Culture, art and heritage play a vital part in the lives of individuals and societies, contributing to key policy objectives such as promoting wellbeing and supporting employment.

However, their role can and should be far wider than this, helping to achieve progress across the United Nations’ 2030 Agenda.

To realise this potential, a key step can be the formation of partnerships, both those bringing together players from the cultural sector and beyond, and those uniting the whole range of stakeholders who can contribute to the impact of cultural institutions, sites and activities on development.

A side event co-organised by IFLA at the 2021 High-Level Political Forum on 7 July provided the opportunity to bring together perspectives on how to make a success of such partnerships.

The session, of which a recording is now available, offered some important lessons, both for policy-makers and for others involved in ensuring culture contributes fully to realising the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

First of all, culture relates to every single one of the SDGs. Contributors highlighted experiences and case studies relating to everything from helping people escape poverty (SDG 1) to engaging in democratic governance (SDG 16), with the emphasis on partnerships in the session itself closely aligned to SDG 17.

Secondly, the importance of including culture in development strategies stems from the fact that it provides a foundation of community and society, a point highlighted in particular by the President of the Korean National UNESCO Commission.

Culture can both bring people together as well as creating divisions, underlining the importance of integrating it into planning. Beyond this, it can help explain – and influence – how our societies work, contributing to the work of the researchers and scientists looking to boost the effectiveness of policy interventions.

Third, the importance of taking an innovative approach, ready to explore new ways in which to contribute to society. Arts could, as underlined by Doris Summer of Cultural Agents in particular, be a catalyst if used effectively, helping open up new perspectives and ways of doing things. Similarly, many cultural projects benefit from an entrepreneurial approach, with a readiness to take risks and make new connections.

Fourth, there is the key role of governments in facilitating these partnerships. As the mayors of Mannheim, Germany, and Izmir, Turkey underlined, local governments in particular can play a key role in providing the space and support for initiatives that bring together culture with wider policy actions. As highlighted by IFLA, they could also make sure to integrate cultural actors in policy design from the start.

Governments should, also, be ready to engage a variety of partners in their work with heritage and beyond, bringing in different sources of ideas and energy to deliver. Libraries were no exception, with strong potential to provide a platform for a variety of different stakeholders to provide services and support to communities.

Finally, the impact of COVID could not be avoided. At a time that, as Katey Warran of University College London underlined, demand for cultural participation had risen sharply, the means of providing this had been weakened, with performers in particular hard hit by the pandemic.

As underlined by Jordi Pascual, representing the UCLG Culture Committee and the #Culture2030Goal campaign, ensuring the sustainability of the cultural sector was crucial for enabling it to support new, more inclusive, more holistic development models in future.

We are very grateful to all of the speakers for their contributions: Mayor Tunc Soyer, Izmir, Turkey; Mayor Peter Kurz, Mannheim, Germany (and Global Parliament of Mayors); Hyung Koo Han, Secretary General, Korean National Commission for UNESCO; Jordi Pascual, Coordinator, UCLG Culture Committee and Culture 2030 Goal Campaign; Pamela Jerome, Treasurer General, ICOMOS; Patricia O’Donnell, President, OurWorldHeritage Foundation; Stephen Stenning, British Council; Julianne Polanco, Co-Chair, Climate Heritage Network; Doris Sommer, Founder and Faculty, Cultural Agents; Katey Warran, Research Fellow, UCL. Special thanks go to Ege Yildirim, who moderated the session.

Watch the video on IFLA’s YouTube channel.