The G20 ministers of culture met for the first time under the Saudi Presidency in 2020, taking the very first step in establishing an annual meeting that will help to cement culture on the global policy agenda
As Saudi Arabia prepared to host the G20 summit in 2020, culture was already in the spotlight. The world had been cast into turmoil as the COVID-19 pandemic raged on, and the cultural economy was among the hardest-hit sectors.
It was under these unique circumstances that Saudi Arabia successfully campaigned for culture to be added as a distinct track at the G20. At Saudi’s instigation, the G20 ministers of culture met for the first time ahead of the summit, thus taking the very first step in establishing an annual meeting that will help to cement culture on the global policy agenda. Together, we succeeded in laying the foundation for fruitful cooperation among G20 members to accelerate the recovery of the cultural sectors from the repercussions of the pandemic, and to strengthen our collective commitment to culture as a driving force towards a more sustainable planet and a more prosperous future for all people.
BUILDING BACK BETTER
A year on, as the leaders gather in Italy, Saudi Arabia’s legacy endures. Cultural leaders met once again, this time in Rome, and built on the success of the Saudi-led initiative inaugurated under its presidency. This year, focus is on strengthening rules to combat illicit trafficking of cultural property; giving greater prominence to the role of culture as a driver of climate action – particularly preserving cultural heritage; encouraging more investment in culture-related education, training and employment to build capacity; and providing better access to culture online to support the growth of the sector. Progress against these topics has led to tangible improvements for cultural practitioners and professionals around the world, and has enabled new cultural experiences, such as the ‘Art of Isolation’ virtual exhibition, showcasing Saudi art created during lockdown.
Sharp focus on key issues is essential in a sector estimated to be worth $2.3 trillion. Building on the momentum gathered in Riyadh last year, culture is now receiving the attention it deserves – both its preservation and development – as a major driver of economic growth and a key enabler of the ‘build back better’ agenda.
The theme of the G20 this year is ‘People, Planet, Prosperity’, and in supporting the cultural economy in its post-pandemic recovery, the G20 is underlining its collective commitment to culture as a contributor to a more sustainable planet and a more prosperous future for all people. Saudi Arabia remains committed to enhancing the global dialogue on the culture-climate nexus and reimagining the relationship between culture policymaking and environmental sustainability.
The cultural economy is an untapped powerhouse. In Saudi Arabia alone, great strides have been made to preserve and develop the cultural sector. As part of Vision 2030, we are developing a world-leading centre to protect underwater heritage in the Red Sea and Arabian Gulf, establishing new cultural festivals throughout the Kingdom and creating new support ecosystems for Saudi creatives. Culture knows no borders, and the work underway within the Kingdom will have far-reaching benefits. It is with this knowledge that Saudi Arabia is also supporting efforts to preserve global culture, working with UNESCO and contributing $25 million to the preservation of heritage worldwide. Areas of interest include enhancing international cooperation for research and exploring the immense potential of digitalisation in the culture sector.
A once-in-a-lifetime cultural renaissance is taking place in Saudi Arabia. The rapidly developing cultural ecosystem serves as its foundation, providing the infrastructure and talent to underpin the sector’s success. Key to this is fighting illicit trafficking of cultural property, the impact of culture on climate change and preserving cultural heritage. Investments have been strategically placed to catalyse economic and professional growth in these areas, enabling cultural talent to achieve improved quality of life for themselves and their families. By prioritising these areas, we are investing in our shared future as we preserve culture for the next generation while limiting its impact on our environment.
THE THIRST FOR CULTURE
Humanity’s thirst for culture should not be underestimated. That’s why digitalisation was a key part of the Saudi-led discussions, which fell under the theme ‘The rise of the cultural economy: a new paradigm’.
This has paved the road for the evolution of the cultural economy. Culture has a positive impact on economies, and must be promoted and encouraged. The G20 represents around 80% of the world’s economic output and two-thirds of the world’s population, giving it immense influence. With the issue high on the G20 agenda, culture can form a critical part of the world’s reset.
FOUNDATIONS FOR A BETTER WORLD
The innovation and creativity that come from culture offer hope for better days ahead. During difficult times, creativity endures. As we emerge from the pandemic, we can use the universal values of culture as foundations on which to build back better, for people, planet and prosperity. To do so, we need a concerted effort from our leaders to strengthen cultural engagement and clear the way for the cultural economy to flourish as an integral pillar and catalyst for change.