Cultural diversity: engaging with culture in times of crisis

Thursday, May 21, 2020
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What is the role of culture in times of crisis? Is it more important to put everything aside and only focus on public health? With the onslaught of COVID-19 and confinement, the World Day for Cultural Diversity for Dialogue and Development 2020 offers an occasion to reflect on the challenges Ministers around the world have in preserving and nurturing cultural diversity.

WPL engaged female Ministers of Culture and Heritage on this day to support the goals enshrined in this Convention and to learn about their experience working to include culture and heritage in their countries during tumultuous times.


Featuring Carmen Ines Vásquez Camacho Minister of Culture, Colombia 

Quiero extenderles un caluroso saludo desde Colombia, un país orgullosamente pluriétnico y multicultural.


Actualmente nos enfrentamos a una situación sin precedentes a nivel global que demanda toda nuestra atención y esfuerzo. En esta coyuntura se ha evidenciado la relevancia de la cultura en la vida cotidiana, ofreciéndonos diversas posibilidades de transformación para cuidar nuestra salud, potenciar nuestra creatividad, inspirarnos e inspirar a los demás.  La cultura y el patrimonio son un poderoso vehículo de conexión social: artistas y gestores culturales han encontrado en plataformas digitales un medio para crear colaborativamente, así como transmitir mensajes de solidaridad y esperanza. Los ciudadanos están utilizando el arte y la cultura para encontrar formas de expresión que les permita hacer frente a los sentimientos de ansiedad, incertidumbre y desconcierto.


La celebración del Día Mundial de la Diversidad Cultural para el Diálogo y el Desarrollo es una oportunidad para insistir en la necesidad que las políticas públicas reconozcan la importancia de la diversidad cultural como herramienta para la construcción de una paz con legalidad, en un contexto que valore la tolerancia y el respeto por la pluralidad. Hoy más que nunca debemos reconocer y promover la diversidad para desmantelar estereotipos dañinos y cultivar un ambiente global de  respeto mutuo, comprensión y cooperación. Es crucial profundizar las políticas con enfoque diferencial, poblacional y territorial, que permiten generar desarrollo económico y social con sostenibilidad ambiental, contribuir al cierre de brechas y preservar nuestra diversidad cultural.

I would like to extend a warm greeting from Colombia, a proudly multi-ethnic and multi-cultural country.


We are currently facing an unprecedented global situation that demands all our attention and effort. In this context, the importance of culture in our daily lives has become evident, offering us various possibilities for change in order to take care of our health, strengthen our creativity, and inspire us and others. Culture and heritage are a powerful vector for social connection: artists and cultural agents have found in digital platforms a way to create collaboratively, and to transmit messages of solidarity and hope. Citizens are using art and culture to find ways to express themselves in order to deal with feelings of anxiety, uncertainty and bewilderment.  


The celebration of World Day for Cultural Diversity for Dialogue and Development is an opportunity to underline the need for public policies that recognize the importance of cultural diversity as a tool for peace-building under the rule of law, in a context that values tolerance and respect for plurality. Today more than ever we must recognize and promote diversity in order to dismantle harmful stereotypes and foster a global environment of mutual respect, understanding and cooperation. It is crucial to deepen policies with a differentiated focus – both in terms of population and territory – to generate economic and social development along with environmental sustainability, and to contribute to closing gaps and preserving our cultural diversity.


Culture creating collective resilience

Featuring Josepha Madigan, Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Ireland

The 2020 World Day for Cultural Diversity for Dialogue and Development is like no other before. These past months have been unprecedented in our living memory as the ways we engage with each other and experience the riches of our diverse cultures and cultural heritage have changed almost beyond recognition. As Ireland’s Minister for Culture and Heritage, I know the impact of COVID-19 has not only presented challenges but also demonstrated our collective adaptability, resilience and determination to protect and nurture our artists, cultural institutions, historic sites and treasured practices. Governments and community organisations across the world, including Ireland, are working with each other and with artists so that they can continue to create and we can continue to support and learn from each other.

In the past few months, I have repeatedly seen how important culture is in all our lives. People have engaged online with literature, film, music as well as live performance and cultural heritage guides and presentations. In these unusual and challenging times, it is arts and culture that has lifted our spirits and this day gives us an additional opportunity to focus on culture in all its richness and diversity.


One Love: Supporting cultural diversity and heritage is more important than ever


Featuring Olivia Grange, Minister of Culture, Gender, Entertainment and Sport, Jamaica 

Jamaica, like the rest of the world has, unfortunately, been negatively impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic and its attendant socio-economic shocks. An unprecedented number of Creatives and Cultural Practitioners, and related enterprises, are now either in decline, or in dire need of assistance for recovery. As a response, my Ministry is spearheading a series of Cultural Grants targeting Jamaica’s cultural communities and, indeed, the entire creative sector. This initiative, funded now by ever depleting resources, is being facilitated in recognition of the fact that in these uncertain times it is our culture that our people must now turn to as a source of comfort, assurance, and connection. As we reflect on and celebrate the World Day for Cultural Diversity of Dialogue and Development, I suggest that Jamaica’s Reggae music, a long-standing source of philosophical and spiritual guidance to the world, is needed now more than ever. We need to recall and recite the melodious strains of Bob Marley’s One Love to give the peoples of the world hope through this time of despair, and remind them of the value of community, in a time of physical distancing. My Ministry commits to ensuring that singers, songwriters, instrumentalists, composers and the stakeholders in the Reggae music ecosystem are supported to help them continue to exercise their musical genius. I also commit to have Jamaica host a series of ResiliArt virtual discussions, through Jamaica Creative, in keeping with the spirit of the inaugural debate led by UNESCO on 14 May 2020. I wish you all Peace, Safety, and One Love.



Celebrating cultural diversity to inform an inclusive pandemic response

Featuring Jenny Salesa Aotearoa New Zealand’s Minister for Ethnic Communities and Member of Parliament

We currently have just over 5 million people in New Zealand and of that, our indigenous Maori people make up 16.5%, Pacific people 8.1% and Ethnic Communities 16.6%. In total the population of Maori, Pacific and Ethnic Communities is around 2 million people. We are a nation that consists of people from 200 ethnicities, who speak 160 different languages. One of the challenges in preserving and nurturing cultural diversity, especially for migrant families, occurs when traditions, culture and indigenous languages are not passed down to children and grand-children in one’s new adopted land. We nurture and celebrate cultural diversity in a variety of ways. Diwali for instance is celebrated in Parliament as well as
through festivals right throughout the country over a period of a few months. We also acknowledge and celebrate many languages for a week per language in Parliament as well as in our schools and workplaces.

Our Prime Minister, the Rt Hon Jacinda Ardern leads New Zealand’s actions by going hard and going early to stamp out COVID-19. Our team of 5 Million New Zealanders united to fight against COVID-19. The country went into lockdown and our Prime Minister communicated clearly with the public almost on a daily basis. As we have many different languages here, most of the key messages from the government were translated and communicated through radio, TV and social media regularly. Translating materials and using mediums that our diverse people utilise was crucial to keep the public informed and their many questions answered. As a country we connected in different ways during this challenging time. Our faith services moved on-line. We also connected with our diverse communities using Zoom and Skype. Currently, we are one of a few countries who are close to stamping out this virus. However, we know that we must remain vigilant as it is a very tricky virus and until an effective vaccine is developed we must continue to test, trace and stamp COVID-19 out.

We pride ourselves on being an inclusive and peaceful country. Aotearoa New Zealand is a multicultural country, and our diversity is one of our nation’s strengths.

As New Zealand’s Minister for Ethnic Communities and a representative who was born and raised in the Kingdom of Tonga in the Pacific, I am honoured to contribute to this year’s United Nations World Day for Cultural Diversity for Dialogue and Development.

If you want to pique your curiosity and broaden your horizons on this day, head over to WPL’s instagram for a quiz on cultural heritage and diversity.


World Day for Cultural Diversity for Dialogue and Development 2020

The United Nations (UN) has declared culture to be a source of resilience for global communities.

Cultural diversity and understanding is also key to a more peaceful world. According to the UN, three quarters of the world’s major conflicts have a cultural dimension. To build a sustainable and lasting peace, we must take cultural heritage and dialogue into serious consideration.

The UNESCO Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural expressions, adopted in 2005, outlines the global community’s shared responsibilities towards culture:

Support sustainable systems of governance for culture
Achieve a balanced flow of cultural goods and services and increase mobility of artists and cultural professionals
Integrate culture in sustainable development frameworks
Promote human rights and fundamental freedoms