Takeaways from the EFA – Pearle “Culture and SDGs” webinar

31 October 2023

On 17 October 2023 EFA joined forces with Pearle* - Live Performance Europe (Performing Arts Employers Associations League Europe) to host a short webinar on the United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and their application to the performing arts and arts festivals. It was chaired by Pearle’s Head of Public Affairs, Silke Lalvani.

The information and discussion session urged the arts to address three principal points.

  • The SDGs are relevant to the arts and festivals sector,   
  •  How to take practical action,
  •   And what steps should be taken to influence the revising process before amended SDGs are adopted in 2030.

The keynote speaker, Lucia Vazquez, Project Manager of Sustainable Development Solutions Network Spain, pointed out that the original adoption of the SDGs in 2015 was the first time a global agenda had been agreed by all the member nations of the UN. That agenda will be reviewed in 2030, taking a holistic view of the challenges - how they have changed over this decade and a half, and what new issues need to be addressed, not in isolation but as part of a full programme of policy and practice reform. The SDGs are aimed at nation states but can be adapted to any other context.

Culture in itself, in any form, is not an SDG. However, it clearly has an impact on the implementation of policies that contribute to them and can be an important communicator of the goals. The adoption by performing arts organisations can be not only a signal to communities but can make a small but highly visible difference to the delivery.

Arts organisations are encouraged to take three steps:

  • Examine their practices and programmes and align them with the SDGs,
  • Measure how effective activities are in achieving the SDGs,
  •  Report to national and international bodies on the outcomes.

It was realised that for many festivals this would require new thinking and that directors would be concerned about how to start the process. The advice on this can be broken down into a checklist:

  • Long term strategy
  • Commitment
  • Diagnosis
  • Alignment
  • Objectives
  • Actions
  • Evaluations
  • Communication

The advice is to break down the process into short, medium and long term actions, after full analysis and reflection. At that point the decision should be taken to integrate the SDGs into the DNA of the organisation and the events it promotes, and to rethink the way the work is communicated to audiences, sponsors and funders. This requires considerable training for staff, boards and volunteers, as well as detailed examination of the organisation's work.

Measurements in the cultural sector are not always easy or possible - for example the emotional impact of a performance or the lasting effect on the thinking of an individual member of the audience - but such impacts are clearly important to the delivery of SDGs and festivals should draw attention to them.

It was stressed during the discussion that many public funding bodies and foundations themselves will have been instructed to include SDGs in their criteria. It is increasingly important for festivals to have data that can be applied so that funders are persuaded that festivals are serious in addressing the SDGs. This can benefit festivals and performing arts promoters hugely because, once their activities have been identified as contributing to SDGs, whole new streams of funding can be accessed. An example is the innovation funding available through the European Union's New Bauhaus programmes.

To sum up, the conclusion was reached that, while culture and the arts are not included as a specific SDG, there is no reason why we cannot be central to the agenda, and there are many positive and rewarding benefits in contributing whole-heartedly.

Simon Mundy

>>> Watch the recording of the webinar on our Youtube channel <<<