Working with 2020 Rome Charter

In the same spirit as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Rome Charter aspires to global relevance, while accepting the challenge that implies in a world of immense cultural diversity. For this reason, the Charter aspires to be short, clear and useful. It is not a legal instrument but a practical guide for sustainable cultural development. Its identification of five interdependent human capabilities offers a firm conceptual basis for approaching the relationship between state and people in cultural policy and planning.

This chapter provides some explanatory context, questions to develop policies, and some indications of the kind of action open to policy-makers. In doing so, it evidently cannot reflect all cultural specificities and contexts, and not everything here
will be applicable or meaningful everywhere. It builds on the Charter itself to suggest some paths for interpretation, development and cooperation between public bodies, cultural actors and citizens.

The Rome Charter invites responses primarily from leaders and policy-makers in local government and cultural institutions. It is open to engagement equally by municipalities and public bodies such as museums, theatres or galleries. In both cases it asks the same key questions:

  • What is each person able to do and to be in cultural life?
  • How can their capabilities to discover, enjoy, create, share and protect culture be enabled?

The answers to those questions will be different in Mexico City, Cape Town, Delhi and Rome, as they will be different in cities with millions of inhabitants and rural areas with thousands or hundreds.
The differences are legitimate, if they reflect the particularities and diversity of local cultures and conditions.
The common ground – the universal commitment – is in recognising that the purpose of development is to create an enabling environment for people to enjoy long, healthy, and creative lives – and in doing that, to leave no one behind.

Background: A Capability Approach to Culture

The real wealth of a nation is its people. And the purpose of development is to
create an enabling environment for people to enjoy long, healthy, and creative lives.
This simple but powerful truth is too often forgotten in the pursuit of material and
financial wealth.

Mahbub ul Haq, 19901

The economist Mahbub ul Haq wrote those words in the first UN Human Development Report, published in 1990. In the 30 years since then, the idea that government’s primary goal is to strengthen people’s capabilities has been theorised
by Amartya Sen, Martha Nussbaum and others, and become firmly established in practice, though it is contested and far from universally applied. The capability approach, as it is usually known, is a powerful idea because it is clear, flexible and
responds to people’s wishes for themselves. In 2009, Sen explained it as: “An intellectual discipline that gives a central role to the evaluation of a person’s achievements and freedoms in terms of his or her actual ability to do the different
things a person has reason to value doing or being”.2

What matters to us is being able to do what we value. The capability approach is rooted in human rights and social justice. It asks, in Nussbaum’s words: ‘What is each person able to do and to be?’3
This question is central to people’s relationship to culture, that domain of human meaning-making that is so powerful, so subjective and so universal.
Culture is a human right, guaranteed in Article 27 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which protects everyone’s right to participate in the cultural life of the community and enjoy the arts. This idea is the foundation of cultural policy, but it is also a cultural artefact that reflects its creators, their context and their time.

As a framework for cultural policy and planning, the 2020 Rome Charter asks how Article 27 can be a reality that improves people’s lives? This is where the capability approach is so valuable, because it asks what the state and its institutions can do to ensure that people have the capabilities to make their own choices. And culture, more than any other field of human flourishing, is a matter of choice.
Informed by the work undertaken by UCLG with Agenda 21 for culture, and confronted with the experience and challenges of a city such as Rome, the Rome Charter defines five interdependent and mutually reinforcing capabilities, any one of
which may seem more or less important at different times, in different situations and to different people. How they choose to act with their capabilities is a matter for each person, because diversity is a constant in culture; it is not for the state or its
institutions to decide. Culture is, and must always be, a matter of free choice.
Anything less is a threat to human dignity. But that choice depends, as in their different ways ul Haq, Sen and Nussbaum all imply, on being able to develop the
capabilities to be an actor within the cultural life of the community.

1 Mahbub ul Haq, Human Development Report 1990, UNDP, p. 9
2 Amartya Sen, cited in Ingrid Robeyns, Wellbeing, Freedom and Social Justice: The Capability Approach Re-examined, Cambridge: Open Book Publishers 2017, p. 7
3 Martha C. Nussbaum. Creating Capabilities, The Human Development Approach,Harvard: The Belknap Press, 2011

Cultural capabilities of the 2020 Rome Charter


DISCOVER cultural roots, so that everyone can recognise their heritage, identity and place in the city, as well as understand the contexts of others
As children, we discover our world and our culture simultaneously. In fact, we discover the world through the cultural lenses of family, community and society.
Foundations of identity are established early, and with them a series of codes and behaviours that reflect the value systems of those who care for us. This is also when, with appropriate guidance, we learn to discover, respect and appreciate the cultures of people from other backgrounds and traditions. Young people need help to acquire the resources for cultural discovery, but learning is a life-long process and concerns working and retired people too.
How might policy and programmes enable people’s capabilities to discover culture?
Possibilities include:

  • Protecting the cultural rights of all, especially of minorities and indigenous
  • Embedding the perspective of women, children and young people in cultural
  • Putting artistic and cultural education in the core curriculum at all ages
  • Providing affordable adult education and lifelong learning
  • Requiring cultural institutions and universities to offer education and access
  • Programming inclusively to reflect a spectrum of cultural expression
  • Recognising cultural diversity, locally and globally, as a rich, renewable


ENJOY the city’s cultural resources and spaces, so that all can be inspired, educated and refreshed
People enjoy culture because it offers rich and varied satisfactions. It can make us laugh and move us to tears, bring us together in moments of community, and console us in loneliness, it sparks curiosity, informs and educates. It challenges us mind and body, and can transform how we see ourselves and the world around us.
But the capability to enjoy culture must not be taken for granted. There are financial, geographical, social and, paradoxically, even cultural barriers to be overcome.
Discovery is a vital pathway to enjoyment, so inclusive policies are needed to ensure that all local people feel welcome in the city’s formal and informal cultural life.
How might policy and programmes enable people’s capabilities to discover culture?
Possibilities include:

  • Pricing, timetable and opening policies that ensure all can access cultural
  • Supporting for the widest spectrum of cultural activity and expression
  • Removing inequalities in access and participation in cultural activities
  • Supporting cultural activities for vulnerable and disadvantaged people
  • Innovating in making culture accessible in and through the digital world
  • Public transport provision that facilitates access to cultural sites and


CREATE cultural expressions, so that they can be part of and enrich the life of the city
The rise of cultural participation – and more importantly, perhaps, its recognition – challenge outdated ideas about professional production for appreciative consumers.
The lines between professional and non-professional artists have become blurred.
Many people who discover and enjoy art want to make it themselves. Being able to study art and culture is often the next step towards creation, whether for pleasure, for social reasons or for a career. All these activities enrich the cultural ecology of a community. Signalling that all forms of cultural creation and diversity are respected is vital, but the capability to create must be equitably distributed too. In culture, strength in depth is preserved by nurturing a creative ecology in which each person can flourish where they want.
How might policy and programmes enable people’s capabilities to discover culture?
Possibilities include:

  • Ensuring equitable access to education and training in art and cultural
  • Supporting resource spaces for artistic creation open to local people
  • Specialist youth art provision and training programmes
  • Encouraging colleges and universities to support artistic research, training
    and creation
  • Employment and taxation policies that sustain cultural workers
  • Policies to assist informal, social and amateur cultural activity


SHARE cultures and creativity, so that social and democratic life is deepened by the exchange
Art exists when it is recognised. It is essentially a means of transmission, a way to communicate ideas, feelings, beliefs and values, especially when they are too complex, vague, uncertain or insecure to be put directly into words. So the capability
to bring your culture to others – to friends, neighbours and fellow inhabitants of the city – is essential to participation in cultural life. Debate and exploration in art, science, philosophy or social life is cultural life. It is in sharing their cultural traditions and creations that individuals and community groups become visible in the city, gain recognition and create dialogue with others.
How might policy and programmes enable people’s capabilities to discover culture?
Possibilities include:

  • Creating inclusive cultural platforms of different kinds and scale (including
  • Supporting community groups to bring their work into public spaces
  • Opening the programming of cultural institutions and venues to local voices
  • Ensuring that staff and boards reflect the cultural and social diversity of the
  • Supporting international cultural cooperation, exchanges and networks


PROTECT the city’s common cultural resources, so that all can benefit from them, today and in years to come.
Cultural resources are not static. Their meaning and value changes as society changes. Cultural rights protect all that legacy of tangible and intangible heritage, the universally revered as and the unpopular or misunderstood. Unless we can preserve
and pass on our culture, the other capabilities mean little. But no one’s cultural rights can be exercised against anyone else’s. Democratic negotiation is our best resource with which to manage conflict, requiring us to understand and tolerate other cultures, debate the value of tangible and intangible cultural heritage, and provide suitable legislation and measures that consider the new challenges we all have as a single humanity.
How might policy and programmes enable people’s capabilities to discover culture?
Possibilities include:

  • Legislative protection for tangible and intangible cultural heritage
  • Embedding cultural considerations throughout local government’s work
  • Considerations and commitments related to climate change
  • Support for the work of cultural rights defenders
  • Access to training and resources in conservation, documentation and
  • Public debate about the management and the meaning of cultural sites,
    monuments and elements of tangible heritage and intangible heritage


Please read the 2020 Rome Charter