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Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Recognizing the "Right to Culture"

The "right to culture" has been a key foundation of cultural policy. In 1948, soon after the United Nations was established, its members declared a "Universal Declaration of Human Rights" which asserted that
Everyone has the right freely to participate in the cultural life of the community.
Rene Maheu, Director-General of Unesco (the UN's cultural arm) at the time, amplified on this right at Unesco's International Conference on Institutional, Administrative and Financial Aspects of Cultural Policies in 1970:
It is not certain that the full significance of this text, proclaiming a new human right, the right to culture, was entirely appreciated at the time. If everyone, as an essential part of his dignity as a man [sic], has the right to share in the cultural heritage and cultural activities of the community -- or rather of the different communities to which men belong (and that of course includes the ultimate community -- mankind) -- it follows that the authorities responsible for these communities have a duty, so far as their resources permit, to provide him with the means for such participation.... Everyone, accordingly, has the right to culture, as he has the right to education and the right to work.... This is the basis and first purpose of cultural policy.(Girard, pp. 182-183)
It is this recognition of the " provide...the means of [cultural] participation" which underlies the active stance public authorities around the world have assumed in recent decades in order to secure the public interest in cultural development.

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