Supporting the cultural sector in developing countries

Norwegian aid to the cultural sector in developing countries aims to strengthen democracy and respect for human rights. A free and independent cultural sector has an important part to play in ensuring respect for, and observance of, fundamental human fights, and helps to promote employment, growth, dialogue and free debate.

Funding is provided under the umbrella of support to civil society and democracy development. Civil society is an arena where citizens, either as individuals or through organisations, promote interests and highlight needs on behalf of themselves or others. A diverse and dynamic civil society can act as a corrective to the exercise of government authority in key areas.

The main focus areas are:

  • Cultural rights
  • Artistic freedom of expression
  • Professionalisation of the cultural sector

Arts and culture are a vital part of civil society, and play an important role in civil society's contribution to development. This sector offers opportunities for participation, communication and debate in connection with state- and nation-building, democratisation, and peace and reconciliation processes.

In developing countries, a free and independent cultural sector is essential for a free, professional and vibrant arts and culture scene, as well as for promoting and protecting the country's cultural heritage.

Artistic entrepreneurs at the East Rand School of the Arts, Gauteng, South Africa 2015. Credit: Jozi Unsigned

Position of the arts in society

Access to arts and culture is a human right and is essential for individual and social development. It is therefore crucial to ensure artistic freedom of expression and full opportunity for creativity, with room for a wide range of different artistic forms. It is also important to ensure that the position of culture in society and the professional standing of artists are recognised.

The target group for Norway's support to the cultural sector in developing countries includes individual artists, cultural organisations and institutions, and the users of culture.

Rights under pressure

The Temple of Bel in the historical city of Palmyra before its destruction in 2015.
The Temple of Bel in the historical city of Palmyra before its destruction in 2015. Credit: Dima Chahin

Cultural rights are under pressure in many developing countries. Freedom of artistic expression and access to arts and culture are being restricted. The opportunities available to artists who wish to take part in society vary considerably from country to country. Due to a lack of educational opportunities in this sector, and the subsequent lack of professionalisation, many countries miss out on potential revenue and innovation, and individual artists are unable to make a living from their work. Cultural heritage – both material and immaterial – is important for identity-building and for a sense of belonging. The states parties to the World Heritage Convention have committed themselves to protecting our shared cultural and natural heritage for humanity.

Unique cultural heritage is threatened by man-made disasters, wars and conflicts, and by illicit cross-border trade in cultural property.

Growth in cultural industries

Culture also has considerable business potential. In fact, this is one of the fastest growing sectors in the global economy. The film industry and the music industry are good examples of areas where the business potential is not fully exploited in many countries. Cultural industries can play an important role in economic growth, value creation and employment. Norway's support to developing countries in this field is intended to strengthen culture, not only because of its intrinsic value, but also with a view to enhancing the role of culture in poverty reduction.