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Ministers call for more financial and institutional support for culture industries in Latin America and the Caribbean

Cultural industries are one of the fastest-growing sectors of the global economy, expanding at a projected rate of 8-10 percent over the coming decade. What does that mean for Latin America and the Caribbean?  

The region has rich cultural heritage and dynamic cultural industries which continue to grow. But are countries doing enough to exploit the social and economic potential of the creative sector for development?

IDB President Luis Alberto Moreno invited ministers and representatives from the ministries of culture from Latin America and the Caribbean to discuss best practices and challenges in including culture policies in their respective national development strategies. More than ten ministers of culture accepted the invitation, the largest gathering of its kind ever organized by an international financial organization.

“This meeting provides an opportunity to celebrate our cultural heritage and also to rethink the development agenda to give cultural topics a more important place,” said President Moreno at the opening of the seminar on September 28, 2010.    

Moreno said that in 2009 the region exported about 750 million dollars in cultural services, led by Mexico, Argentina, Brazil, Colombia and Dominican Republic. 

Culture Is Investment, Not Expenditure

“The moment has arrived for our countries in the region to rigorously promote and support cultural policies in a sustained manner,” President Moreno added.  “Investments in culture will no longer be considered as nonessential costs which can be sacrificed in time of financial difficulties.” 

Mónica Guariglio, National Director for Cultural Policy and Cooperation in Argentina, who came in representation of Minister of Culture Jorge Edmundo Coscia, echoed Moreno’s remarks: “It is about time that we change the perception of culture from being viewed as expenditures to investments which contribute to the region’s wealth.”

Guariglio illustrated the significant growth of cultural industry as a contributor to the region’s GDP. For example in Argentina, cultural industries contributed 3.5 percent of GDP in 2009, a number that surpasses the contribution of energy, gas, and water sectors combined.

Improved Cultural Statistics Needed

She stressed an urgent need to create standard indicators which measure the value of cultural production. This would enable rigorous comparisons with other sectors and help to ensure a fair share of budget allocation for cultural ministries in Latin America and the Caribbean.

The ministers and representatives all agreed with a need to improve statistics in reference to culture. However, the Minister of Culture of Peru, Juan Ossio Acuña, pointed out that the task of creating homogenous indicators is further complicated by the fact that some lucrative subsectors, such as gastronomy, are currently not included in existing indicators.

In addition to the difficulty in harmonizing the regional indicators, each country’s cultural sector is at different level of development. While some countries enjoy sophisticated cultural industries that are competitive in the global market, others are still in the process of identifying their niches in the market or focusing on equitable distribution of their cultural products to excluded or underprivileged groups.  

Achieving Sustainability and Growth

Despite of their differences, ministers at the meeting agreed on several ways to guarantee sustainability and growth in this sector.

“In order to guarantee sustainable success, we need to promote greater linkages between the creative and other sectors such as tourism, industry, trade, agro-industries, education and manufacturing,“ said Jamaican Minister of Culture Olivia Grange.

Partnership with the private sector was another important dimension of the sustainability discussion. Several speakers stressed the need to create more favorable environments conducive to private sector participation in cultural industries.

“Successful enhancement of cultural production cannot happen without the active commitment of the private sector,” said Steven Blackett, the Minister of Culture of Barbados. “In a country where there has not been a history of philanthropic support for culture, the incentives and concessions offered to the private sector must be attractive and generous enough to encourage maximum participation.”

Next Steps

In the closing discussion, Ricardo Ehrlich, Uruguay’s Minister of Culture, said, “This seminar has provided a valuable venue to talk about public governance of culture. But the most important issue here is what can we do next to tackle those challenges and make changes that were addressed during the forum.”

Jamaican Minister Grange added, “We are all connected through our culture in the region, if we can come all together starting at this forum, we can be a powerful force, which cannot be ignored.”

The ministers and representatives agreed to draft proposals, which will be shared with their respective counterparts in finance ministries through the IDB, which supports culture as an integral part of development in the region.

IDB and Culture

Some examples of IDB-financed cultural projects are the Venezuelan youth orchestra system, and a recently approved music school project, “Music and Life,” benefiting Afro-descendant and indigenous at-risk youth in municipalities in the Pacific region in Colombia.

IDB also supports preservation of the region’s cultural heritage. The Bank recently financed a restoration of the Teatro Colón in Buenos Aires, one of the finest opera houses in the Americas; the IDB also lent $40 million to the Municipality of Quito, Ecuador, to help restore the city’s downtown infrastructure, which included the preservation and restoration of many historical buildings. 

The IDB Cultural Center’s Cultural Development Program distributes small grants for local cultural initiatives in the region on an annual basis.

The seminar was organized by the IDB’s Cultural Center with sponsorship from the Inter-American Culture and  Development Foundation.  

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