Interview with David Throsby, 2019 ENCATC congress keynote

Cultural economics may be seen as articulated to a continuum addressing two value creation perspectives – cultural and economic. How would this articulate with environmental and societal values? 

David Throsby: The academic discipline of cultural economics, or the economics of art and culture, has grown over the last three or four decades to become a significant area of theoretical and applied economics. Research in the field has dealt with a range of issues including the structure of art markets, the behaviour of artists, the operations of cultural institutions such as museums, galleries, performing companies and so on, the economics of cultural heritage, and the relationships between cultural and economic policy. Questions of the value of art have been of particular interest, with efforts to understand the multiple values – financial and non-financial – that attach to art objects, cultural experiences, etc. This has led to a clear distinction being drawn between economic value and cultural value as a dual value system applicable to art and culture, and has enabled a definition to be developed for cultural goods and services as a distinct class of products in the economy.

From biodiversity to cultural diversity – is the often suggested parallel relevant? How crucial is cultural diversity to cultural sustainability – and global sustainability? What is the role for the cultural sector in the debates re- the Anthropocene era diagnosis, perspectives, solution?

David Throsby: The concepts of sustainability and sustainable development have direct relevance to culture, reflected in the parallels between natural capital and cultural capital. The latter concept in economic analysis refers to any capital asset such as a painting, a heritage building, a cultural site, etc. which embodies or gives rise to cultural value in addition to whatever economic value it possesses. Natural capital, in the form of the air, sea and land resources that have been given to us by nature, imposes on humankind a duty of care, to manage these resources in ways that respect the rights of future generations. Similarly, we have a responsibility to manage the cultural capital resources that have been provided for us by the creativity of human beings. In the context of sustainability, the parallel continues – given that environmentally sustainable development refers to the sustainable management of natural resources, we can define culturally sustainability as relating to the sustainable management of cultural resources.

It is well known that biodiversity is a key component of natural capital. The parallel with cultural capital extends to the similarities between biodiversity and cultural diversity. In fact, we value cultural diversity for the same sorts of reasons as we refer to when we speak of the value of biodiversity to the Anthropocene. So the preservation and protection of cultural diversity plays a similar role in culturally sustainable development as biodiversity does in environmentally or ecological sustainability. 

Any examples of cultural and creative projects, experiments, concrete experiences, the sharing of which we may derive lessons in the perspective of the diversity and sustainability challenge?

David Throsby: The most important international agreement on cultural diversity is the 2005 UNESCO Convention for the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Culture Expressions. Almost 150 countries are signatories to this convention, which spells out a range of obligations for the protection of the arts and culture and for the enhancement of the contribution of the cultural sector to economic, social, environmental and cultural development. There is a range of reports published by UNESCO that give examples of cultural and creative projects relating diversity and sustainability that have been undertaken in many countries around the world – see particularly a review of the Convention’s first 10 years published in 2015 under the title Reshaping Cultural Policies: A Decade Promoting the Diversity of Cultural Expressions for Development.