Panel Remarks: Cultural policies and beyond: Culture as a lever for Inclusive Growth

Remarks delivered in Venice at the OECD Conference on Unleashing the Transformative Power of Culture and Creativity for Local Development

Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen

I’m pleased to be able to have this conversation, as I think culture and inequalities are linked, although the link is often overlooked. Indeed, in times of fiscal austerity as we have seen in Europe, cultural activities are often the first to suffer from government cuts.

Let me first introduce the panel. With us today we have:

  • Gianluca VACCA, Under State Secretary at the Italian Ministry of Cultural Heritage and Activities
  • Caroline NORBURY, CEO of Creative England, and Member of the Board of European Creative Industries Network
  • Ambassador Umberto VATTANI, President of the International University of Venice

I am looking forward to hearing your views. But before we do, I would just like to briefly set the scene for the discussion.

Let me start with the big picture: rising inequalities and the persistent lack of inclusive growth is one of the most urgent global challenges we face today.

Top incomes continue to rise: the richest 10% now command around ten times the income of the poorest 10% on average across the OECD, up from seven times 25 years ago.[1] The picture in terms of wealth is worse: the top 1% now holds 19% of total wealth across the OECD.[2]

This skewed distribution with concentrations of power, wealth and influence at the top of the income distribution is fuelling a backlash against globalization and the return of populism and protectionism in many countries. Citizen’s trust in governments has plummeted: only 42% of people trust their governments across the OECD, whilst 54% of the general population trust financial service providers to “do the right thing”.[3]

The OECD has responded by advocating to place the person back at the centre of public policy, to move away from overvaluing GDP growth as a means in itself, and rather place greater value on people’s wellbeing.

Our Policy Framework for Inclusive Growth is designed to help countries create fairer, more inclusive and sustainable growth. The Framework has three key pillars: invest in people and places left behind; support business dynamism and inclusive labour markets; and rebuild trust with more efficient and responsive governments.

Art and culture, as the finest expressions of creativity, values and fundamental humanity, play a role in these elements.

Firstly, culture and art can be tools for bridging exclusive social divides and promote social cohesion. As ideological camps are becoming more entrenched, we are losing track of our values of empathy, tolerance, and understanding. Not only are these fundamental human values necessary for strong societies, but it’s these socio-emotional skills that are necessary to create any kind of economic, social, or political progress or consensus.

Communities around the world are therefore using cultural programmes to integrate disadvantaged populations more effectively into economic and social life. This is also important in the integration of migrants as questions of identity and belonging become increasingly complex.

For example, the UN Migration Agency and programmes like Creative Europe are endorsing creative solutions for both adults and children to bring individuals together around art and culture. Art, music, and sport can help us learn and appreciate different cultures, and provides common ground from which to build empathy, understanding, and tolerance.

Second, socio-emotional skills are essential in the context of the future of work and the dawn of digitalisation, where they are becoming  increasingly desirable.

Over the past three years the proportion of job adverts requiring “critical thinking” has risen by 158 per cent, “creativity” by 65 per cent and “team work” by 19 per cent. Employers value workers that are well-rounded and can think creatively. Acquiring these skills will be essential for children’s learning. Formal education should cultivate the creativity and critical thinking skills of students to help them succeed in modern, globalised economies based on knowledge and innovation.

For the first time, this year the OECD’s PISA included “Global Competence” among its assessment frameworks. In 2021, PISA will test Creative Thinking for the first time.

Providing wider opportunities to cultural and artistic enrichment programmes can therefore be an effective way of building these socio-emotional skills in students and workers, preparing them for new forms of work.

For example, enhancing access to libraries and cultural centres, museums and cultural services, targeting cultural policies to disadvantaged populations or remote areas, is an example of investment in people and places left behind that can promote greater inclusion in the future of work. Governments should invest in these services, particularly in poorer regions, where people feel left behind.

A lack of cultural activities can contribute to the accumulation of inequalities from a young age. Parents in low socio-economic households might not have the time, nor the means to spend on cultural activities. We can see divides starting to emerge very early on, for example, if families aren’t providing sufficient learning stimuli to their children, it can lead to deficiencies in brain development, which is difficult to make up at a later stage. Research shows that children from low socio-economic status may hear up to 30 million words less than children in wealthier households.[4] So by the age of three, a child’s future learning outcomes could be significantly pre-determined.

What’s more, research has shown that cultural activities can have a positive effect on mental and physical well-being, helping to reduce stress and promote relaxation. Specifically, people often going to concerts, museums, art galleries, or the cinema, can have lower mortality rates compared to people who rarely engage in these activities, even when age, gender, social background, education and income have been controlled for.[5]

Third, there are also economic benefits to using culture as a tool to achieve more inclusive growth. Specifically, the cultural sector can act as a powerful lever for female empowerment and in the inclusion of minorities.[6]

In most European countries the female employment rate in culture exceeds their employment rate overall. In Latvia, for example, the cultural employment rate of women is almost 70% while the country’s overall female employment rate remains at 50%.[7]

Regions can significantly develop by putting the cultural and the creative sectors front and centre of their development strategies, reducing regional and place-based inequalities.[8] As well as providing employment, cultural activities also breathe life into cities, inspiring innovation and engagement in city life while also building social cohesion and strengthening a distinctive shared identity for citizens.[9]

Focusing on cultural preservation and investment can also help communities spur a culture of grassroots innovation, dynamic creation of start-ups and a vibrant social innovation sector, which are key to support business dynamism.

Ultimately, inclusive growth is about providing equal opportunity and access to the benefits of growth in order to promote greater peace and equality. The goal is to promote wellbeing and revitalise the aspects of our world that bring people joy. To allow more people to benefit from the freedom of expression that growth provides. Thus culture is not just a lever for inclusive growth. Rather, it is both a tool to achieve inclusive growth and the ultimate end goal.

[1] OECD (2018), The Policy Framework for Action on Inclusive Growth, OECD Publishing, Paris.

[2] OECD (2017), Bridging the Gap: Inclusive Growth 2017 Update Report, OECD Publishing, Paris.

[3] OECD (2017), Bridging the Gap: Inclusive Growth 2017 Update Report, OECD Publishing, Paris and Edelmann trust Barometer 2018 (reporting on survey results from between October and November 2017).

[4] Hart and Risley (1995) cited in Educational Opportunities for All, OECD 2017

[5] Impact of Culture on Individual Well-being, PierLuigi Sacco – Professor of Cultural Economics, IULM University (Milan); Enzo Grossi – Advisor Padiglione Italia EXPO 2015



[8] UNESCO, Culture for Sustainable Urban Development



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