Digital technologies creating access to culture for young people

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Researcher and Project Manager in the Culture and Innovation area, Andrea Porta collaborates with Italy’s Fondazione Santagata for the Economics of Culture, which UNESCO Regional Bureau for Science and Culture in Europe has a long collaboration with, in their special programme titled Youth Empowerment for Sustainability YES! In this interview, Porta addresses the important work that helps young people get access to culture.


What does it mean to you collaborating with the Fondazione Santagata in the YES! programme? What is your outlook for the future?

Just after graduating with a degree in Economics of Culture, I started my collaboration with Fondazione Santagata which promotes research based on local economic development from cultural heritage and creative industries, ultimately conducting capacity-building activities. One of them, the International Academy on UNESCO Designations and Sustainable Development, was organised created together with the UNESCO Regional Bureau.

In 2017, I was involved in a project closely related to the Monviso Transboundary Biosphere Reserve and I participated in the 2017 MAB Youth Forum, organised by the MAB Secretariat in collaboration with the UNESCO Regional Bureau. That experience gave me a plethora of motivation and new ideas, starting from the awareness of being part of a young international community that was deeply passionate about sustainable development.

In this context YES! was born, this is a programme dedicated to Youth Empowerment for Sustainability. Our first activity was conducted in partnership with the Monviso Biosphere Reserve and the Caracol professional educators, namely the MAB UNESCO Monviso Youth Camp. This 5-day residential experience in nature aims to raise awareness, engage and train young people between the ages of 15 and 18, living in the cross-border territory of Monviso. It focuses on the MAB Programme and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

Working as a project manager in this field gave me the unique opportunity to experiment with my ideas and competencies (and make mistakes too). The outlook for the future is to try to make a small difference, working especially on youth related projects primarily focusing on local sustainable development, trying to create a more just and equitable society.


What challenges do you face in your work as a young person? How has COVID-19 affected your work and what has been your response to the pandemic crisis?

As a young professional, I’m rarely heard or given credit by experts and stakeholders at the local level, especially in the institution. However, sometimes a little extra effort is what is needed to gain trust. There is still not enough room to engage young people and to fully include them in decision-making, but there is continuous hope for change. The situation is rapidly improving due to the ongoing international mobilisation for youth empowerment and the help of special programmes such as the UNESCO Youth Programme.

Andrea Porta. Photo: UNESCO

The COVID-19 pandemic did affect some of my work projects, but luckily, it was not as disruptive compared to other sectors such as tourism. On the plus side, it has been an occasion to rethink, reshape, and sometimes improve the way we conduct our activities.

In the field of youth engagement, in which the exchange and sharing of ideas is a fundamental component, we developed a platform called Youth Power – The Game. It is designed as a game space for young people to share their ideas and thoughts, and participate in challenges conducted online or offline in their territories.

In this way, despite the impossibility of meeting in person, the engagement and empowerment process did not stop because of the ongoing crisis, but only moved temporarily to a digital environment.


The Fondazione Santagata recently organised the Youth Engagement in UNESCO designated sites (YEU) event together with UNESCO, what was the event about? How significant is collaborating with UNESCO in these youth-focused activities?

YEU – Youth Engagement in UNESCO Designated Sites is an online workshop, organised together with the Regional Bureau for Science and Culture in Europe, it took place from 1-3 March 2021. The workshop aimed to empower young adults and enhance their education on sustainable development. The focus was on the potential of UNESCO designations to involve future generations, with a cross-sectoral approach on education and culture.

The workshop, which was attended online by 25 participants from 9 countries, included a mix of activities such as presentations, group exercises, rounds of discussions and Q&A sessions, tackling three key topics: education, awareness and action.

Collaborating with UNESCO and its staff in these youth-focused activities is enriching, not only from a competence-framework point of view, but from also considering the transdisciplinary approach of these types of activities. UNESCO is more than a collector and listener of youth needs and ideas, it is a facilitator that helps make substantial change in these designated areas.


In what way is the evolution of new digital technologies affecting access to culture, especially for young people? Do you think that the technological revolution has stirred more interest in culture from young people?

In general, the evolution of new digital technologies has facilitated access to culture, both in terms of quantity and quality.

In my experience when it comes to young people, on the one hand, it is indeed possible to recognise a positive impact in already engaged individuals whose use of digital technologies can deepen their interests. On the other hand, there is a risk in blurring the threshold between entertainment and culture, and also education (looking at the forced distance learning in COVID-19 times) for the average young consumer.

It then becomes very important to fully understand, study, and shape this dynamic, in order to grant quality access to culture, taking into account digital technologies as an instrumental vehicle, but not leaving behind other cultural forms.

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