. However, in the following decades, the nexus between culture and sustainable development, which was inherently conducive to a transversal and holistic vision of culture ,was overshadowed by a more sectoral approach to cultural policies that was deemed a better fit to responding to globalization targets. Thereby it also hindered the effective integration of the cultural sector across public policies at the national and global levels, up until the adoption of the 2000 UN Millennium Declaration by the international community and the launch of the Millennium Development Goals, which preceded the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

Over the past few years, however, policy engagement around harnessing culture for sustainable development has gained significant momentum at both the global, regional and national levels, further highlighting the undisputed recognition of the social and economic weight of the cultural sector and its multidimensional impact on resilience, wellbeing and prosperity. This momentum was further strengthened by a number of global policy processes led or supported by UNESCO. The reinvestment of global policy dialogue on culture for sustainable development at the global and regional levels, echoing a growing aspiration of countries to engage in culture-led multilateral dialogue, was illustrated notably by the UNESCO Forum of Ministers of Culture in November 2019. Likewise, the unprecedented inclusion of culture in the G20 in 2019 and 2020, under the respective presidencies of Saudi Arabia and Italy, marked a major step forward, leading to the first ever G20 ministerial Declaration on culture in July 2021. Regional and sub-regional organizations also proved instrumental in amplifying this momentum, notably through supporting regional culture ministerial dialogue, data collection, policy monitoring and evidence-building, as well as joint advocacy efforts to document and demonstrate this rationale.


MONDIACULT 2022 will provide new momentum for the global policy dialogue on culture for sustainable development, to advance the free exchange of ideas and knowledge by encouraging cooperation among countries.
Ernesto Ottone R., UNESCO Assistant Director-General for Culture

Equally, culture has gained ground in sustainable development frameworks in more robust and systemic ways. The paradigm shift entailed by the adoption of the 2030 Agenda, whose logic relies on a comprehensive approach to public policies beyond a silos approach guided by sectoral policies, poses sustainable development as a set of interrelated variables that opens up a new perspective alongside novel approaches in harnessing culture as a critical dimension in development processes. Although culture does not have a dedicated Sustainable Development Goal (SDG), it pervades all the 17 SDGs, reflecting its impact across the public policy spectrum, from social inclusion and economic growth, to education, climate action and urban policies. At the UN level, this policy trend is apparent, in particular, by the momentum propelled by the International Year of the Creative Economy for Sustainable Development in 2021 or the upcoming adoption of a strengthened UN Resolution on Culture and Development, which further reflects and amplifies countries’ commitment.

The trend is further strengthened by the integration of culture as a crosscutting dimension in the work of UN agencies, funds and programmes whose core mandate relate to education, migrations, gender equality, labor, trade, intellectual property, human rights, tourism, and social development. Furthermore, the growing inclusion of culture in national sustainable development planning and monitoring – notably as part UN Sustainable Development Cooperation Frameworks, Common Country Assessments, Voluntary National Reports, as well as COVID-19 national impact assessment and recovery plans – testifies to a more solid and articulate anchoring of culture within sustainable development thinking and practices. To continue this drive UNESCO has put in place an Interagency Platform on Culture for Sustainable Development in May 2021, bringing together 24 UN agencies as well as international and regional organizations to foster a structured dialogue and strengthen joint action. Building on these converging dynamics and as we enter the last Decade of Action for the achievement of the 2030 Agenda, the transversal nature of culture and its transformative impact will be instrumental to fill implementation gaps and shape sustainable development pathways.

MONDIACULT 2022: Many voices, common goals

In order to ensure a holistic and thorough reflection on future directions for cultural policies, MONDIACULT 2022 builds on the voices of a wide-range of stakeholders to reposition culture at the core of development prospects through institutional, intellectual, and operational cooperation, in the tradition of UNESCO's role as a laboratory of ideas. MONDIACULT 2022 is an intergovernmental conference, with Member States experiences, needs and priorities at the fore. However, the vital perspectives and insights from various stakeholders, including organizations from civil society, are also critical for shaping future prospects towards a more inclusive, resilient and renewed cultural sector.

Five regional consultations held between December 2021 and February 2022 brought to the fore current trends pertaining to cultural policies, notably in the context of the post-pandemic recovery strategies; identifying key areas for the adaptation of the cultural sector to address current challenges; and specific priorities requiring urgent policy investment, with a view to formulating concrete and operational recommendations.


Building reflections: Some regional prospects

Whilst there are differences in the emerging priorities across the five regions, the inclusive regional consultations identified overall trends to be addressed by the MONDIACULT Conference...


ResiliArt x MONDIACULT 2022: A UNESCO global movement for and by artists and cultural workers

In parallel of the regional consultations, UNESCO has been engaging with civil society organizations and cultural professionals, particularly through the ResiliArt X MONDIACULT 2022 movement.

ResiliArt was launched by UNESCO in April 2020 as a global movement to capture the resilience and concerns of artists and culture professionals in the face of COVID-19 crisis through virtual debates. At its launch, publicly-accessible online conferences were far and few between; ResiliArt hence served as a pioneering platform of open exchange dedicated to culture with a coherent mission and framework, stimulating debate and new arenas for dialogue. A rapid global replication followed, and to date, over 350 debates have been organized involving more than 115 countries, covering a multitude of topics from creativity to heritage. The latest phase of ResiliArt capitalises on the success of the movement launched during the global lockdown that stimulated new arenas for dialogue for artists and cultural professionals in all regions of the world.

The movement serves as an inclusive, accessible platform for any interested stakeholder to contextualize the high-level deliberation leading up to MONDIACULT and inform its outcomes. The recommendations, data and results of each ResiliArt x MONDIACULT debate will be gathered through an online survey, subsequently analyzed by UNESCO to develop regionally categorized overviews and trends. Such analysis will be used during the upstream preparation of the Conference and Member State consultations, so high-level discussions in Mexico City will take into account the ever evolving needs, gaps and opportunities on the ground.