DIALOGUE IV (part TWO): Karsten Xuereb @XuerebK (La Valeta, Malta), Piatã Stoklos Kignel @piatask (Sao Paulo, Brasil), Lilian Hanania @LilianHanania (París, Francia), Anna Steinkamp annasteinkamp.de (Berlín, Alemania), Lázaro I. Rodríguez (Panamá), Gökçe Dervişoğlu Okandan #gökçedervişoğluokandan (Estambul, Turquía), Anupama Sekhar (India / Singapur). Coordina: Jordi Baltà @jordibalta […]

Members of the U40 network (informal group of academics, cultural managers, students and others interested in cultural diversity, linked to the objectives of the UNESCO Convention on the Diversity of Cultural Expressions), coordinated by Jordi Baltà, share their perspectives on the personal and professional effects of the crisis derived from the pandemic in this second part of DIALOGUES IN CONFINEMENT IV.

(Second of two parts |English version, to go to the Spanish version click here)


In 2005, UNESCO adopted the Convention on the Diversity of Cultural Expressions, an international document that aims to protect and promote diverse contents in the arts and culture, including in digital media. At the basis of the Convention lies a concern with preserving cultural diversity in times of globalisation, and with the need for cultural policies and international cooperation to preserve and promote diversity. We asked participants in the discussion what were, in their views, the effects of the covid-19 crisis from the perspective of the diversity of cultural expressions.

Karsten: In our context, the diversity of cultural expressions is a particular sore point. Cultural groups tend to seek solidarity and support within themselves, which is understandable. However, minority groups, particularly those related to migrant communities, may find self-sustainability more challenging than other groups, especially when compared to those who have more traditional roots and relations to Maltese society. Challenges range from social congregation, economic livelihood, food acquisition and preparation to schooling.

Piatã: In a way the current crisis brings to light the indigenous way of living, more connected to nature. I see a movement in São Paulo of people who are currently living in the big cities to stay safer in the inner part of the country, where they can spend their quarantine in more protected and healthier places. That doesn’t necessarily mean a shift on human behavior since everything can simply come back to normal as soon as we have a vaccine, but this experience can at least influence societies somehow by experiencing and viewing different values and ways of living.

Anupama: The crisis has prompted new conversations on the access to the arts for migrant communities, whether domestic or foreign. These are very important conversations to be had to build resilient and inclusive cities of the future.

Lilian: Cultural diversity will certainly suffer from the difficulties the cultural sector has been experiencing these last months (see above). On the other hand, digital collaborative ways of creating are conducive to rich cultural exchanges and, ultimately, if developed in a balanced and representative way, to cultural diversity.

Anna: I think the most obvious aspect is mobility. The mobility of artists was at the heart of fair international cooperation, the free flow of cultural goods and services and last but not least also crucial for the enjoyment of a diversity of cultural expressions at local level. If the shutdown and travel “ban” only stays for some months, the impact might be small – but what if it remains for longer and travelling gets more difficult again? Will digital formats be able to substitute?

Lázaro: Taking into account the mobility restrictions referred to by Anna, this crisis has maybe provided an opportunity to explore more ecological processes in cultural creation, distribution and consumption. Another important aspect may be the opportunity to consider our cultural field under a more systemic approach, linked to capitalism and its current hegemonic framework – neoliberalism. My thesis is that the ‘neoliberal delusional wellbeing packages’, such as the orange economy’, will need to be challenged, going back to the original message of the UNESCO 2005 Convention: you may be an entrepreneur, but you’re part of a social network of symbolic production. The opportunity lies in strengthening the cooperative, collective approach in culture.

Gökçe: Until now some civil society organizations on the arts and cultural policy advocacy in Turkey have been trying to carry on the message of the Convention, and their target group tended to be the general public. Now, with the challenges that artistic communities are facing, the ultimate target has shifted to the artist.  


Both the challenges brought about by the covid-19 crisis on the cultural sector and the reflection on cultural diversity highlight the important role of civil society organisations in cultural debates and in advocating for relevant policies. What do you think could be the role of civil society organisations in this context, both at the national and the international level?

Lázaro: Responses to the crisis have exposed the potential of finding collective solutions to common problems. The metaphor of the “invisible enemy” of the coronavirus and the “war” of interdependent responses, linked to the search for multilateral, multi-stakeholder and collective solutions, is a table served for civil society, in the case of the Latin American cultural sector, to organize and make proposals for co-production, co-creation, co-distribution, among others that need better coordinated actions and with greater incidence. An example could be Ibercocinas’ new kitchen fund for sustainable development, which will support initiatives that are collective and that solve local problems through culture. Perhaps the new financing will debate prioritizing investments in the social fabric and not in individual entrepreneurs or creatives.

Anna: I think the role of civil society remains more or less the same: raising awareness for the interests and roles of artists and cultural professionals for a sustainable and healthy society, being a corrective, proposing solutions and of course “lobbying” when it comes to policy making. Many effects, such as the big hole that the shutdown cultural life is leaving in our all lives, and with it, a bigger awareness of its importance, need to be reflected and remembered when “going back to (a new) normal” and especially when it comes to re-thinking political systems, infrastructures, remuneration schemes, social welfare measures etc. Here, a strong and loud “cultural” voice is needed. In order to hear also cultural voices within the choir of car or pharma lobbyists, civil society organizations need to team up (as they already do) more than ever.

Piata: I believe civil society remains with the role of raising awareness and developing networks that work for advocacy, in-depth discussions on a variety of themes and developing new actions. Civil society must always function as the basis of any society, meaning to monitor the actions of its elected representatives, to demand and contribute with ideas and practical projects. But this context we are currently living in brings also many opportunities since now people are more open for international online connection and this allows more concerted thinking and action, which we see taking place on a variety of forums.

Anupama: I think this crisis has reminded us that it is time to build new solidarities among arts organisations in the Global South. There have been some conversations in the last years about a Global South alliance. The South African playwright and cultural commentator, Mike van Graan, has been a strong advocate of this idea. Last year in Dhaka, Bangladesh, at Chobi Mela – the first festival of photography in Asia – there were some very interesting conversations on the urgent need for sustained connections among non-profits in south Asia. Not only among those working in the arts, but a larger civil society alliance as a safe space for informal sharing. Sharing stories of our failures – for instance, of that fundraising strategy that didn’t succeed at all – has so much value and yet, we do it so rarely. Now is the time for new types of pan-Asian alliances, conversations and solidarities. The future for the arts could be rough: we will doubtlessly need allies – old and new – beside us along the way.

Gökçe: There are several efforts for building solidarity circles and developing representative institutions and platforms to belong to the major stakeholders in cultural policy development. Examples like theatre cooperatives show that organized groups can succeed better. More and more circles are interested in data driven efforts, conducting research before and after the pandemic era.  


The crisis has brought opportunities to read, reflect and debate, and with it the chance to reconsider the place of culture within society, as well as how this should be taken into account in policies and strategies. What are your final thoughts in this context?

Karsten: One key area attracting attention here is the link between education and culture. A friend of mine put it nicely when she said that as a teacher she felt that while before the current climate her practice in education could have been compared to cycling on a bike in a group, discovering landscapes and sometimes leading and guiding from the front, and at other times encouraging her students to take the lead in exploring and developing new learning routes, it now feels like everyone being stuck on a cyclette at home, being connected, but in very tangential ways. And most of all, not being clear about where, if at all, everyone was going…  

Piatã: The crisis strengthens the discussion about which kind of society and economy we want and we need for a sustainable development. This means that on one hand we will have to define how governments will protect the cultural sector and on the other hand the cultural sector will have to find better ways to protect itself from future crises. On an individual basis we see people reflecting and debating about the time they spend with their kids and family at home, the business life in cities, how internet can facilitate and offer free time to yourself, the importance of well balancing professional and personal life and so many other aspects that today make part of our culture, our way of living’s impact on the environment etc. As Karsten mentioned, the connection between culture and education, this new culture currently arising can and will reeducate people on all these aspects and many others.

Lilian: I agree with Piatã. This is an opportunity for rethinking the role of governments, of international organizations (governmental or nongovernmental), of the cultural sector in itself, but also of companies in other sectors – e.g. initiatives of companies of all sizes to show their social engagement, solidarity and social values, including a strong focus on support for sustainable local production and action during this difficult time. Culture should be key in all these actors’ actions.

Anna: I also wish for re-thinking and new ways of living, where the well-being of a human being and our planet Earth is more important than economic growth and power. I see a huge chance lying in front of us.

Lázaro: In terms of cooperation, new tools should be designed not only to respond to the emergency but also to set the future -already needed- cultural instruments for governance, financing and cooperation. Going beyond the UNESCO Cultural Conventions should be a way to go beyond the “departmental” approach of culture that UNESCO has promoted during 75 years. The new Culture2030 Indicators should be the new framework to design the future conventions, that in my opinion should address issues like cultural and creative work; artificial creative intelligence; cultural conflicts and intercultural competences and of course intersectional cultural rights. As part of the UNESCO expert facility projects, we are currently working in a Central American Culture for Regional integration Strategy based on this new tool.

Gökçe: I think there will be a struggle in balancing a data-driven, analytical artistic organization as a major stakeholder in advocacy and free, creative based, interventions focused on disruptive practices in authentic artistic production. Both parties are inseparable. If the communication between these parties decreases, we will suffer more in the rising post-truth, popular right wing era.

Anupama: In the cultural sector, I hope this crisis will bring arts funders together to experiment with new ways of working, including building more synergies. Philosophically speaking, I too – like Anna – wish humanity would re-think its definition of a “good life”. We have often confused economic growth for progress and advancement. There are other less consumerist and more sustainable and meaningful ways to live as a society. Will the pandemic embolden us to embrace these alternative ways of meaning-making? This is the million dollar question for our lives and the place of the arts in our lives. There are indeed many questions left, and the conversation will continue.

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Participants in the discussion:

Gökçe Dervişoğlu Okandan is an academician, consultant and mentor at Bilgi University, Istanbul, Turkey. She’s an Associate Professor at undergraduate and graduate programmes on arts and culture management and the director of the LITE programme on learning, innovation, technology and entrepreneurship. 

Lilian Hanania is a French and Brazilian attorney and mediator, PhD in International Law (University Paris 1 – Panthéon-Sorbonne), as well as a Collaborative Law practitioner and adjunct professor at Sciences Po Paris and the University Paris Descartes. Further information at www.hananiaconsult.com

Lázaro I. Rodríguez is an international consultant in cultural policy, who has worked with several international organisations including UNESCO, UNDP and the Inter-American Development Bank, as well as development agencies including AECID and Hivos. He’s currently based in Panama.

Anupama Sekhar is an arts manager from India, who is currently based out of Singapore and working on promoting Asia-Europe cultural co-operation.

Anna Steinkamp works as an independent consultant in international cultural cooperation and project management, based in Berlin. She specialises on strategies for networks of culture cooperation and offer strategic consultancy for actors in the field of international dialogue. Further, she facilitates cultural projects. See www.annasteinkamp.de

Piatã Stoklos Kignel is a cultural manager and the director of Agência PSK, an agency providing consultancy and production for cultural and educational businesses, based in Sao Paulo, Brazil. He has a varied professional experience in public, private and non-profit sector and has taught at several cultural management programmes.

Dr Karsten Xuereb researches and teaches cultural relations in the Mediterranean at the University of Malta. He is active in civil society and a member of the Phoenicians’ Route and the Biennale of Young Artists of Europe and the Mediterranean. His writing is accessible at https://culturalpolicy.blog/.

The discussion was facilitated by Jordi Baltà Portolés (Trànsit Projectes), also a member of the U40 network.  

* Image: Dan Witz: https://www.danwitz.com/