Message from Ms. Audrey Azoulay, Director-General of UNESCO, on the Occasion of World Art Day
15 April 2021
Bringing people together, inspiring, soothing and sharing: these are the powers of art, the importance of which has been made emphatically obvious during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic. With hundreds of thousands of people directly affected by the virus and billions more either in lockdown or battling the pandemic on the front lines, this World Art Day is a timely reminder that art has the power to unite and connect in times of crisis.
Since March 2020, we have seen a multitude of artists and institutions lead resilience-building cultural initiatives. The time of COVID-19 is thus, undeniably, also a time of opening up towards others and to culture, which reinforces the relationship between artistic creation and society. In order to weather the crisis and inspire the future, we need not only educational continuity, but also cultural continuity: neither learning nor culture must stop.
Our Organization would thus like to pay tribute to the solidarity shown by artists and institutions at a time when art is suffering the full force of the effects of a global health, economic and social crisis.
Indeed, the extended closure of museums, theatres and concert halls and the cancellation of concerts and festivals have plunged many institutions into uncertainty. In a sector where employment is often informal and unstable, and in the absence of an appropriate social safety net, artists and culture professionals too often find themselves helpless in the face of the loss of income brought on by these circumstances.
This shows us just how much we need to accord artists appropriate status, as urged by UNESCO’s 1980 Recommendation concerning the Status of the Artist, in order to bolster respect for their rights and boost the resilience of arts and culture.
Furthermore, for the public, this period is increasing inequalities with respect to access to culture and the diversity of cultural expressions. The measures being taken severely limit the public’s ability to enjoy cultural goods and services in their diversity. These inequalities are all the more acute for vulnerable groups, which are ordinarily affected by the digital divide – such is the case of millions of women and indigenous peoples – and are having even greater difficulty in gaining access to culture.
The challenge of keeping art alive, now and in the future, is therefore twofold: to support culture professionals and cultural institutions, and to promote access to art for all.
In a challenge of justice and equality, and in order to better identify priority needs, it is necessary to listen to all the voices of the artistic world in their globality and diversity. It was thus with the aim of affirming the resilience of art in this period and preparing for the future that UNESCO launched, exactly one year ago, the “ResiliArt” movement. To date, more than 1,200 artists and professionals have participated in hundreds of debates throughout the world, making it possible to formulate 100 recommendations to inspire political action.
These challenges can only be met through far-reaching cultural policies aimed at helping creative communities overcome this crisis and protecting and improving the status of artists. It was in this very spirit that in October 2020 UNESCO published Culture in Crisis, a policy guide which details the concrete support measures which States have taken to assist the cultural and creative industries.
“Just as man needs oxygen to survive, he needs art and poetry.” This crisis reminds us, as emphasized by Aimé Césaire, how much art and culture are vital needs for humanity, how much they are the ferment of our unity and resilience. By taking part in this movement of great cultural momentum, let us all prove that in this period of social distancing, art brings us closer together than ever before.