On March 12 and 13 the Spanish network for sustainable development (REDS) organized in Madrid a conference focusing, for the first time in the history of this network, on the role that culture plays in the achievement of the 2030 sustainable development goals. The upcoming days on Museums and Education, co-organized by the Maritime Museum and the Museum of Rural Life of the Carulla Foundation, will also address the same issue.

As all those of us who work in this sector know well, in spite of the efforts invested by organizations such as INTERARTS, UNESCO, IFACCA or UCLG to promote, during the drafting process of the agenda, the manifesto “The future we want includes culture”, the final document of the 2030Sustainable Development Goals does not considered it a central issue.

However, as museums and cultural centers, organizations or creative and cultural industries delve into the challenge posed by sustainability, their strategic contribution to an increasingly urgent and global challenge will become more evident.

The relationship between culture and sustainability can be understood from different perspectives. On the one hand (maybe the most obvious and immediate), cultural projects and actors, especially equipments, have to analyze how sustainable they really are in environmental, economic, social and, obviously, cultural terms.

Proposals from the UK, such as Julie’s Bicycle, were presented at the conferences as instruments to measure the carbon print of our centers and proposals. We suggest you try out this exercise because it leads to a very relevant internal debate. Some of the Catalan museums that attended the conference are already moving forward in this line, through accreditation and quality processes based on European directives.

There is a second perspective though from which to understand the relationship between culture and sustainability that many creators are using through their expressive languages. For a long time now the visual arts have proposed aesthetic and ethical approaches to environmental and social issues. Photography and contemporary performative creation are the ones that stand out the most but this general consciousness has found a very important loudspeaker in contemporary forms of expression.

A third edge is provided by the cultural practices that position themselves as exercises in cultural ecology or, in other words, those that  aim to support cultural vitality and social equality in addition to environmental responsibility and economic feasibility. For example, community performing arts are based on the need for cultural appropriation and involvement, which are fundamental to social sustainability. In many cases, the creative and cultural industries, understood as an opportunity for economic and social growth in spaces and regions that are often marginalized, have proven to be a resilient and recommendable instrument as proven by the results of the FOMECC program launched by INTERARTS.

Finally, another fundamental role will be that of the archaeological, historical, scientific or ethnological museums who not only know that the preservation of memory and knowledge is part of the DNA of the idea of sustainability but, also, that they still have to find a way to put these assets at the service of citizenship in order to work on the definition of a new cultural-natural paradigm that can guarantee the survival of our species, in all its complexity.

Adapting to the new conditions of our natural environment will demand new cultural forms some of which we are starting to imagine but which will all be necessarily based on memory and creativity.

Gemma Carbó, chair of the Board of the Interarts Foundation