What indicators should be used to measure individuals’ access to cultural rights? How can a strengthening of cultural life contribute to social inclusion and participation? This paper from the Interarts Foundation looks at three geographically diverse consultations on cultural inclusion to identify the key cultural rights priorities for communities worldwide. It argues that an enabling cultural environment promotes individuals’ access to their rights and a sense of social responsibility.
International law has traditionally enshrined cultural rights. It has protected in particular the principle of non-discrimination among different cultures, and the freedom of individual groups, especially minorities, to practise their cultural activities. But increasingly, “cultural life” has been applied not just to artistic expression or minority rights, but to communities’ involvement in policy formation and their freedom to undertake collective action.
Cultural activity, since it promotes creativity, self-expression and self-confidence, should be a key consideration in all forms of social and development policy. Cultural inclusion, when applied to policies on education, civil society and urban design, can strengthen social cohesion. Only by placing values at the heart of the cultural space can policymakers link political concerns with these other policy areas.
While cultural rights violations, such as restrictions on minority languages or limitations on the publication of books, have long been identified, there are no frameworks to measure or respond to such breaches. The cultural rights approach proposes various ways of assessing cultural inclusion:
- Indicators of cultural participation should accommodate good governance values and individuals’ and communities’ own, self-defined cultural priorities.
- Observers should define minimum standards for the basic cultural entitlements which states must respect regardless of available resources. These standards include the protection of cultural heritage, freedom to use minority languages, diversity of educational programmes and protection of artists.
- Measurements can be partly based on states’ ratification of international legislation relating to the protection of, and participation in, cultural life.
- There are various categories of measurements of access to cultural life. Indicators include the use of languages, the dissemination and conservation of culture and the protection of cultural property.
Consultations at a local level and with regional experts have revealed the need for a new, dynamic approach to cultural rights, in contrast to the traditional top-down perspective:
- Within the urban context, policymakers should encourage participation and a sense of place and belonging in the city space. The involvement of civil society is key to the promotion of tolerance and equal participation in the urban space.
- Cultural liberties are essential to sustainable diversity in cultural life. Five core elements – linguistic pluralism, mother tongue education, culturally diverse curricula, religious freedoms and multiple identities – are defined as measurable components of cultural liberty.
- Few people have faith in cultural rights measurements based on the enactment of legal obligations.
- Communities prioritise equality of opportunity, access to cultural heritage, protection of minority cultures and the individual’s right to participate in cultural activities.