Saudi Arabia’s presidency of the G20 is not only the first time an Arab country has taken charge of the international forum, but also brought with it the introduction of culture to the group’s public policy discussions.
For the first time in its 21-year history, G20 has recognized the growing contribution of culture to the global economy, and the need to safeguard and invest in a sector that comprises films, national heritage sites, museums, books and cuisine
In a paradigm shift accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic, the G20 – led by Saudi Arabia – has acknowledged the potential contribution of culture across the public policy spectrum and has placed it at the center of discussion as a key component of economic and social recovery.
This was cemented when G20 culture ministers came together on November 4, 2020 in a joint meeting on “The rise of the cultural economy: a new paradigm” and pledged to support the $2.3 trillion cultural economy – one of the hardest-hit sectors affected by the COVID-19 crisis.
At the virtual meeting – organized by the Saudi Ministry of Culture and G20 Saudi Secretariat as part of the International Conferences Program – global culture ministers discussed heritage preservation, sustainable development and culture as a catalyst for economic growth.
A new cultural era
Discussions focused on employing new technologies, developing digital platforms for artistic expression, while making cultural resources more easily accessible.
According to UNESCO, annual revenue from cultural and creative sectors is estimated to be about $2.3 trillion, while exports are valued at more than $250 billion. The sectors employ nearly 30 million people worldwide while some forecasts put its contribution to global gross domestic product at about 10 percent in the near future.
Ministers also highlighted the importance of culture for international dialog, citing cultural diplomacy as a bridge for understanding, a core component of external relations and an important pillar of economic stability.
At the meeting, the leaders also agreed that they would continue to meet annually, with next year’s discussion taking place in Italy, while the European country holds the G20 presidency.
“This high-level cultural presence at Saudi G20 Presidency illustrates our shared belief in the vital role of culture in propelling the innovation ecosystem of economies,” Saudi Arabia’s Minister of Culture Prince Badr al-Saud said in his closing remarks, according to a statement.
“The onus is on us to preserve our shared heritage for future generations and to produce and disseminate culture in a sustainable manner,” he added.
Saudi Arabia also announced the establishment of a center to manage, restore and protect its underwater cultural heritage in the Red Sea and the Arabian Gulf. The center, announced on the sidelines of the G20 cultural meeting, will be responsible for developing the underwater cultural heritage sector in the Kingdom and the region.