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Educação & Realidade

versão impressa ISSN 0100-3143versão On-line ISSN 2175-6236

Educ. Real. vol.44 no.4 Porto Alegre  2019  Epub 25-Nov-2019 


Cultural Policies and Citizenship

George Anthony YúdiceI

IUniversity of Miami (UM), Miami/FL - United States of America


The aim of this article is, firstly, to present the evolution of the concept of cultural citizenship within the framework of human rights. It explores the relationship of this concept to other ones, such as development, trade, multiculturalism, decolonization. In a second moment, the insertion of culture in the creative economy, policies for living community culture and ecology are examined. There is also a discussion about cities as geographic-social-cultural territories important for the constitution of cultural policies of the most diverse orders. Finally, initiatives are explored to reconcile the economic and social approach to culture.

Keywords: Cultural Citizenship; Human Rights; Development; Decolonization; Creative Economy


El objetivo del presente artículo es, en un primer momento, presentar la evolución del concepto de ciudadanía cultural dentro del marco de los derechos humanos. Se explora la relación del concepto con otros, tales como desarrollo, comercio, multiculturalismo, descolonización. En un segundo momento, se aborda la inserción de la cultura en la economía creativa, las políticas para la cultura viva comunitaria y la ecología. Se pasa, igualmente, por la discusión acerca de las ciudades como territorios geográficos-sociales-culturales importantes para la constitución de políticas culturales de las más diversas órdenes a la población. Finalmente, se exploran iniciativas para compatibilizar el enfoque económico y social de la cultura.

Palabras-clave: Ciudadanía Cultural; Derechos Humanos; El Desarrollo; Descolonización; Economía Creativa

Historical Introduction

Before exploring the specific subject of this article - cultural policies and citizenship - it is necessary to give at least a notion about the origins of the idea of citizenship. In the interest of concision, we leave aside references to the different concepts of citizenship that existed in different societies before the 18th century1. Modern citizenship in the West is the product of the revolutions of the late 18th and early 19th centuries and derives from the Enlightenment principle of human rights enshrined in its constitutions: political rights (citizenship and voting) and civil rights (right to life, property, equality, freedom of expression, fair trial). These rights derive in part from anti-absolutist logic, characteristic of the Enlightenment elaborated by J. J. Rousseau (1980) in The Social Contract (1764). The objective of the State - the system of legislation - must be freedom (not submission), and it does not subsist without [equality]. On the one hand, human beings are liberated from an absolute power, which would not allow subjects to determine themselves; on the other hand, this freedom cannot be exercised unless subjects have the opportunity to develop and be equal to each other. Therein lies the justification of political and civil rights (freedom) and of economic, social and cultural rights (equality, which is not synonymous with homogeneity).

The 18th century constitutional rights were conceived as universal but were not so in their application. Since then, they have expanded their scope - e.g., the extension of suffrage to ex-slaves and women - although new pitfalls arise today, such as the limitations imposed on migrants from developing countries or the protection of life in many Latin American countries. The latter have the highest murder rates in the world (Consejo..., 2017) and one could even speak about a state of emergency as agents of the State are responsible for the violence (Sicilia, 2015). Beyond political and civil rights, characterized as negative rights because they imply protection against their violation (especially by the State), in the 20th century, economic, social and cultural rights have gradually gained greater consistency and have become a matter of policy; these are considered positive in the sense that they require additional actions beyond the prohibition of their violation in order to make them effective.

The first reference to economic and social rights appears in the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, of 1793, which precedes the first French republican Constitution. It refers to the sacred debt (or obligation) of society, represented by the State, to guarantee means of subsistence by access to work and universal education. None of these rights were specifically followed up in the French case, nor in other countries whose constitutions refer to them in the 19th century. In the 20th century, the process has been partial and often with setbacks, especially with the rise of neoliberal policies beginning with the Chilean military coup in 1973.

In addition to the principles of freedom and equality, which date back to Rousseau’s ideas and their elaboration throughout the 19th century, what motivates the emergence of the Welfare State that will guarantee these rights? In Western Europe, 19th century capitalism destroys the traditional forms of protection of workers, establishes a system of reproduction of work based on wages, but without protections, and seeks to avoid trade union organization. Economic liberalism, which translated the principle of freedom into an apotheosis of the market, obstructed the practical implementation of rights. But as Polanyi (2007) argues, there was an opposite movement at the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century, which led to communism, which proposed dirigisme and planning in opposition to the market, and to a third way in Western Europe and North America with the emergence of a Welfare State that fixed a minimum wage, prohibited child labor, and instituted social security for the unemployed, for healthcare and other protections.

In Latin America, labor and social protections have early expressions in some countries such as Uruguay and Argentina, but it is the classic populist governments of Lázaro Cárdenas (Mexico, 1934-1940), Getúlio Vargas (Brazil, 1930-1945 and 1951-1954) and Juan Domingo Perón (Argentina, 1946-1955) that radicalized these protections alongside the defense of political sovereignty and economic independence (anti-imperialism). The rise to power of populism was favored by the transformation caused by the economic crisis of 1929, making it possible to move from economies based on the export of raw materials and the importation of manufactures to rapid industrialization and consequent urbanization. Openly hostile to the oligarchies, populist leaders promoted the political, economic and social inclusion of the middle classes and workers (Drake, 1982). There was greater recognition of the cultural expressions of the popular sectors that, sometimes with the support of the State, gained diffusion in the new media of that time (radio, phonography and cinema) - tango, samba, son, rumba and rancheras, on the one hand, and bufo and tent theatre, on the other hand, which evolved into the cinema. However, it was a complex process of political and industrial intermediation that did not favor the popular producers themselves (Moore, 1997; Raphael, 1980). And in any case, the rise of these popular cultures in the media did not establish cultural rights for all citizens, since the above-mentioned mass-mediated expressions were only a few of the hundreds or thousands that were practiced in Latin American and Caribbean countries.

Early Cultural Policies in Latin America

Cultural policy in Latin America and Brazil has been marked by conquest and colonization, from the beginning of the 15th century until the first decades of the 20th century, a century after independence. There are those who argue that the colonialist legacy - especially the subordination of the culture of popular classes and non-European religious forms of indigenous, African and mestizo peoples - lasts until today. Moreover, as already mentioned above, the prominence of state support for some popular forms and practices since the early 20th century - such as Mexican muralism, Brazilian samba, Cuban son, magical realism and testimonial narratives - attests to the singular transculturated (Ortiz, 1940) or hybrid cultures (García Canclini, 1990), whose significance cannot be understood by reference to Eurocentrism and postcolonial nativism (Miller; Yúdice, 2004).

With regard to the institutionality that would establish public policies in culture - viz. in the visual and performing arts, literature, music, etc. - we can mention the Mexican Ministry of Public Education, created in 1921 under the leadership of José Vasconcelos, who established policies for education, public libraries and the development of Fine Arts. In Argentina, the National Culture Commission was founded in 1935 and the Undersecretariat of Culture, a dependency of the Ministry of Culture and Education, in 1970; these institutions oversaw the incorporation of national museums, libraries, a national symphony orchestra, cultural editions and promoted of traditional crafts. Similarly, in Brazil, the National Council of Culture was founded in 1961 and the Ministry of Culture, during the dictatorship, in 1976. Costa Rica, one of the smallest countries in the region, established the Ministry of Culture, Youth and Sports in 1971, one of the first in Latin America.

Until these dates (the 1970s), culture was understood according to three registers: elite artistic and intellectual production; folklore; and heritage. The first register appealed to universal values, folklore to the popular roots of the nation and heritage to the landmarks of the past, both Creole and indigenous civilizations (especially in Mexico and Peru). As for cultural action, diffusionism predominated: the idea that culture had to be taken to the citizenry, to instruct them rather than to encourage their own expressions. Moreover, cultural production was concentrated in the capital cities with little decentralization in the provinces (unfortunately, this has changed little). In the 1950s and 1960s, some intellectual elites became interested in popular cultures (Arguedas for indigenous and mestizo music in Peru, García Márquez for vallenato in the Colombian Caribbean, Monsiváis for popular expressions in Mexico, etc.), not so much as an emblem of the nation, but nevertheless as an expression of social authenticity.

This understanding of culture begins to change as institutional actors become aware of other possible cultural values, particularly with the broadening of the principle of human rights that emerged to defend targeted groups during the dictatorships in South America and the civil wars in Central America between 1960 and 1980. In the period following the dictatorships (1980s and 1990s), these human rights movements became movements for women’s civil rights and for affirming, decolonizing and recognizing the values of indigenous and Afro-descendant populations in which cultural difference has an important role as a foundation for claiming for rights (Alvarez; Dagnino; Escobar, 1998; Escobar; Alvarez; Dagnino, 2001). This expansion was also extended to other non identitarian groups, in particular subordinated and excluded groups such as the homeless, homosexuals, prostitutes and others, and the effort to establish laws and policies to defend them transcended the representative framework according to which popular cultures personified or emblemized the nation. Since this period, new multi-ethnic constitutions were adopted recognizing the cultural rights of indigenous people and of Afro-descendents: Brazil (1988), Colombia (1991), Peru (1993), Venezuela (1999), Ecuador (2008), Bolivia (2009). The countries that did not create new constitutions created and put into operation other recognition mechanisms. However, the consensus of researchers is that despite such recognition, there was no reform of institutions such that they went beyond the monocultural order (Bello, 2011; also see Walsh, 2014).

Cultural Diversity and Rights

These Latin American experiences, alongside others, are shaping the international discourse on culture, incorporated into the documents of UNESCO and other intergovernmental organizations (UNDP, UNCTAD), which promote the recognition of cultural diversity and its link with development. Cultural diversity is understood as a contribution to the creation and maintenance of a diverse world of capabilities, practices, ways of being and values. The first time that culture emerges as a right is in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which the United Nations Assembly adopted in 1948 as an attempt to specify the rights that every human being should enjoy, especially after the crushing racialized genocide committed by the Nazis. Later the unprecedented torture, murder and disappearance of tens of thousands of human beings during the Latin American dictatorships led to an even more urgent effort to legislate rights. Article 27 specifies:

  • (1) Everyone has the right freely to participate in the cultural life of the community, to enjoy the arts and to share in scientific advancement and its benefits.

  • (2) Everyone has the right to the protection of the moral and material interests resulting from any scientific, literary or artistic production of which he is the author (UN, 1948, art. 27).

These rights were divided into the two abovementioned categories; the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which were adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 1966 but only came into force a decade later in January 1976. This division registers the difference in their means of application. In the first case, the State should not hinder the right, in the second case the State has to develop legislation and follow it up for the compliance of the rights. It is also significant that the Soviet bloc and Cuba abstained in the vote for political and civil rights since Article 13 specifies the right of citizens to leave their country. The United States, a country with a Welfare State but a neoliberalizing one by the early 1970s, signed but did not ratify economic, social and cultural rights. This country did not want to commit itself to guaranteeing economic and social welfare, although the civil rights movement that began in the post-World War II period transformed - gradually desegregated - American society. It is worth mentioning that in this case the African-American civil rights movement motivated the creation of other movements (feminists, Chicanos, Puerto Ricans, gays and lesbians) that in a short time would define cultural identities as the basis for their political and civil claims. That is, not only was the personal understood as political, as in feminism, but cultural identity too became an instrument of political struggle (McAdam, 1994; Yúdice, 1990). This is also the case in Latin America, as Arturo Escobar (2008) argues regarding Colombia’s black communities. For them, the affirmation of identity is co-constitutive with the claim and exercise of rights to territory, and their own perspective on ecological, economic and social development which ensues from their cultural vision, traditional forms of production and organization of communities. We will return to this perspective by commenting on the relationship between culture and development policies.

Many of the cultural policies that are being established in the new millennium are framed by cultural rights, which, after the two Covenants signed in 1966, are being expanded and deepened in a series of initiatives for the recognition of diversity and proposals for cultural development that will be outlined below.

After the devastation caused by infrastructural and industrial development in previous decades, eroding the environment and displacing populations, it was recognized in the late 1980s that sustaining cultural diversity was necessary for a new development paradigm. It did not take long for a World Commission for Culture and Development to be created in the context of the UN, which in 1995 published its report Our Creative Diversity, which observed that globalization, by diversifying tastes and styles, limits the role of the State in administering the non-formal political aspects of citizenship (Cuéllar, 1997). Hence, the responses to globalization processes coming from different types of social and cultural movements have repercussions on the very basis of the political system, in other words, on the self-understanding of subjects who defend their interests not only by voting or by participation in mobilizations to access or extend rights, but also through cultural production and reception (Yúdice, 2003).

The concept of cultural citizenship was defined in order to understand the interaction of culture and politics (Flores; Benmayor, 1997; Miller, 1998), which infuses the policies of the above-mentioned Commission. Initially, the World Commission’s report recognizes that many individuals and communities are persecuted for cultural reasons, which requires that “[...] cultural rights deserve the same protection as human rights” (Cuéllar, 1997, p. 376). However, beyond claiming rights, cultural citizenship concerns “[...] new forms of sociability, [the] more egalitarian design of social relations at all levels” (Dagnino, 1998, p. 108). As we shall see, by adding the economic aspect to this interweaving of culture and politics, it is necessary to rethink not only the traditional analytical framework that ignored the political aspect of social mobilization, but also the analytical framework of the new social movements that, starting with authoritarian regimes and the transition to democracy in Latin America, reconfigured the relationship between the social and the political. Given the transformations wrought by globalization, both the top (transnational corporations) and the bottom (grassroots mobilization networks) require a different understanding of political action, which does not mean that the idea of a political sphere should be abandoned completely, but that greater attention should be paid to the political effects of actions that are supposed to be cultural or economic. In addition, cultural policies, whether formal or by default, must be included in any analysis of social movements (Cuéllar, 1997). The emergence of the new concepts of culture and development and cultural citizenship seems to support the argument that globalization tends to culturalize the economy and politics (Waters, 1995).

Cultural Citizenship vs. Culture and Development

The cultural policies that began to be designed in Latin America in the 1990s are based on two kinds of pressures. Those of the social and cultural movements, referred to above, and a new discourse on the economic relationship between culture and development that emerges from the the attempts to include culture as one more industry in free trade agreements. Regarding the economic aspect, two related tendencies began in the 1990s. The United States and the United Kingdom have led a strategy to include culture (understood as copyright-protected industries) in the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) like any other industry that must be treated nationally in the new environment of the World Trade Organization, which in 1995 replaced/absorbed the GATT as a result of negotiations in the Uruguay round (1986-1994).

As the next round of negotiations in Doha neared, opponents of trade-in-culture proposed the UNESCO Convention on the Promotion and Protection of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions, which was adopted in 2005 and ratified by 145 states, according to the latest calculation in 2018. The focus shifted from national protectionism to the sustainability of a diversity of expressions, threatened by the dominance of large corporate audiovisual conglomerates. While the Convention itself does not have the power to effectively restrict the strength of the WTO or impose firm enough obligations on signatories so that they comply with its principles (Neil, 2006), it nevertheless gave impetus to many countries (and cities) to design cultural policies to give access to groups historically excluded from the financing and circulation of their production. An important part of the design of these cultural policies takes place in the Coalitions for Cultural Diversity created in many countries (UN, 2016).

Already in 1995, Néstor García Canclini formulated policies that could defend Latin American cultural industries from the neoliberal onslaught and at the same time promote the diversity of Latin American expressions. His proposal includes:

  • - Regulate foreign capital and policies to strengthen Latin American economies;

  • - Establish national and regional quotas of 50% Latin American production and distribution in movie theaters, video outlets, radio broadcasts and television programming;

  • - Design inter-Latin American policies to create a Latin American media space;

  • - Create common markets for books, magazines, films, television and video in the region;

  • - Establish a Foundation for the Production and Distribution of Latin American Media;

  • - Develop citizenship by paying greater attention to a politics of recognition in keeping with a democratic interculturality (García Canclini, 1995, p. 160-161).

In what follows, we elaborate this dynamic between economy, diversity and cultural citizenship, but first we should explain that in this new environment of trade-in-culture, a new paradigm of incentives arises for cultural industries that generate intellectual property rights. The first country to use the cultural economy as an essential element of its national branding is Australia with the Creative Nation program (Department of Communication and the Arts, 1994). However, the United Kingdom’s brand Cool Britannia gained greater recognition around the world. Its creative policies included a socio-political program, especially the promotion of of multiculturalism as represented by the so-called Young British artists, and an economic program. It was argued that the creativity of the new generation transformed London into “[...] the trend-setter in music, fashion, art or design” (Mercer, 1999, p. 52). Applying the logic that a creative environment engenders innovation, London culture was promoted as the foundation for the new economy, based on the provision of content, which is supposed to be the engine of accumulation. That proposition was widely disseminated with the North American rhetoric of the new economy, repeated in the expressions Hot Nation, Create In Scotland and One Sense Of Place, One Sense Of Being as the programs were called in New Zealand, Scotland and Canada, respectively (Volkerling, 2001). Other expressions of cultural economy in the 1990s already occurred in the cities whose development was due in part to their cultural facilities: Barcelona and Bilbao in Spain. Then there were culture-based urban revitalization projects in Palermo Hollywood and creative investments in La Boca, Colegiales and Barracas in Buenos Aires; Porto Maravilha in Rio de Janeiro; the installation of small trendsetter enterprises in the Historical Center of Mexico City, upgraded by fifth richest man in the world, Carlos Slim Heliu’s investments, as well as in the nearby neighborhoods of La Roma and La Condesa (Olivera Martínez, 2015; García Canclini; Cruces; Urteaga, 2012).

In addition to informality, the reality of Latin American cultural and creative industries, with few exceptions (e.g., soap opera production) is the enormous inequality between them and those of the United States and other countries of the North. In addition, there are deficiencies in the sector, especially the lack of investment, changes in management models, etc. To address such deficiencies in the field of cultural and creative industries, the Argentine government spearheaded two initiatives: the Market of Creative Industries of Argentina (MICA) and the Market of Cultural Industries of the South (MICSUR). These initiatives were first held in Mar del Plata, Argentina, in 2014, then in Bogotá, Colombia in 2016 and São Paulo, Brazil in 2018. MICA, created in 2011, brings together six sectors: publishing, music, audiovisual, design, performing arts, and video games. Like all fairs, it seeks to provide networking opportunities that increase the sales of participants. In addition, it provides training in transmedia production, recognizing the significant changes in forms of production and consumption. Also in recognition of the interdependence of culture, economy, employment, education and other areas, MICA is organized with the participation of the Ministries of Industry, Labor, Social Development, Economy and Foreign Affairs.

As Argentina increased its investments in its cultural and creative industries, policymakers such as Rodolfo Hamawi, who was National Director of Cultural Industries when MICSUR was created in 2014, aimed to strengthen the South American regional market because its member countries were net importers, which contributed to trade deficits. MICSUR was created to reverse this situation. The first MICSUR was an unprecedented event due to its continental size and scope: at the first meeting in 2014, all 10 South American countries participated and it was expected that future meetings will include all Latin America countries. In 2014, there were 3,100 accredited participants, 9,700 business meetings, 1,200 producers, speakers and officials; 80 round tables, conferences and workshops about the present and future of cultural industries (Resumen..., 2014).

Hamawi highlighted the serious asymmetries in the global commerce in culture, particularly the power of the large transnational conglomerates in book publishing and in film and television production and in other areas, whose massive budgets and access to financial capital give them competitive advantages. With this in mind, he emphasized the role of the State in the development of “effective policies that reward and give new possibilities to small local businesses” because “[...] they engage with cultural perspectives linked to the identity and self-assertion of our peoples” (Hamawi, 2014).

The Inter-American Development Bank published a rehash of successful cases of creative economy under the name of The Orange Economy, a term that is spreading very quickly. Although it is already a commonplace that culture generates income, the book by Felipe Buitrago Restrepo and Iván Duque Márquez (2013) indiscriminately cites astronomical figures generated by the creative economy, juxtaposing success stories from the United States, the United Kingdom and Asia with those from Latin America without acknowledging that their figures of profit and employment in the creative economy refer to a sector with one of the highest rates of informality, if not the highest. Why should we know that the creative or orange economy generated 29.5 million jobs worldwide and 1.9 million jobs in Latin America and the Caribbean if we do not also know that the world population is 7.6 billion and the Latin American and Caribbean population is 646 million? Percentages for Latin America and the Caribbean are 0.6 percent or slightly more than half the world average, not the best performance. Furthermore, if we consider that Latin America has the highest rate of informal employment: 43% according to the IMF (Casabón, 2017) and 47% according to the ILO (Guy Ryder, 2014), and that the cultural sector, according to economist Ernesto Piedras (2008) has a higher rate, then it should be obvious that a high percentage of those 1.9 million jobs are not of good quality. A book about the creative economy should address these difficulties and carefully analyze why the situation in Latin America is less fruitful than in other parts of the world. Of course, there are exceptions, such as Buenos Aires, or Bogotá and Medellín.

The issue of informality is one of the most neglected in cultural policies in Latin America. There are cultural sub-sectors in which subsistence and sometimes more lucrative returns are achieved in informal settings, such as parallel music (Vianna, 2003) or música plebeya (Yúdice, 2017), which have massive audiences and use informal circuits and even piracy and digital technologies. However, when seeking to compete on an international scale - which is one of the key objectives of the creative economy - policies to promote cultural industries need to be more intersectoral and transversal. Moreover, this is something that is largely unrecognized in Latin American cultural institutions, generating some policies for music or performing arts or crafts or heritage without considering the contributions of education, trade, urbanism, transportation and other sectors. If one wants to promote citizenship among cultural producers, more integrated environments are needed that help to create productivity for the prosperity of cultural industries (see the section on Costa Rican cultural policies below).

The most popular cases in Latin America of an integral development that includes citizen culture are those of Bogotá and Medellín. I would like to concentrate on the last case to illustrate policy design. The Secretariat of Citizen Culture was created in 2002 and was a central part of the government plan of Sergio Fajardo, mayor of Medellín between 1st January 2004 and 31st December 2007. The principles of its Citizen Commitment platform are: to make the city more habitable by reinforcing security, which was not only the responsibility of the security forces but also of a program to create greater equality and social cohesion through the reform of urban space and transport, especially in the poorest and most inaccessible areas, the improvement of education, citizen participation in public management, including maximum administrative transparency, and the orientation of culture towards peaceful coexistence (Escobar Arango, 2007).

Fajardo’s government was characterized by the transversality of projects for citizen empowerment. The most iconic example is the Library-Parks, as they are part of a broader strategy to integrate the city. Located in the poorest areas of the city, they are beautiful icons that enhance self-esteem, and connect with schools, kindergartens, sports centers, cultural centers and gardens that not only dignify life due to their location at intersections and access to transportation facilitate participation in a variety of activities (Melguizo, 2011). The intersectoral and transversal character is seen in urban revitalization, articulated to aesthetic, cultural and educational processes. As explained by the architect Alejandro Echeverri, who directed the revitalization project as Secretary of Urban Development, a true transformation is not achieved only on the basis of the physical or material aspect of a project. Moreover, Echeverri and other officials were able to get the neighbors actively involved with the program, thus tailoring it to their needs (Echeverri, 2013). Another architect involved in the project explains that

[...] the unprecedented transformation is related to social development, to the improvement of the quality of life. The results were also economic, not only related to the economic impact of reducing delinquency, disease, and the hours it takes to partake in education and employment, but also to the increase in tourism enabled by the new metrocable (Sanín apud Vélez Rincón, 2011, online).

In Medellín, the fragmented parts of the city were brought together, but that transformation was not only infrastructural; bridges were also built between the state and the citizenry, establishing shared governance. Jorge Melguizo, Secretary of Citizen Culture (2005-2009), who shared with Echeverri the process of revitalization, also refers to daily coexistence. These are processes of stitching together and unleasing social flows via “cultural acupuncture”, to use the metaphor coined by Gilberto Gil, Minister of Culture of Brazil between 2003 and 2008, to characterize the Points of Culture program described below. With public infrastructure bridges, neighborhoods were were brought together and a divided society was connected. In addition, young people were included in decision-making in Medellín’s participatory budget (Medellín, 2009).

The objective of the Secretariat of Citizen Culture is to ensure the cultural development of the city, which implies expanding and safeguarding the cultural rights of citizens by recognizing heterogeneity, multiculturalism and diversity to transform their conflicts peacefully. (Medellín, 2018). The three undersecretaries - Cultural Citizenship; Art and Culture; Libraries, Reading and Heritage - agree on access and empowerment for all, without compromising artistic and cultural experimentation and innovation. In this regard, the Secretariat collaborates in programs of shared action to promote innovation with other institutions of the city, both public and private. In 2013, the Urban Land Institute selected the city as the most innovative among 200 rivals, including finalists such as New York and Tel Aviv (Colombia’s... 2013). Later, in the same year, a public-private partnership created the Medellín Innovation District, oriented to technology but also located in a crime-ridden area full of poverty. The initiative has sought to extend innovation to citizens (Rojas, 2013). Although not primarily committed to social inclusion, the District seeks to integrate technological development with environmental and human sustainability (Alcaldía de Medellín, 2015).

Towards More Integrated Cultural Policies

Medellín’s Ten-Year Cultural Plan also briefly addresses the creative industries within its cultural development framework (Medellín, 2011). Like the Bogotá Ten-Year Cultural Plan, it is based on the policy recommendations of organizations such as: UNESCO, Agenda 21 for culture (a set of policy recommendations from the umbrella organization United Cities and Local Governments UCLG), the United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), and others. Culture and development is one of the eight programmatic areas of the MDGs, specifically designed to help achieve goals 1 (eradication of extreme poverty and hunger) and 3 (promotion of gender equality and empowerment of women) (MDG Achievement Fund, 2007). In fact, in 2006 the Government of Spain made a contribution of $710 million to establish, jointly with UNDP, the Millennium Development Goals Fund (with a subsequent contribution of $121 million in 2008) (MDG Achievement Fund, 2013). The agenda 2030 extended the 8 Millennium Goals to 17, including culture as a contributor to universal inclusion in quality education by recognizing diversity and intercultural dialogue (goal 4); sustained economic growth by supporting sustainable tourism for local cultural products (goals 8 and 12); the security of cities by safeguarding of the world’s cultural heritage (goal 11). The Agenda 21 includes culture as the fourth pillar of sustainable development, alongside economic growth, social equality and environmental balance (UCLG, 2010)2.

Bogotá is also important but I decided to use Medellín as an exemplary case because its culturally sustainable urban renewal inspired the hemispheric network Community Living Culture (CVC). However, before elaborating on the CVC case, it is necessary to detail the Living Culture Program of Brazil, since this program is the other inspiration for CVC. Created under the mandate of the Minister of Culture Gilberto Gil, it revolutionized what is understood as culture in Brazil. The cultural policy of this country, especially during the two mandates of President Inácio Lula da Silva (2003-2010), is in an unprecedented category of its own. Brazil was fortunate to have Gilberto Gil as Minister of Culture, and his appointment of very progressive and capable policy makers and designers, many of them from popular culture, workers’ organizations, initiatives from poor neighborhoods, indigenous peoples, communities of afrodescendants, regional cultures, a digital culture activist movement, and so on. For two decades, these cultural movements transformed Brazil, and this transformation had an impact on the way Brazil developed its cultural and creative economy.

In years prior to the Lula government, the cultural incentive law, Lei Rouanet, was part of a strategy to reorient cultural initiatives toward a private business program and to decentralize funding. Culture is good business was the slogan of the Brazilian Ministry of Culture when, in 1998, a renewed Lei Rouanet was reintroduced under the mandate of Minister of Culture Francisco Weffort. As part of its efforts to direct funding to the private sector, the Ministry of Culture provided numerous statistics to show that investment in culture increased export earnings, created jobs and promoted national integration. At the same time, the Lei Rouanet and other new incentive laws created a system in which the support for cultural projects was decided by private sponsors, usually guided by the criterion of the commercial value that projects would bring to companies. Under Gil’s ministry, this emphasis changed and even among proponents of economic policies for culture there were voices that criticized the prioritization of market value. Ana Carla Fonseca Reis (2007, p. 293), one of the strongest proponents of a Brazilian sui generis creative economy, wrote

[...] it is not very useful to stimulate the growth of sectors that generate astronomical income from intellectual property if the creation of this wealth is not accompanied by a better distribution of income, driven by socioeconomic inclusion that takes advantage of fundamental symbolic benefits, such as democratic access, appreciation of diversity and strengthening of national identity.

To fulfill the promise of diversity, Minister Gilberto Gil created the Points of Culture as part of the Living Culture Program. The idea was to provide stimulus to the multitude of initiatives in living culture - totalling more than 4,500 in 2014 according to the Living Culture website - which were already evident in the great diversity of communities all around Brazil and not only in the main cities. Gil compared the promotion of the living culture of communities with the release of energy experienced in Chinese do-in massage. By massaging vital points, the nation’s cultural body, temporarily impaired or asleep, becomes energized (Pontos de Cultura, 2004). Gil was not speaking of a single nation but of networks that articulate in many ways, thus opening the nation beyond its physical and symbolic borders. The program is configured as a state action that creates potentialities in three complementary dimensions: symbolic, civic and economic. Local cultures are marked by their differences and capacities to reinforce themselves and the connections they establish. Articulated by the points of culture, the nation takes shape as a mosaic of anthropological differences and a political project of connectivity and interaction that forms a dynamic and solidary network (Barbosa; Calabre, 2011, p. 64-65). The notion of culture deployed in this project is very broad and has more to do with local creativity than with a single, even plural, definition of culture. Creativity can be applied to political cooperation, innovative solidarity economy initiatives, communication networks and new technologies, as well as traditional knowledge and practices and artistic expression.

The massage referred to by Gil involves funding, technological resources, professional accompaniment when requested, and digital infrastructure and Internet access for the points to network with each other. According to the program’s founding director, Célio Turino, it was inevitable to initiate the program centrally in government offices, but soon it was decentralized and thus gained autonomy. The selection and renewal of points of culture at the local level leads to the strengthening of community engagement (Turino, 2011, p. 51). Turino sees the Culture Points as interconnected nodes, in contrast with the social divisions that characterize society class-wise and racially. The many points of culture make this diversity visible, not only from a symbolic point of view (which is also important) but also as a process that can generate a new economy (Turino, 2011, p. 74).

It is important to consider that this broad citizenization of culture also has an economic component. Once networked, points of culture find complementary and related initiatives that improve their work. It was the recognition of this effect that led to an experiment in creative economy, led by Marcus Franchi, for the creation of linkages and clusters. He applied the model of Local Productive Arrangements (APLs), which he defines as follows:

The APLs are clusters of economic, social and political agents, located in the same territory, and which are articulated through interaction, cooperation and learning. These groups are part of regional planning. They are phenomena linked to agglomeration economies and are territorially focused on training and stimulation of production and value chains. Among its objectives are the identification of limitations (related to demands and needs) in technology, training, skilling, and job specialization, with a local focus on regional, sectoral, economic and social factors (Franchi, 2011, p. 92).

This form of agglomeration developed for the first time in Emilia Romagna, in Italy, where associations of small and medium-sized enterprises working in textiles, ceramics and engineering had achieved great international competitiveness. This form of association was adopted in Brazil in the 1990s and Franchi adapted it a decade and a half later for cultural enterprises. His first implementation of APLs was for a hip-hop production chain in Ceilândia, a satellite city in Brasilia, where the highest number of hip-hop artists per capita in Brazil could be found. The idea was to map actors and initiatives, provide management training, help establish horizontal and vertical linkages, create a fertile context to improve the production of hip hop events, increase revenues to make the local scene more sustainable (APL Ceilândia, 2009; Franchi; César, 2011). This Creative Economy APL was formulated within the framework of the National Culture Plan (2010-2020) that prioritized the citizen’s right to the diversity of symbolic expressions and the potential of culture for economic development (Brazil, 2013). Concerning this last point, the Plan sought to bring professional development to underserved communities, stimulate investments and entrepreneurship in economic activities of grassroots cultural actors, allowing the insertion of artistic and cultural products, practices and resources in contemporary economic dynamics, with the objective of generating work, income and opportunities for social inclusion. Economic alternatives such as the solidarity economy were also promoted. To this end, the Ministry of Science and Technology, through its Social Inclusion Secretariat, and the Ministry of Culture, through its Citizen Culture Secretariat, combined two programs: Science, Technology and Innovation for Social Development and the Living Culture Program, with a focus on local production arrangements and solidarity economies (Nascimento, 2010).

Some of the initiatives in Ceilândia that Franchi assisted were Points of Culture. His work came to the attention of the Secretariat of Creative Economy, which appointed Franchi to apply this technology to 27 local cultural projects. Each of them would receive advice on how to elaborate development plans and establish links. Franchi also led discussions among the more than 3,000 APLs at the time with the aim of establishing a suitable framework for cultural APLs. He also established a three-way collaboration between the Secretariats, cultural initiatives and universities in order to map possible relationships among the participants and extend the APLs to community digital initiatives, alternative community communications, community radios and community banks.

The Brazilian Points of Culture program, along with the aforementioned innovations in municipal cultural policies in Medellín, were the crucial inspiration for the creation of Community Living Culture (CVC), a network of community cultural initiatives in Latin America. CVC begins in December 2009 in Mar del Plata, Argentina, where several cultural networks and leaders of cultural organizations and movements from half a dozen countries gathered at the First International Congress on Culture for Social Transformation, organized by the Cultural Institute of the Province of Buenos Aires with the collaboration of the Federal Investment Council. Not coincidentally, these groups already knew each other in the context of the shift to the left in Latin America in the new millennium; they prioritized the importance of popular classes and marginalized groups such as Afrodescendants and indigenous peoples. For example, the World Cultural Forum, whose first meeting was held in São Paulo in 2004 under the auspices of the new Minister of Culture Gilberto Gil, was inspired by the World Social Forum, which began in Brazil in 2001. However, its roots were in a profusion of progressive movements seeking alternatives to global hegemony under neoliberal policies whose effects were particularly harmful to the most disadvantaged sectors of the population. The participants in these forums sought to empower the underprivileged through artistic and cultural practice, not as spectators but as active participants. Salient among those gathered at the meeting was Jorge Melguizo, Secretary of Social Development of Medellín and the ex-Secretary of Culture of that city, responsible for a multisectoral public-private campaign to provide cultural services to residents in conjunction with urban development and public transportation projects. Célio Turino was also present, he founded the Points of Culture program in his capacity as director of the Secretariat of Citizen Culture (2004-2010) of the Ministry of Culture of Brazil.

The meeting in 2009 was the start of the creation of a continental platform promoting the association of thousands of organizations and seeking to achieve something similar to the Points of Culture program in Brazil. While CVC is not a government program (it is a network of civil society organizations), representatives of 100 organizations from most Latin American and Caribbean countries met in Medellín in October 2010 to form Platform Bridge with the objective of lobbying national and municipal governments to legislate policies for art, culture, education, social transformation, sustainable development and especially the designation of 0.1% of national budgets to support processes of community living cultures. Moreover, they sought to build networks of popular cultural organizations in Latin America to exercise sovereignty over natural resources, fair distribution of wealth and democracy. All this within the framework of conceptions linked to decolonization, Buen Vivir (Good Living)3 and the culture of peace (Cultura Viva Comunitaria, 2013)4.

Another important objective of this continental organization has been the ability to gain the necessary strength to influence international and multilateral organizations, such as the Ibero-American General Secretariat (SEGIB), in order to implement policies supported at all levels of society, especially at the municipal and local levels. In fact, at the XXIII Summit Meeting of Heads of State and Government in Panama in 2013, CVC was incorporated as the Ibercultura Viva y Comunitaria (Living and Communitarian Iberian Culture) program of SEGIB to strengthen community cultural policies in Ibero-American countries (SEGIB, 2017).

According to CVC documents, there are more than 17,000 community cultural experiences in Argentina, making it impossible to review a representative sample of these initiatives. It is enough to say that these organizations and networks were able to get the government to institute a policy of Points of Culture since 2011, with 450 points supported in the selection of 2013 and by 2017 numbering more than 700 (Argentina, 2017). In addition to Brazil and Argentina, Points of Culture programs have been instituted or are in the process of being institutionalized in several countries and cities - Chile; Uruguay; Bolivia; Peru; Costa Rica; Guatemala; Mexico; Spain - with discussions taking place with representatives of other countries in the annual meetings of CVC. It is important to mention that Fresia Camacho, a long-time activist in living community culture, well represented in Costa Rica by numerous organizations and networks such as Guanared, was appointed as representative of CVC in the Ministry of Culture and Youth in a previous administration. Subsequently, she was appointed as General Director of Culture in May 2014 by the current administration, with the task of further decentralizing resources and opportunities. She had already organized the VI Ibero-American Congress of Culture in April 2014, in which the points of culture had an important function. In fact, Camacho had invited Célio Turino, the founder of the Culture Points in Brazil, to be a consultant on the proposal to establish a Policy and Law of Cultural Rights.

The purpose of the Points of Culture of Costa Rica is to provide “[...] a program of stimuli and create synergies aimed at strengthening organizations, networks, collective initiatives and sociocultural spaces linked to the promotion of cultural diversity, social economic solidarity and the safeguarding of cultural values and natural heritage” (Programa..., 2017, online). The last point is very important in Costa Rica, since more than 40 years ago; environmentalists pressured other sectors of society to achieve a significant transformation of the country’s productive matrix, with a shift towards clean energy and strong environmental protection in a balanced relation to the vibrant ecotourism industry. I would like to conclude this essay with a reflection on the cultural policies of Costa Rica, partly because its current Minister of Culture, Sylvie Durán Salvatierra, who had previously worked in CVC networks, takes ecology as a model for a sustainable creative economy in Costa Rica.

Taking advantage of the endemic environmental sustainability of Costa Rican public policy since the 1980s, responsible for the doubling of forest cover between 1983 and 2010 and the development of green growth (Costa Rica, 2012; Watts, 2010), Durán Salvatierra promoted something similar for the Cultural and Creative Industries. For instance, “[...] for policies for SMEs to improve the production and local management capacities of micro, small and medium enterprises, as well as to ensure linkages with large-scale actors and global trends” and the creation of clusters to achieve sustainability (Durán-Salvatierra, 2008, p. 14-15). The aim is not to focus exclusively on high-tech creative industries or policies for poor communities, but to encourage both and, when possible, to link them.

Like other ministries, the Ministry of Culture and Youth of Costa Rica allocates a large part of its budget to infrastructure, staff and historically emblematic programs such as the National Theater, Museums, etc. The recently instituted Points of Culture program, which seeks to strengthen the participation of small local cultural organizations, has a relatively modest budget. Given the tendency to limit the budget in times of fiscal crisis, such as the current one, it is unlikely that there will be an increase in the cultural sector’s resources; hence the need to find other sources of funding. In addition, considering that even the smallest initiatives involve investments and costs, even if only for musical instruments or costumes for dance concerts, the Ministry is looking for ways to collaborate with other government sectors (Economy, Trade, Science and Technology, Tourism) to energize the cultural and creative industries sub-sector. As in other cases, the cultural sector needs to educate other sectors about its importance both to satisfy the cultural rights of citizens and to generate wealth, even if, as we have already seen, cultural employment has a high level of informality and lack of labor rights (indeed, the Ministry of Culture is currently working with the Ministry of Labor on cultural labor rights). Such rights require government to make them a priority.

Through collaboration and lobbying with other sectors, the creative economy has achieved a ranking of 8th place among the 14 sectors prioritized in the National Development Plan. The idea, similar to the APLs developed by Franchi in Brazil, is to establish agglomerations that link public, private and academic sectors to promote opportunities. Initiatives are underway to work with audiovisual production, crafts, publishing, gastronomy and other areas. One example is the agglomeration involving the Boruca indigenous people in the South Pacific region of Costa Rica. The co-responsible organizations are the governing committees of the Boruca, the Committee of Boruca Artisans, the Ministry of Culture and Youth, the Film Center, the Ministry of Economy, Industry and Commerce, the Ministry of Environment and Energy, CadenAgro (Support Center for the Development of Designations of Origin), the University of Costa Rica, Nuestra America Foundation, among others. The objective is to strengthen the production and commercialization of Boruca masks, textiles and ceramics, which have been a pillar of the Boruca economy. The development of denomination of origin aims to prevent piracy or misuse of Boruca designs. In addition, Boruca artisans interact with designers and programmers on equal terms. Agglomerations of this kind also ensure that any tourism initiative is carried out with sensitivity and with the approval of the Boruca community (Working Document, Ministry of Culture and Youth).

I conclude with a creative economy initiative from Costa Rica to exemplify three points. First, that a creative economy can be conceived as a sustainable initiative, following the environmental sustainability model for green growth. Second, that it is possible to incentivize the creative economy and support citizen empowerment. Third, that it is possible for a small country of 5 million to think big and innovate in the area of cultural policy. In fact, all the initiatives of the different countries mentioned in this essay have contributed to Costa Rican reflections on the development of policies, as can also be seen in the cultural institutions of other countries and cities. Several of the participants mentioned in this document have interacted over the years. This is why there is accumulated knowledge and experience that enables not only the design of good policies, but more importantly, the development of management strategies that make these policies viable5.

1For a brief review of the concept of citizenship from Greek and Roman societies to early Christianity to the Middle Ages, see Horrach Miralles (2009).

2For a more detailed discussion about culture and development, see Martinell (2010; 2013).

3We might say, with Javier Cuestas-Caza, an Ecuadorian decolonial critic of development and post-development, Buen Vivir is an imperfect translation of the quechua term Sumak Kawsay. What he means is that the translation does not capture the different epistemology and the different ontology of the indigenous communities in which the principle is operative. He states, “For the majority of actors related to the “indigenous-culturalist” discourse, grosso modo, Sumak Kawsay is not Buen Vivir. Sumak, translates as harmony, plenitude; and Kawsay as life, coexistence. The most common translation is Life in Plenitude (Vida en Plenitud), although it is also possible to find: Beautiful Life (Vida Hermosa), Harmonious Life (Vida Armónica), Balanced Life (Vida em Equilibrio) or Harmonic Living Together (Convivir Armónico)” (Cuestas-Caza, 2018: 54). This communitarian aspect is crucial to Sumak Kawsay, something that is not captured in the phrase Buen Vivir or Good Living.

4For more information about Community Living Culture, especially reports from 17 countries and the Art and Social Transformation Network, see Melguizo (2015).

5This article is part of the Thematic Section, Cultural Studies, organized by Maria Lúcia Castagna Wortmann (Universidade Federal do Rio Grande do Sul), Luís Henrique Sacchi dos Santos (Universidade Federal do Rio Grande do Sul), Iara Tatiana Bonin (Universidade Luterana do Brasil) and Daniela Ripoll (Universidade Luterana do Brasil).


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Received: December 26, 2018; Accepted: June 03, 2019

George Yúdice is a professor of Modern Languages ​​and Literatures at the University of Miami, USA. ORCID: E-mail:

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