Museum: Culture as a Fourth Pillar of Sustainable Development

HeritageForAll – Global Collaboration Program

By Mr. Mohamed Badry


Culture and the nation identity are considered a strategic tool developing the local communities; guaranteeing the best future for the upcoming generations; and sustaining, preserving and transmitting the inherited past from generation to generation. Paper aims at reviewing the role of culture as one of pillars of the methodology of sustainable development goals. Also, museum as a great cultural entity plays a significant role at the cycle of sustainable development acting environmentally, culturally, socially, and economically its mission.

Culture and Sustainable Development

Considering culture as a fourth pillar of sustainable development, UNESCO Universal Declaration on Cultural Diversity (2001) has been defined a culture providing that it is a ‘set of distinctive spiritual, material, intellectual and emotional features of society or a social group, and that it encompasses, in addition to art and literature, lifestyles, ways of living together, value systems, traditions and beliefs’ (UNESCO, 2001). In 2009, UNESCO United Cities and Local Governments stated within its publication “Culture and Sustainable Development: Examples of Institutional Innovation and Proposal of a New Cultural Policy Profile” that taking into account the cultural environment, the governments could add a value and special flavor, operationalizing the sustainable development process or what to be called “Cultural Sustainability”, to the national polices and systems (Lamberta, Boukasb, & Yeralia, 2014, p. 568).

The major of leaders globally overview that culture plays a significant role of our current daily life routine linking emotionally, through cultural activities, the society’s individuals and providing their initial requirements. It contributes actively developing the global towns. Balancing between a traditional life “the transformed culture or nostalgia” and the modern life “globalization”, major of architects and urban planners shift their thinking throughout investing the cultural resources and assets displaying the modern cities more attractive; to have a sustainability factor upgrading the life standards; and to become interesting destinations to live. As a result of that, we can recognize that a sustainability is going in parallel with a livability aspect. (Matisse, 2015, pp. 24, 25)

Supporting the former overview, we can collect number of effective quotes which have been valorized the significance of culture as a tool of providing a suitable context for “Sustainable Development”:

  • M. Cemil Arslan, Secretary General, Marmara Municipalities Union in Istanbul – Turkey, stated that “culture plays the leading role in the resolution of problems thanks to its relation with language, history, common consciousness, and the common vision of the future and its relation with the space”.
  • SungYeop Lee, CEO, SeJong Center in Seoul – Korea, asserted that

“Culture is one of the key factors in determining the quality of life for citizens, because it sits on the citizens’ basic needs such as housing, healthcare, education and public security. However, the values and priorities of the city are still centred on providing the right infrastructure and environment for its citizens, not measured by cultural aspects.”

  • Roger Madelin, CEO, Argent LP in London – United Kingdom, illustrated that “Culture has to be seen as integral in everything we do and plan. Economic, social and environmental issues can only survive, improve and thrive with a cultural strand running through.”
  • John Rahaim. Planning Director for the City and County of San Francisco – United States of America, clarified that

“Culture as a public investment will never compete with affordable housing or infrastructure as fundamental city needs. But I think it may be best seen as an overlay to these programs, in the same way that long term sustainability is now embraced. In other words, what if all city services and programs had a ‘cultural overlay’?”

  • Alvin Tan, Assistant Chief Executive (Policy & Development), National Heritage Board in Singapore, confirmed that

“For culture to play a strategic and transformative role, cultural considerations should be sensibly and sensitively integrated with policies in the areas of economic growth, education, urban planning, quality of life etc. This is because culture is what binds the three components of a society together: the places and spaces in a city; the people living in the city; and the cultural beliefs and practices of the people living in the city.” (Matisse, 2015, pp. 24–33)

Sustainable Development Pillars, (Lamberta, Boukasb, & Yeralia, 2014, p. 570)

Interacting the micro-factors of the surrounding cultural landscape, sustainable development requires strategically the cultural identity of the local community. Consequently, the inherited culture and attitude play initially a part of preparing the local logistic map. This great impact is highly affected to provide a multiple resources of inflow supporting financially the national development plan; as well as the local community. This consolidation is represented guaranteeing a sustainable labor market and enhancing the creative entrepreneurship.(UNESCO, 2012, pp. 3, 7)

UNESCO has been indicated that culture-oriented development or investment, which aims at authenticating the local traditional cultural resources and preserving the heritage assets, is not only actively generated revenues but also, not to require a huge capital. Globally, there are numerous cases where had been started creating a new image investing their cultural pattern. By the way, the developed countries should strategically to progress its cultural sectors and initiatives upgrading its economic status.(UNESCO, 2012, p. 4)

Sustainable development was defined throughout various perspectives. World Commission on Environment and Development has been clarified in 1987 that in fact, sustainable development should be matched with the current requirements without interrupting the upcoming young generations’ abilities to reach their own requirements (Torggler, Murphy, France, & Portolés, 2015, p. 5). Then, in 2007, regarding the perspective of Colantonio, the sustainable development, recognizing the cultural policies, should understand the interaction among the pillars of a suitable life standard (Economic – Cultural – Social – Environmental). As a result of that, the local authorizes can valorize valuably the cultural assets that the whole categories of the local community have been examined. (Colantonio, 2007; Hribara, Bolea, & Pipana, 2015, p. 104; Torggler et al., 2015, pp. 9, 10)

In 2017, Guzmán et. al. have been viewed, throughout their observation, evaluating generally the links between heritage management and sustainable development and asserted that cultural heritage is not only a cultural admin but also, is a socio-economic product which subjects to the sustainable change (Guzmán, Roders, & Colenbrander, 2017, p. 193). Consequently, Pencarelli et. al. clarified that according to museum mission, which was considered by International Council of Museums (ICOM), museum services the local community and its development (Pencarelli, Cerquetti, & Splendiani, 2016, p. 34).

Throughout the Paris Declaration on Heritage as a Driver of Development, ICOMOS has been asserted the importance of merging the cultural values in the development process of the long-term management plan. This integration preserves the spirit of historical places and museums; respectively, it acts the sustainable development of cultural tourism. According to the quotation of Graham Brooks – the President of ICOMOS International Cultural Tourism Committee, Australia – well-managed tourism reinforces cultural identity as a fundamental point for development; moreover, “[to] provide opportunities for sustaining traditional and contemporary cultural values that contribute to the identity of a community and its social traditions”. (Brooks, 2011, pp. 496, 500; ICOMOS, 2011, p. 4)

Additionally, the recommendations of UNESCO Adoption and Promotion of the Historic Urban Landscape (HUL) (2011), and the Johannesburg World Summit on Sustainable Development (2002) were recognized the high significant of culture, as the fourth pillar of sustainable development, in the process of creating sustainable development-characterized destinations in order to activate the strategy of an integrated urban landscape. (Hosagrahar, Soule, Girard, & Potts, 2016, pp. 18, 19; ICOMOS, 2011, p. 2; Torggler et al., 2015, p. 8)

Museum as a Cultural Entity and the Sustainable Development Process

Museum Value-creation according to a Multi-dimensional and Multi-stakeholder Approach / A Regional Differentiated and Integrated Strategy for the Sustainable Development of Museums (Pencarelli et al., 2016, p. 43)

According to UNESCO Recommendation Concerning the Protection and Promotion of Museums and Collections, Their Diversity and Their Role in Society (2015), UNESCO has been affirmed the great significance of cultural heritage overall for all categories of the community that to earn the ability of respecting the cultural diversity, therefore to act a real social cohesion and the sustainability factor or in the other word “Sustainable Development”. As a result of that, UNESCO has been considered “Museum” a suitable cultural space allowing various categories to do the previous task that to transmit and preserve the cultural identity throughout a group of numerous capacity building actions. (UNESCO, 2015)

Museum is a magnificent entity which contribute and collaborate effectively raising an awareness of the local community for the cultural and natural significance of their own heritage as well as their responsibility of appreciating, caring, and transmitting it value from generation to generation. Also, it supports financially the local development presenting within the cultural and creative industries and tourism. (UNESCO, 2015)

UNESCO and also the 1972 Declaration of Santiago de Chile identified the main role of museum partnering the sustainable development goals. It mainly safeguards our heritage, and enhance the cultural diversity prospect. It transfers the heritage knowledge contributing the development of the national educational policy and guaranteeing the social cohesion and integration within a respective intercultural dialogue. (UNESCO, 2015)

Furthermore, UNESCO has been addressed the social framework of the museums that:

Museums are vital public spaces that should address all of society and can therefore play an important role in the development of social ties and cohesion, building citizenship, and reflecting on collective identities. Museums should be places that are open to all and committed to physical and cultural access to all, including disadvantaged groups. They can constitute spaces for reflection and debate on historical, social, cultural and scientific issues. Museums should also foster respect for human rights and gender equality.” (UNESCO, 2015)

Museum as a cultural entity plays, within a cultural system, a part of conserving the socio-cultural heritage and transferring this heritage knowledge, either tangible or intangible manifestations, for the upcoming generation. Theopisti Stylianou-Lambert, Nikolaos Boukas and Marina Christodoulou-Yerali, in their article, asserted the former context and function stating that

what museums collect, preserve, and exhibit form the tangible links between the past, present, and future, and form the core of cultural sustainability… promoting and preserving cultural capital for future generations. Therefore, [the storylines of heritage and cultural vitality] can be seen as essential instruments of cultural sustainability.” (Lamberta et al., 2014, pp. 566, 569)

Identifying previously the sustainable development perspective, museum are considered a significant tool for conserving the inherited past which forms the present (Misiura, 2006, p. 9). Particularly, it contributes reforming the national cultural identity according to the framework of the local community’s current socio-cultural needs (Smith, 2006, p. 44, 2015, p. 460). Consequently, museum is a great entity which compiles the past, through a group of inherited objects, customs, traditions, history, and actions, in the present time in order to develop a future vision (Baram, 2014, pp. 4674–4676; Santoro, 2016, p. 43).

In 2003, Yaniv Poria, Richard W. Butler, and David Airey concurred, using their direct observation, that museums are one of the places where the people can realize the past and communicate with the heritage area emotionally (Poria, Butler, & Airey, 2003; Smith, 2015, p. 459). Respectively, museum is considered a protected area mitigating the environmental effects and the human-induced impacts against the cultural heritage collections; and at the same time, presenting effectively its stories, context, and background. This presentation is represented throughout a group of actions such as interactive exhibits, and various programs raising the cultural awareness the local and international community. (Willie & Dusome, 2003, p. 6) Thus, these action adopt the respect of cultural diversity, and raise the sense of belonging and loyalty for the local history and nations.

Furthermore, in 2006, museum as a cultural entity was implicitly provided the sustainability context throughout the ICOM definition. Museum is “a nonprofit, permanent institution in the service of society and its development, open to the public, which acquires, conserves, researches, communicates and exhibits the tangible and intangible heritage of humanity and its environment, for the purposes of education, study and enjoyment“. (Kamps & Weide, 2011, p. 8; UNESCO, 2015)

The factor of sustainability plays a significant part of museum management process. It is considered a fruitful tool contributing to interpret practically the local cultural heritage and to create a real emotional rapport with the community reaching a new audience. Moreover, it is an effective context to get new opportunities operationalizing and developing the relationships with the museum stakeholders especially the entrepreneurs and the local investors. (Pencarelli et al., 2016, p. 29)

As a result of that and according to Brundtland Commission 1987, author could estimate the significance of the sustainability factor and its interaction with the museuological entities. The perspective of sustainable development is already included at the definition of museum and its mission protecting the cultural heritage value; transforming its knowledge from generation to generation; and contributing to enhance the local cultural identity. Therefore, such museum should be aware to cover the pillars of sustainability methodology managing its cultural entity. (Pencarelli et al., 2016, p. 30)

Sustainability and Museum Management, Adopted After (Pencarelli et al., 2016, p. 30)

Taking into account the Moore’s Strategic Triangle, in order to act a real and effective sustainable development, museum should care the following factors:

  1. ‘Public value creation’ concerns public sector mission.
  2. ‘Political management’ refers to the relationship between the organization and its political stakeholders.
  3. Operational capacity’ relates to systems, processes and resources. (Pencarelli et al., 2016, p. 30)
Moore’s Strategic Triangle For the Public- and Non-profit Sector, (accessed 5 Feb. 2018)


Museum is a multidisciplinary player in the community development process and is one of the main sustainable development representatives. It is a strategic tool to safeguard the cultural identity, to preserve the cultural heritage regardless natural or cultural heritage; tangible or intangible heritage. From my point of view, museum provides the magic context delivering or transmitting educationally and professionally the heritage knowledge along the upcoming generations (whatever formal, informal, or lifelong). In sum, museum is one of the professional wheels to operationalize the cultural perspective at the sustainable development outlook.


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