Culture focal point of donor conference

May 2004 -

Culture in development formed the central theme of a donor conference held in Sweden's capital Stockholm on 26 and 27 February. During the meeting, which was organised by the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA), delegates presented the framework for cultural development cooperation of their countries, and discussed ways that would ensure better donor coordination and efficiency.

Current affairs are unavoidable topics during donor conferences. The war in Iraq and other events in the Arab World drew the attention of participants to the need for greater support in the region from both the UN and the EU, to tackle pressing development issues. Denmark has earmarked money for an Arab initiative that will focus on human rights and democracy. Sweden maintains a Swedish Institute in Alexandria, Egypt, which has grown into a meeting place for information exchange in the Arab world. The Netherlands has also assigned priority to Egypt, where the Dutch embassy supports culture projects. The formulation of policies for Turkey and Morocco is currently in progress at the Dutch Foreign Ministry. Immigrants in the Netherlands from these countries could play a significant role in international development. Finland has formulated guidelines for maintaining relations with Arab countries called 1001 steps, and has provided support for the creation of a Lutheran Cultural Centre in Bethlehem.

What is more, since the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, the security policy of many donor countries inspires development cooperation in conflict areas. For Denmark, for example, its support to Yemeni NGOs and civil societies falls under the heading of 'war against terrorism', and Finland has also introduced a broad concept of security.

In recent years, cultural trust funds have become a new way of financing the arts in developing countries, as sustainability and ownership became the buzzwords in international cooperation. One such fund is the Tanzania Cultural Trust Fund, supported by Sweden, which was set up in 1998 and provides grants and support to the cultural sector in Tanzania in an effort to invigorate the cultural industries. Zimbabwe also has a Culture Trust Fund, which, due to the political situation, is not managed by the government but by NGOs working in the area of culture. Sweden is currently setting up a partnership Cultural Fund in South Africa in collaboration with the South African government, as is the Dutch Embassy.

Because accountability in cultural funds is a central issue, a firmer grasp of the principles that govern cultural funds must be an objective of donors, the participants agreed. With reference to UNESCO, common approaches and sharing information are important, as this would allow donors to have a stronger, united voice.