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Cultural Access and Participation

An essential part of Human Rights

The primary aim of the Council of Europe is to create a common democratic and legal area throughout the whole of the continent, ensuring respect for its fundamental values: human rights, democracy and the rule of law. Related to these objectives is "the right to take part in cultural life", a human right whose importance has been underlined by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe in January 2012:

"The right to take part in cultural life is - and shall be recognised as being - pivotal to the system of human rights. Those deprived of this right also lose the opportunity to responsibly exercise their other rights, through lack of awareness of the fullness of their identity. Moreover, access to the arts and free artistic and cultural expression contribute to the development of critical thinking, to enhanced mutual understanding and to mutual respect. Thus, they contribute to reinforcing democratic citizenship and social cohesion, a 'harmonious living together and peace between peoples'."

Working Definition of Cultural Participation

Wider participation in cultural life is a major concern of national cultural policies in different countries around the world. Cultural participation is associated with a more active lifestyle; those who are excluded from participating in cultural activities also have lower level of social cohesion (Morrone, De Mauro: 2008).

The 2009 UNESCO framework for cultural statistics (FCS) defines cultural participation as including:

"cultural practices that may involve consumption as well as activities that are undertaken within the community, reflecting quality of life, traditions and beliefs. It includes attendance at formal and forèfee events, such as going to a movie or to a concert, as well as informal cultural action, such as participating in community cultural activities and amateur artistic productions or everyday activities like reading a book.

Moreover, cultural participation covers both active and passive behaviour. It includes the person who is listening to a concert and the person who practices music. The purpose of cultural participation surveys should be to assess overall participation levels, even though it may be difficult to distinguish active from passive behaviour. For example, in some festivals, individuals may be performers at one point (active, creating and inspiring others) and be the audience at other times (passive or seeking inspiration). Cultural participation does not concern activities carried out for employment purposes; for example, cultural participation would include visitors to a museum but not the paid guide".

Cultural practices can be defined according to three categories (Morrone: 2006):

  1. Home-based (culture d'appartement) refers to the amount of time spent on watching TV, listening to the radio, watching and listening to recorded sound and images, reading and using computer and the Internet.
  2. Going out (culture de sortie) includes visits to cultural venues such as cinema, theatre, concerts, museums, monuments and heritage sites.
  3. Identity building (culture identitaire) covers amateur cultural practices, membership of cultural associations, popular culture, ethnic culture, community practices and youth culture.

The Compendium Addresses Cultural Participation

Since the beginning of the Compendium project, cultural participation has been treated both as a transversal issue of relevance in different areas of cultural policy making and as a theme of specific sub-chapters in the Compendium country profiles. As a consequence, there are several strands of related information and data  found in various sub-sections of individual Compendium country profiles.

Some of this content has been condensed into comparative / statistical tables that address e.g.: active cultural participation in Europe; Internet penetration rates and Facebook users; trends in visits of libraries and in reading; participation in selected cultural activities (a complex overview that needs updating!); number of screens, cinema admissions and cinema admissions per capita; etc. More empirical evidence is to follow, including as results of the research process initiated at the Helsinki Compendium Assembly, 2012 or in the context of the Council of Europe Indicator Framework on Culture and Democracy (IFCD).

Together with important background documents and links to research, such information can assist governments and NGOs in their efforts to start monitoring and comparing policies and related measures that aim at enhancing cultural participation or improving access to cultural activities for different groups of the population. As well, reflection processes are supported in order to determine, in which way cultural participation plays an essential role in democratic governance and as a human right - cf. also the Themes! section on "Cultural Rights and Ethics".