'Culture cannot be dissociated from development in any society'

There is, it seems, little dispute in public cultural policy discourse today that art has the potential to have a powerful transformative function on society. How exactly is it that art can achieve these 'transformative' effects?
This is a question that has proved difficult to answer, as evaluation of art practices is often elusive and difficult to measure (i). In my time as researcher for Arts Cabinet, I have undertaken the task to explore whether artistic research practices can connect with Culture and Development policies. The reason for this is because artistic research has the potential, through its mode of inquiry, speculation and curiosity, to look at the world as it is and question how it might otherwise be. My research consisted of establishing possible links between these arts based methodologies and the possible relation between art and social cohesion.

The first high profile public recognition of the significant contribution culture could make to development agendas was made by the Director General of UNESCO at the inauguration of the World Decade for Cultural Development (1988-1998) with the statement that ‘Culture cannot be dissociated from development in any society’[i]. The end of the decade saw the elevation of the status of culture amongst policy makers and the wide acceptance of the symbiotic relationship between culture and development was presently written into a plethora of international policy documents and agreements such as the Cotonou Agreement 2000, the Dakar Declaration 2003 and the Declaration of Santo Domingo 2006, to name just a few.

Although culture’s key contribution to development has thus been recognised for some time, recent policy developments, most notably the 2015 Declaration on the Inclusion of Culture in the Sustainable Development Goals and also the UN’s Agenda for Sustainable Development until 2030, have cemented this still further and bare testament to the continued importance of culture within development frameworks and the recognition of its impacts on the international policy making arena. Recent initiatives at the EU level have also placed renewed emphasis on the strengthening of this relationship, with the recent announcements made by Federica Mogherini as part of the ‘Culture in EU External Relations’ agenda once again emphasising culture’s critical role.

In light of this policy context, which has once again placed a renewed spotlight on culture and development, there is now an impetus on finding new and innovative ways to adopt culture for developmental purposes, yet it is not always obvious how. Part of the challenge of ‘culture and development’ as a term and as a policy leading to practice, is precisely because of the broad nature of both terms and their multiple definitions. Development of course, has many facets, which include economic, social and educational, whilst culture is a notoriously ambiguous, dual natured term, which can both relate to activities in the arts and creative sectors as well as more broadly denote a way of life and ‘what shapes our identity’[ii]. Culture in this latter definition and the fostering of a diversity of different cultures is of course an essential and important aspect of sustainable development, as was articulated by UNESCO’s ‘Our Creative Diversity Report’[iii] (1996), yet cultural projects offer the clearest means of analysis.

It is high time to try and demystify the connection between culture and development by breaking it down into specifics and to find the causal relationship of how precisely culture can impact positively on the development of individuals, communities and nations in need. Capacity building is often seen as one of the key elements and tools of development and cultural projects can certainly contribute to capacity building through building and developing individuals' skills, which when shared and exchanged, can achieve positive societal impacts through a ripple effect, particularly in societies affected by conflict and trauma. Acting in the role of 'cultural mediator'[iv], it is Arts Cabinet's belief, that artistic research practices in particular, offer a good example of culture's effective contribution to capacity building and it is the organisation's intention to continue to explore this potential.

Back to artistic research. Artistic Research is the combination of an artistic and research component whereby the artist conducts research as part of their creative practice. This 'research process' can be documented by the artist and can include exposure to a wide range of activities, such as archival research, collection of artefacts, exposure to interdisciplinary conferences, networking with other artists and dissemination of work. It is in the skills acquired as part of this research process that the 'developmental' aspect of artistic research lies, particularly when we consider the case of artists from less developed countries, countries in transition and countries affected by conflict or a particular event of societal trauma. In these cases, the artist's engagement and collaboration with a research institution and researcher in another country allows them the freedom to partake in a research process of their own design and facilitates their participation in various research practices and activities. Artistic practice is a 'central means of developing openness, dealing with change and developing the capacity to communicate'(v). Artists can use the knowledge, skills or 'capacity' gained to address societal issues in their art, educate others, disseminate, engage in dialogue and overall create positive societal repercussions upon return to their home countries, thereby contributing to a process of local level 'capacity building'. The importance of the role of the artist as a critic on societal ills and a medium for discussion of solutions, is expounded in detail by Daniel Gad in 'Artists as Change Agents'(vi).

If we recognise that in most policy discourses, such as those produced by UNESCO and the United Nations, capacity building is seen as a critical element to social cohesion, we can thus begin to understand the connection between artistic research and social cohesion, as, in sharing their knowledge and skills locally, artists become the capacity builders. This model of capacity building also offers a chance to redefine and challenge traditional top down approaches to capacity building, offering the chance to evaluate the benefits of a bottom up approach, as a key quality of artistic research is that the artistic research process is democratic, and artist led.

Due to the specific nature of artistic research, as a practice which is very self-aware and engaged, and one in which it is implicit that the artist seeks to engage in dialogue with his or her surroundings, and the combination of a 'research' element, artistic research projects can be tracked and evaluated in a more measurable way, as the artist's research journey can be documented and the activities they take part in recorded and tracked and the effects of these activities and skills evaluated when the artist returns to their home country.

[i] Gad, Daniel, Artists as Change Agents in Contemporary Perspectives on Art and International Development, by Stupples, Polly and Teaiwa, Katerina, Routledge, 2017, p.82.
[i] FEDERICO MAYOR Director-General of UNESCO, A World Decade for Cultural Development http://unesdoc.unesco.org/images/0008/000817/081721eo.pdf
[ii]Culture for Sustainable Development, UNESCO http://en.unesco.org/themes/culture-sustainable-development
[iii] Our Creative Diversity, UNESCO 1996, http://unesdoc.unesco.org/images/0010/001055/105586e.pdf
[iv] Gad, Daniel, Artists as Change Agents in Contemporary Perspectives on Art and International Development, by Stupples, Polly and Teaiwa, Katerina, Routledge, 2017, p.83.
[v] Gad, Daniel, Artists as Change Agents in Contemporary Perspectives on Art and International Development, by Stupples, Polly and Teaiwa, Katerina, Routledge, 2017, p.81
[vi] Gad, Daniel, Artists as Change Agents in Contemporary Perspectives on Art and International Development, by Stupples, Polly and Teaiwa, Katerina, Routledge, 2017.