Diversity and sustainability at work.

Policies and practices from culture and education


Under the main theme “Diversity and sustainability at work. Policies and practices from culture and education”,the 2019 ENCATC Congress on Cultural Management and Policy (2-5 October, 2019 – Dijon, France) aims to thoroughly explore the practical meanings of diversity in the cultural and creative sector, and investigate how its different connotations are contributing to the sustainability discourse in the field.

In recent years, the academic and political debate on sustainability has been particularly intense. Key stakeholders in the field of cultural management and policy have also engaged in this global debate, discussing both on what it means for a cultural organisation to be sustainable and how can sustainability be ensured, and also on how does culture contribute to sustainable development, as a fourth pillar that adds to the economic, social, and environmental dimensions.

Furthermore, in the particular context of cultural and creative sectors, it may be observed that sustainability shifted in the last years from institutional continuation to prolonging impact and dissemination. Thus, the future challenge may be to answer the question: What is the concept of sustainability in a VUCA (volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity) world? How to rethink sustainability in this context?

Diversity in the cultural and creative sectors: multiple practical meanings

Policies and practice

The meanings of the concept of diversity can be various and relate to several sub-themes that are peculiar to the cultural dimension as well as to the other pillars of sustainable development. This multiplicity of meanings is particularly interesting for actors in the cultural sector, who can interpret it in relation to their organisations, sub-sectors and other sectors of impact

More specifically, diversity in the cultural and creative sector can be addressed from different perspectives and has different connotations. It may refer to diversity of cultural and artistic production; diversity of artists/inclusion of different categories of artists; diversity of business models; diversity of audiences; diversity in creative spaces such as co-working and incubators places, or diversity of governance and management models, among others.

By way of example of some of the different expressions of these distinct connotations, diversity is a key theme in the political debate on the need for a balanced cultural offer both in cities and peripheral and rural regions, which is at the centre of the current debates in France. The inclusion of diverse sources of funding and a multiplicity of actors is also central to the the development of new governance and management models, having it been the leading principle for the creation of local cultural ecosystems for sustainable cultural-led/driven local development paths throughout Europe. From a different perspective, diversity of cultures must be thought even more than before as related rather to the subject (the “user” of cultural offerings) than to the artwork or the genre. Inside culture and arts, new forms of encounter and new meanings that culture and art have in people’s lives are emerging. Sustainability will only be achieved, if cultural management and policies are able to deal with these things.

Acknowledging the multiple ways in which diversity expresses itself in the cultural and creative sector, one of the main objectives of the 2019 ENCATC Congress is to put this concept in action, analysing practical examples at the professional, institutional and policy level to elaborate new approaches to this theme. The analyses will range from applied projects and case studies of diversity in cultural and creative organizations, to elaborations of new theoretical models and practical guidelines that could be used at the academic and policy making level.

Contribution of cultural diversity to the sustainability discourse and practice

Diversity has been central to the understanding of culture as a dimension of sustainable development from the very beginning of this connection. It is no coincidence that the 2001 UNESCO Declaration on Cultural Diversity is considered as one of the key documents in the process leading to the inclusion of culture as the fourth dimension of sustainable development. In this reference document, cultural diversity is described as “necessary for humankind as biodiversity is for nature”. This 2001 Declaration was based on the recognition of intangible and tangible cultural heritage as an expression of the plurality of world’s identities, considering societies as plural and a complex intertwining of cultural assets.

How can the focus on diversity lead us to rethink the contribution of the cultural sector to the political and scientific debate on sustainability?

Including cultural diversity in the sustainability discourse would mean setting the basis for preservation but also for an adaptive process, in which the diverse capacities for expression, creation and innovation are fundamental for the development of cultural capital and values for society. In this interpretation the cultural dimension and its diversity component become the basis for social, environmental and economic sustainable development, ensuring the preservation of its values and principles.

This interpretation of the role of cultural diversity and sustainability could however be considered just as a first step towards a broader reflection on culture and cultural diversity in the sustainability debate. In other words, the most obvious link between the two is the diversity of artistic expressions and cultural values as a component of sustainable development, but the contribution of cultural diversity to sustainability is certainly not limited to this dimension.

Further reflecting on the link between diversity and sustainability in the cultural and creative field can lead us to reflect, for instance, on how diversity can make cultural organisations more economically, socially and environmentally sustainable. It would stimulate reflection on other potential connections such as the role of diversity in business models of cultural enterprises or diversity as a key component of innovation for incubators and co-working places in the cultural sector and beyond.

When talking about diversity and sustainability, it may be argued that there is an ongoing discourse, which is taking place at a fairly high level, and which is far ahead of practical implementation. In practical terms, there is still a lack of a sufficient number of convincing examples of good practices that are in dialogue with the discourse.

Rethinking cultural management and policy in the context of the debate on diversity and sustainable development

The 2019 ENCATC Congress aims to reflect on these issues in order to be able to propose innovative actions and theoretical contributions on how the focus on diversity can lead us to rethink the contribution of the cultural sector to the political and scientific debate on sustainability.

Rethinking the meaning of diversity in the cultural sector for sustainable development also means questioning how education and training programmes can be rethought on the basis of practical examples and case studies showing the different connotations of cultural diversity and its impact on sustainability. With regard to this, education could embark on leadership in rethinking sustainability and creating cultural methods to manage uncertainty.