One of the most prominent outcomes from the 48th meeting of the Committee of Representatives of Governments and Administrations (CRGA) was the affirmation of the Pacific Community’s (SPC) role in the protection and promotion of our region’s cultures. At first glance, anyone unfamiliar with SPC’s history might wonder why an organisation focused on science and technology in support of development, would have such a strong interest in cultural heritage. However, SPC’s work has always been inextricably linked to Pacific culture, and in the future, this connection will become even stronger.
SPC has been a fervent advocate for protecting and celebrating Pacific cultures for over four decades. In 1972, SPC facilitated the first Festival of Pacific Arts (FestPac). Today, FestPac remains the flagship of cultural festivals in the Pacific, with strong support from across all SPC member countries and territories.
FestPac is perhaps the most visible example of SPC’s support for culture; but our commitment has not been limited to hosting festivals. SPC has also contributed to a range of important meetings, activities and studies in support of Pacific cultures, including the Regional Culture Strategy: Investing in Pacific Cultures 2010–2020, meetings of the Council of Pacific Arts and Culture (CPAC) and the Pacific Ministers of Culture.
While there has never been any doubt at SPC about the important role of culture in development, donor funds and resources for this area have become increasingly difficult to secure. SPC has operated with just one full-time Cultural Advisor since 1996 – one staff member responsible for promoting the rich cultures of 22 Pacific Island countries and territories.
As part of SPC’s overall efforts to ensure we are meeting the needs of our members effectively in the face of reduced donor funds in the region, I commissioned an analysis of all current SPC activities, including those supporting culture in member states. This analysis was unequivocal in its assessment of the high value placed on culture by our members, and resulted in the recommendation that SPC expand its efforts in this area.
If there was any doubt remaining about the conclusions of that study, they were put to rest at the 2018 CRGA in Noumea, New Caledonia, when SPC members requested that we strengthen our work in supporting Pacific cultures, and added specific text to our priority areas to reflect this expectation.
The value of protecting culture goes beyond the obvious historical significance. All stakeholders are increasingly becoming aware of how traditional knowledge in areas such as fisheries, agriculture, and medicine, can bolster and support sustainable development efforts in our region. The blending of traditional Pacific knowledge with modern science and technology offers an invaluable tool for protecting our future. And, it could well be that the learning we undertake in this area inspires new ideas and provides a model for sustainability around the world.
With clear guidance from our members, SPC will strengthen its work in support of the promotion and protection of Pacific culture. We will emphasise to our donors and partners the importance of investing in this area, and we will look at innovative ways, both within and beyond SPC, to celebrate the region’s magnificent cultures, traditions and languages.