A Source of Inspiration

Article excerpt

IN Canada, the traditional ecological knowledge of the Indian populations is being collected and documented as part of the quest for sustainable development models. In Indonesia, efforts are underway to develop a style of tourism that highlights the country's outstanding cultural heritage without damaging it. Meanwhile, in Africa a "Culture Train" is in the planning, linking Nairobi to the Cape, to promote the performing arts in the southern part of the continent. Although these are but three of a range of projects being undertaken by UNESCO's Culture Sector, they well illustrate the direction being taken for the 1994-1995 biennium, which also marks the mid-point of the World Decade for Cultural Development: to take culture out of its "ghetto" and recognize the role it plays in virtually all areas of human society.

"The objective of the Decade is to incorporate culture into all domains of activity, ranging from the economy to health and the environment," says UNESCO's Assistant Director-General for Culture, Henri Lopes, "and, in doing so, to encourage the active participation of populations in the development process."

One of the main vehicles for this will be the World Commission on Culture and Development, established at the end of 1992 and presided over by former UN Secretary-General Javier Perez de Cuellar. Essentially, the Commission's task is to formulate policies and practices that, according to Mr. Perez de Cuellar, "will lead to a more human, sustainable and unifying form of development."

The move in this direction has also led to a new emphasis on the intangible cultural heritage--traditions, skills and languages that in many places are dying out but constitute a vital part of a people's cultural identity. "This is not only a way of preserving a people's memory and knowledge," says Doudou Diene, who is in charge of intercultural projects. "Traditional crafts and forms of artistic expression have always been shaped by outside influences. Culture and cultural identity are the result of constant movement, interaction and exchange. This is a particularly important message today, when the defence of cultural identity has become a source of conflict."

Centres to study cultural identities and foster intercultural co-operation are currently being planned for the Mediterranean basin, southeast Europe, central Asia and southern Africa. …

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