Cultural diversity

Interview with Youma Fall

Youma Fall.

Biographical notes
Ms. Fall, former general manager of Grand Théâtre de Dakar, is an expert in cultural governance in developing countries. She is an instructor and researcher at Université Gaston Berger de Saint-Louis du Sénégal, and holds both a Ph.D. in communication and a graduate diploma on the dissemination of African art in the west. Ms. Fall is the author of several works on cultural development, cultural governance, contemporary art history, and related subjects in an African context. Since 2012 she has served as Director for Diversity and Cultural Development for the International Organization of La Francophonie (OIF).

Source: International Organization of La Francophonie

Question – We’ll soon be celebrating the 10th anniversary of the UNESCO Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions. Ten years on, how do you describe the contribution of the International Organization of La Francophonie (OIF), and the community of French-speaking nations more generally, in the drafting, adoption, and implementation of the Convention? For example, could you tell us about a few OIF initiatives (programs, working group on cultural diversity, etc.) in the area of the diversity of cultural expressions?

Answer – The International Organization of La Francophonie (OIF) spearheaded the efforts that led to the drafting and adoption of the Convention through a sweeping political mobilization of the French-speaking community, political decision-makers, artists, and civil society.

For example, the OIF provided an intellectual framework and expertise in the area to better equip people to understand issues around cultural diversity. This made them more effective participants when time came to negotiate the terms of the Convention.

For the ratification, then Secretary General Abdou Diouf assembled a formidable diplomatic team to negotiate terms and educate Member States, including special envoys dispatched all over the world.

Since then the OIF has been actively involved in Convention implementation on many different levels. Through our cultural cooperation programs we support the emergence of innovative new creative endeavours and help develop creative industries. Another program was set up specifically to strengthen cultural development policies in countries that expressed interest in this area.

Tools to help decision-making, including cultural industries mapping initiatives, were carried out to help develop a knowledge of the reality on the ground around the world, and better understand the challenges and opportunities we face.

The OIF also has a working group on cultural diversity whose mission is to inform the secretary general’s reflections and support advocacy.

We should also mention the work done to promote the Convention at Parliamentary Assembly of La Francophonie (APF). In the wake of the Interparliamentary Conference on the Diversity of Cultural Expressions held in Québec City in February 2011, parliamentarians committed to an action plan.

Question – At the XV Francophonie Summit in Dakar a specific resolution on the Convention was adopted which called for the OIF to continue playing an active role in exploring how digital technologies impact the diversity of cultural expressions, and recommend appropriate actions. How, in your view, could the OIF translate this role into concrete action? What types of collaborations with other organizations, such as UNESCO, might we expect to see?

Answer – There’s no question that digital technology has had a tangible impact on the diversity of cultural goods and services, on both the supply and demand side. An advantage of Convention is that it takes a neutral stance on digital issues. Furthermore, observers do not feel that today’s digital reality requires us to amend the Convention. Instead we should plan for a guideline designed to better account for digital formats in the creation, appreciation, and promotion of the diversity of cultural expressions.

When properly handled, digital technology can be a boon to creation and distribution, because it enables us to promote the diversity of cultural expressions. Digital bridges distances, expands markets, and facilitates access to content. It’s an area where we need to provide support to both states and cultural professionals.

Digital also means that content is uncoupled from its physical platform. This has good and bad sides. What’s critical now is to regulate the effects of this shift. It’s an area where we have to help states develop legal instruments and implement regulatory frameworks to be able to protect rights holders and their works in the digital era.

Obviously, we need to build synergies and act in concert. The OIF has already begun working with the World Intellectual Property Organization on copyright and related issues, and with UNESCO on matters of cultural governance. This is the beginning of a coordinated response from our respective organizations to the challenges posed by the digital era.

Question  - What do you see as the main issues facing the Convention going forward? How do you see the OIF’s role in this context?

Answer - Responding to our increasingly digital world is a major challenge, and a major opportunity, for the future of the Convention. Facilitating digital access for the public can be a force for democratizing culture and expanding participation in cultural life.

Making culture a component of sustainable development is another issue the Convention can address.

Advocacy and education meetings are indispensable tools to help guide states through the implementation of the Convention. OIF plans to pursue and step up its actions to promote sound cultural governance around the world.

Question - Following UNESCO’s adoption of the Universal Declaration on Cultural Diversity, the United Nations General Assembly proclaimed May 21 as “World Day for Cultural Diversity for Dialogue and Development.” What is the significance of this statement for the OIF and its members?

Answer – The Universal Declaration on Cultural Diversity is extremely important because, by clearly enunciating cultural diversity principles and values, it paved the way for the Convention on the Diversity of Cultural Expressions, which was adopted four years later. Since promoting diversity is one of the OIF’s core values, it goes without saying that such a statement is wholly in line with our concerns.

Events in recent years connected to cultural identity crises and challenges to social cohesion are clear signs that we must protect the principles of cultural diversity in all public policy. Likewise, we feel it is essential to continuously ensure that cultural diversity and intercultural and interreligious dialogue remain respectful: they are the best guarantees of peace and international security.

Question – Is the OIF planning activities to mark the Convention’s 10th anniversary? If so, could you share them with us?

Answer - After playing an active role in the drafting, adoption, ratification, and finally the implementation of the Convention, the OIF plans to give it the 10th anniversary celebration it deserves.

To mark the occasion we are planning three main types of activities: assessing initiatives taken by La Francophonie, organizing discussion frameworks on the status and prospects of the diversity of cultural expressions in the Francophonie and around the world, and holding events and gatherings celebrating francophone creativity around the world, with a special focus on young creators.

For example, we are going to release a report entitled Francophonie et 10 ans de mise en œuvre de la Convention sur la protection et la promotion de la diversité des expressions culturelles. Much of the report will be dedicated to iconographic sources highlighting such aspects as the OIF’s initiatives to implement the Convention, including the involvement of digital media.

Another option on the table is a Francophone Forum on Cultural Diversity in the Digital Era. Such an event would spark discussion and debate while celebrating the artistic creativity and diversity of Francophone cultures, with the aim of bringing together artists, cultural entrepreneurs, policy makers, and representatives of the main cultural and creative industries in the francophone world.

We also want to get francophone youth engaged around cultural diversity and its issues through a competition. Participants will be asked to submit an artistic creation that expresses what cultural diversity represents to them. The contest will be launched in June, and the results announced in September. Winners will be invited to show their work and participate in the forum slated for the first half of November.

Another idea is to host a discussion forum through youth networks, and present the results at the Francophone Forum on Cultural Diversity in the Digital Era.

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