Commonwealth Foundation: "Culture is ignored at the peril of development"

July 2009 -

Governments around the world should take heed of the 'transformative power' of culture in social, economic and environmental development, a panel of artists, writers and high ranking arts administrators proclaimed last week. The Commonwealth Group on Culture and Development – convened by the Commonwealth Foundation earlier this year - warned at their inaugural meeting on 25 and 26 June 2009 that culture is too often neglected at the cost of human and environmental development.

"We want to encourage politicians, governments and organisations to think through just what they can do to maximise the role of culture in working with development in their countries," chair of the group Lola Young said at the meeting at Marlborough House, the headquarters of the Foundation in London."There is a perception that culture is the frilly bit, the icing on the cake, and once we've sorted out the really big problems then we'll deal with culture," she explained. "We say totally the opposite."

"We're in a pretty horrible space at the moment across the world – we’ve got an economic recession, environmental damage, conflict, all kinds of problems. But culture can make a contribution towards mitigating the worst effects of these."

During their two-day session, the group discussed how governments and development organisations should engage artists, actors, musicians and other arts professionals to help communicate essential messages on issues as diverse as climate change, education, health and hiv/aids.

A final declaration - based on input being sought from organisations and individuals around the Commonwealth - will be made available to Heads of Government at their biennial summit in Trinidad and Tobago in November 2009.

Bangladeshi author and fellow panel member Tahmima Anam, who last year won the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for Best First Book, agreed that cultural assets are too often “overlooked”.

“Development programmes which incorporate some aspect of culture are the ones that are most effective,” she said.

“One of our projects is to look at how we can monetise cultural resources and appreciate cultural capital. A very poor country like Bangladesh has so many folk singers - those folk singers can be really useful in spreading social messages.

“It is really about a reframing of the relationship between culture and development – they don’t have to be separate.”