Conference “Unleashing the Transformative Power of Culture and Creativity for Local Development”


Remarks by Angel Gurría

OECD Secretary-General

6 December 2018 - Venice, Italy

(As prepared for delivery)



Dear Commissioner Navracsics, Dear Deputy Director-General Qu, Dear Mayor Brugnaro, Distinguished guests, Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is my great pleasure to be in Venice today to open the first OECD Conference on “Unleashing the Transformative Power of Culture and Creativity for Local Development.” This Conference would not have been possible without the support of the Venice Foundation and its president, Mr. Brunello – caro Giampietro grazie tante per il tuo aiuto.

I would also like to thank Mayor Brugnaro for hosting us in beautiful Venice, as well as our partners for their support and collaboration: EU Commissioner Navracsics and Deputy Director-General of UNESCO Qu.

The OECD has a longstanding tradition of work on culture, as some of you may know. We had a Film Committee back in the 60s, and we explored extensively very specific issues such as Competition Policy and Film Distribution! Since then we continue to see Art and Culture as truly transformative to our ways of living and thinking, in line with the 2019 Biennale’s theme “May you live in interesting times”, that highlights a vision of “art’s social function as embracing both pleasure and critical thinking” around the dilemmas that societies face.

Indeed, Art and Culture are not just the expression of our finest human values and identities; they are also very often the “invisible universals” that hold communities and societies together. They nurture our spirit, our well-being and the well-being of our societies.


Culture is at the heart of economies and societies around the world

In their most basic function, the cultural and creative sectors play a major role for economic development and they are an important lever for job creation and social inclusion.

In the EU, the cultural economy accounts for 4 to 7% of GDP– in Italy this number is just below 5%. Moreover, there are around 8.4 million people working in cultural and creative sectors in the EU today – representing almost 3.7 % of total employment (3% in Italy). This however is a conservative estimate, as secondary jobs or voluntary work – which are significant in the cultural sector – are not measured in this figure.

In addition, creative goods exports contribute significantly to international trade in many OECD countries. In the US, for instance, in 2015 over 40 billion USD in exports were from creative goods; Italy, Germany, France and the UK also stand out for the large value of their creative goods exports.


Culture as a driver of local economic growth

As shown by the OECD Local Economic and Employment Development (LEED) Programme, mayors and local policymakers have leveraged the potential of the cultural and creative sectors for a long time to promote local development.

Through LEED we have researched the linkages between culture and local development, job creation, tourism and social inclusion; and have supported policymakers to better channel public investment and to design culture-led local development strategies.

Our work shows that at the local scale, many places nurture culture as a driving force for their economies – and I am not only talking about big cities like Paris, Rome or New York. In a region like Saxony in Germany, for example, there are more employees in the cultural and creative sectors than in the automobile industry! And of course, here in Venice, and the region of Veneto, culture is at the core of the economy. Veneto employment share in the cultural heritage sector is more than twice as much as in Italy overall. In Venice, the share of employment in cultural heritage is 9 times greater than in Italy.

Creative skills are also increasingly in demand across the economy, and not just in the creative sectors. For example, in London in 2016, the sectors not recognised as creative accounted for one third of all creative jobs such as graphic designers, artists, architects, fashion designers. Creative jobs have also proven to be more resilient after the crisis, and less prone to be replaced by automation. 

Culture is a major builder of the intangible, and social capital of nations, regions and cities and cultural institutions play a fundamental part of this process.


Cultural institutions are agents of economic and social change

Cultural institutions, such as museums, exemplify how culture can generate a wide range of benefits to individuals and communities. Indeed, many museums work closely with universities, business incubators, hospitals, prisons and employment agencies to spur innovation, reach out to those “left behind”, promote social inclusion, and boost cultural diversity.

Museums are also at the heart of urban regeneration strategies that breathe new life into places, as the new M9 Museum here in Venice shows – and which we had the pleasure of visiting yesterday.
There are many examples of ‘sharing’ of cultural capital that encourage the decentralisation of the wealth that it generates away from traditional financial centres. For example, an annex of the TATE gallery was opened in Liverpool in the 1980s, a notoriously difficult time in the city with shipyard closures and rioting. The installation of the museum was an important catalyst for the regeneration of the city. Similarly, a branch of the V&A has just been opened in Dundee, also part of a regeneration project which has led to it being named as one of the top cities in the world to visit. (The Guggenheim in Bilbao).

This is why, over the past year, the OECD has worked closely with the International Council of Museums (ICOM) to develop a useful guide for local policymakers and museum managers on how to work together to maximise the impact of culture on local development. Later this afternoon we will be releasing an advance copy of this guide “Culture and local development: Maximising the Impact”.

The guide presents very concrete actions and examples of what works well in areas such as economic development, innovation to urban design and community development, education, inclusion and well-being. It explains for example how to catalyse the development of creative districts and encourage crossovers between culture, research, business and entrepreneurship – as is the case in London’s Knowledge Quarter, as well as the Textile Fashion Centre, located in the Sweden’s historic textile capital of Borås.

We will be expanding the scope of the guide to include additional cultural institutions, such as libraries and theatres, which possess significant untapped potential to contribute to local development.


Looking forward: how megatrends are shaping culture

Looking ahead, we also need to focus on how the culture and creative industries will change in the face of megatrends, and how policies for culture should be adapted to respond to those trends.
The digital transformation for example, and its associated economic and social changes, is expected to have a significant impact on culture and the creative economy, bringing new challenges, but also opening up new opportunities.

Just think about how digital and mobile technologies are changing the way culture is produced and consumed. Today, all of us can access, produce and instantly share cultural content. Moreover, companies like Netflix, Spotify, Tencent, Amazon, but also Wikipedia and Instagram are also transforming the daily production and consumption of cultural content. Netflix alone accounts for 15% of all internet traffic.

This results in a progressive ‘blurring’ of the roles of both producers and users of content, with an increasing “democratisation” of culture, and possibly new opportunities for co-creation and collective creation. At the same time, this raises issues of protection of authorship rights and may challenge the quality of cultural and creative content. On the positive side, the digital contribution to the cultural landscape may be very large, notably because of the digital technology’s ability to preserve cultural heritage at a time when it is under considerable threat. For example there are major drives to create digital archives of cultural artefacts so that their memory can be preserved in some forms in case of conflict or environmental threats. Museums play an important part in such preservation. The OECD will explore the multi-dimensional implications of these megatrends, to inform local policies in the future.

Ladies and Gentlemen:

Culture is the widening of the mind and the spirit, Nehru used to say. It is the highest of values, Simone de Beauvoir remarked. Art reveals human reality but also shows us the way to overpass it, Octavio Paz insisted. Without it, Camus argued, any society, even when perfect is but a jungle. Such powerful substances are essential to build a community, an economy, a nation, a civilisation.

This is why these elements have acquired an unprecedented central role in the promotion of local development. This Conference will allow us to take stock of challenges and opportunities and to assess the important role of arts and culture for growth, job creation, and inclusive and sustainable development.

The OECD looks forward to continue working with you to unleash the transformative power of culture and creativity for local development. Thank you.



See also:

OECD work on Local Economic and Employment Development (LEED)

OECD work on Inclusive Growth

OECD work with Italy


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