In recent years, Agenda 21 for Culture is one of the most successful models for integrating participatory principles into urban policy planning. This is the first document with worldwide mission to advocate cultural development on a city and local level. It was approved in 2004 4th Forum of Local Authorities for Social Inclusion of Porto Alegre and is now a reference document for the world organisation of United Cities and Local Governments (UCLG).

Jordi Pascual coordinates the process “Agenda 21 for culture” and is often seen as the visible head of an interesting worldwide network of cities for culture. He also teaches urban cultural policies and management at the Open University of Catalonia – UOC. He often writes articles and gives conferences on the role of culture in sustainable development. He has been a member of the jury of the European Capital of Culture for 2010, 2011 and 2013. Jordi holds a post-graduate in International Cultural Relations and MA in Human Geography.

1. Jordi, many cultural practitioners are not aware, are not interested, or do not understand policy aspects.  Agenda 21 for culture is a crucial document but probably hard to be understood by artists, arts managers, cultural producers because of the specific “policy language” it uses. Could you explain in simple words why this document is so powerful? What is the secret of attracting global attention?

Well this is a nice range of difficult questions. Let’s go step by step. What I see is that the cultural actors “on the field” (artists, producers, heritage professionals, etc.) are seldom interested in policies, they often argue that policy is a “dirty word”, and does not reflect their “real” work and the real world. There are powerful reasons, of course, that sustain this argument: politics have tried in some cases to manipulate cultural actors. Fair enough. What can I say? Well, (1) “policy” is not “politics”, (2) there are (either explicit or implicit) policies in all areas, (3) we need policy frameworks in the cultural sector to get funding and have an impact, (4) I like policies, because they are a mean to change the world.

You are right when you say the policy language is difficult. The Agenda 21 for culture was written in 2004   and there was a serious effort to “minimise” the jargon, but it is clear that some articles are impossible to be actually understood by practitioners (for example, article 18), I like to think they have provide some nice images (for example articles 5, 13 or 23).

It is interesting to mention that more and more cultural policy-makers engaged with Agenda 21 for culture, but also many cultural managers have asked the committee on culture to write a new Agenda 21 for culture in 2014.

2. Agenda 21 for Culture has 67 articles, divided into three large sections (principles, undertakings, recommendations) and covers the following main topics: culture and human rights; culture and governance; culture, sustainability and territory; culture and social inclusion; culture and economy. It seems that every word in this document is important, but could you highlight the focus, the core aspect of this document?

Well, not all articles have the same importance, no. A special “hairdressing committee” will have to use the scissors before 2014, cut some paragraphs, simplify some ideas, decrease the “epic”, etc.. The new document should be a stronger declaration and a real agenda, perhaps with 10-12 specific policy actions that cities could engage to develop, with explicit targets to be achieved by cities; this is what Teixeira Coelho suggested to the Committee on culture in his critical article “For an effective and contemporary Agenda 21 for culture” published in 2009 (see “Cities, cultures and developments”, the report that marked the fifth anniversary of Agenda 21 for culture). But coming back to your question: the core aspect of Agenda 21 for culture. Well, it is not easy to formulate it. Every reader highlights different aspects. I would emphasise as a key aspect that it promotes “culture to be the fourth pillar of sustainable development” (see the report “Culture and sustainable development: examples of institutional innovation and proposal of a new cultural policy profile” and “Culture: The Fourth Pillar of Sustainability”, CECC Cultural Research Session, SFU, March 31, 2006. This is a very strong image; I reckon the most powerful narrative the cultural and artistic actors can use to promote their work, and to explain their contribution to society.

Development of cities cannot rely anymore only on the triangle “economy-equity-environment”. Citizens nowadays need (more than ever!) risk, critical knowledge, memories, creativity… We need these values to be free to choose our lives (in the words of Amartya Sen), or to “widen the sphere of conscience of the being” in the words of Montesquieu. These are the values that feed the work in the cultural and artistic field. And they cannot be subsumed only under policy objectives that aim to economic growth, job creation and exports (the first pillar), equity and social inclusion (the second pillar: very often too boring, too paternalistic or too close to the narratives of closed identities) or the environment (the third pillar).

With Agenda 21 for culture, cities have the narrative to put culture at the same height of influence as other policy areas, suggesting that cultural and artistic actors are involved in any process aiming to the development of a city.

3. Exactly, Agenda 21 for culture is implemented by some cities. Why a network of cities and local governments was established and how does it operate today?

In 2004, immediately after its approval, Agenda 21 for culture could have been put into a bookshelf and be forgotten in a short term. Some cities started in 2002 lobbying the main actors of emerging new world organisation of cities (United Cities and Local Governments) to accept Agenda 21 for culture as ”its” document for local cultural policies. Cities did not have any “common field for cultural policies”, and the opportunity could not be missed.

The lobby was successful and both process coincided in time! UCLG was created on 5 May 2004, and Agenda 21 for culture was adopted on 8 May 2004. A “Committee on culture” is operated by UCLG to disseminate and implement Agenda 21 for culture. Today the “committee” has around 50 official members, but the list of other cities, organisations or institutions that are related to Agenda 21 for culture reaches the 400. Barcelona City Council invested seed resources to make this process grow.

The Committee meets once a year, shares practice on local cultural policies and discuss new projects. Meetings are open to official members and observers, as well as the circulars and newsletters reach   everybody interested in the topic.

4. Why the process of adopting Agenda 21 for culture is so important worldwide? Why are you personally so much inspired by it?

When a City Council adopts Agenda 21 for culture, it establishes a commitment with the cultural and artistic actors of a city, and with the citizenry. Cultural policies become a priority, and they are accountable by local civil society and citizens. A City council commits to implement a local cultural strategy, a culture council, a local charter of cultural rights or a cultural impact assessment (up to each city to decide). Moreover, that City Council establishes a commitment with other cities: to share information on cultural policies and to engage on international cultural cooperation programmes.

5. The website of Agenda 21 for culture contains a lot of resources (documents, articles, research work, etc.) and many of them are translated in several languages – I know well how difficult it is to maintain multilingual online resources. Could you give us an idea what these resources are about?

Yes, thank you Lidia, you are too generous. Our website has some useful resources: the translation of Agenda 21 for culture in many languages, articles on the implementation of Agenda 21 for culture by several cities, interesting reports on the relation between (a) local policies and cultural diversity, (b) culture and millennium development goals, or (c) cultural policies and sustainable development, as well as a brilliant report on the state of the art of Agenda 21 for culture in France.

The website is interactive and is open to anyone who wishes to upload and article online, or to announce an event on local cultural policies so that it is visible worldwide.

6. How this process might influence the cultural practice?

Well, this is probably the most difficult question. I hope that Agenda 21 for culture enables the local cultural actors, especially the civil society actors, to be considered as unavoidable partners in any project or programme for the development of the city. Cultural actors are not instruments to achieve more exports, or to struggle against poverty. Cultural messages are extremely important for a city development, and they need to be voiced by the local cultural actors!

Having said this, I must add that Agenda 21 for culture plea that cultural and artistic do not work in anisolation and do not become an elite, but they actively engage citizens, deal with cultural rights and local needs.

7. What are the key events around Agenda 21 for culture happening in the next months?

We plan some really exciting things. Examples:

– We are writing a brief “policy statement” on culture and sustainable development, to be approved in the World Summit of Local and Regional Leaders (Mexico, 16-20 November 2010). The draft will be circulated very soon.

– We are preparing also new articles on local implementation of Agenda 21 for culture.

– We wish to prepare a peer-review programme for 2011, with which cultural officers will be able to spend a week in another city.

– And last, but not least, we will publish the results of the call for projects of the Fund for Agenda 21 for culture, created by Barcelona City Council and AECID, in cooperation with UCLG, worth of 675.000 euro, targeting cities in Africa, Ibero-America and the Mediterranean.

Read the blog post also on LabforCulture: http://www.labforculture.org/en/moderators/lidia-varbanova/51495/70730

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