Our Culture Programme

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UNESCO is the only United Nations agency with a specific mandate for culture and heritage. Culture is unique in its ability to anchor people’s feelings and beliefs to the land in which they live, and to the communities to which they belong. It has the power to transform individuals and societies. UNESCO’s role is to protect heritage and to foster creativity, through advocacy, normative frameworks and promotion of active engagement on the ground. At the highest level, this means promoting the importance of culture in an international context, both culture for its own sake and in relation to sustainable development.

Since 1945, UNESCO has been setting international agreements to guard against the numerous risks and dangers threatening cultural heritage, such as war, political, ethnic and religious conflict, looting, theft, illegal export and import, illicit trafficking of cultural property, deterioration, neglect, destruction of or alteration to heritage, pollution, and disappearance. UNESCO’s frameworks help to conserve and protect the world’s cultural property including books, art and monuments for the benefit of current societies and future generations.

While no global definition of “cultural heritage” exists, UNESCO’s Conventions protect the values that people and communities place on cultural heritage including: cultural property, cultural heritage sites, underwater cultural heritage, documentary and digital heritage, oral traditions, rites and beliefs, music, traditional medicine, historic cities, and traditional sports and games.

Through its Conventions and programmes UNESCO also seeks to strengthen and protect creativity and cultural pluralism. Through its membership of UNESCO, the UK’s culture and heritage join and contribute to humanity’s global story.

Legal Framework

UNESCO establishes international standards and frameworks through its Conventions, Recommendations and other agreements.

Together they establish a robust international framework for protecting culture and promoting participation and therefore laying the foundation for sustainable development. This legal framework is complemented by programmatic initiatives including the UNESCO Creative Cities network, in which UK Cities play an active part.

Policy Advice

The UK National Commission for UNESCO informs and advises on international and domestic culture policy to UNESCO and UK Government.

Since 1946, the UK National Commission for UNESCO has been ensuring the UK’s leading specialists, intellectuals and academics are contributing to and shaping UNESCO’s culture mandate. We also advise the UK and devolved governments on policy relating to UNESCO’s culture activities. This advice ensures the UK Governments are adhering to the text of these legal instruments by fulfilling their obligations and promoting their aims and intentions within the UK.

The UK National Commission has produced and published several long form policy briefs that cover many aspects of the field of Culture. These inform UK Government about the international opportunities in UNESCO’s programmatic sphere, opportunities and guidance on the implementation of more of UNESCO’s suite of Culture conventions, improving on UK obligations under existing legal frameworks and more.

The UK National Commission for UNESCO has a wider portfolio of policy work which spans UNESCO’s four programmatic areas. They advise and inform our stakeholders about issues and opportunities both internationally and within the UK.

 Expert Advice

Each and every accredited expert within our network is tasked with a specific committee or programme within UNESCO’s framework. Our Experts are pro-bono specialists who help to advise the UK and Devolved Governments on policy relating to UNESCO’s programmes.

Our Accredited Experts have an official role representing the UK in UNESCO Committees, Commissions and Programmes. They also work with us and the UK Permanent Delegation to UNESCO based with the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office in London and Paris, to advise the UK and/or devolved governments on UNESCO related matters.

 Sites & Initiatives

The UK’s portfolio of UNESCO cultural sites and activities are some of the most visible of UNESCO’s programmes, and work to promote our culture and preserve it for generations to come.

We see tangible links to our living past within each day, through our places of worship, museums and architecture. Documents and images recollect and recreate the experiences of past generations linking the communities of the present to those that have gone before.

People also experience culture constantly through the music that they listen to, the language they speak, the food that they eat, oral traditions that are passed down through generations and the festivities they take part in with their neighbours and their families. This heritage creates continuity and cohesion for those disrupted by change, economic instability and can be carried across great distances.

The four nations of the UK and its Overseas Territories and Crown Dependencies have a vibrant network of UNESCO culture projects that are working with like-minded people around the world to foster and create peace.

The UK’s cultural and natural heritage is represented by 33 UNESCO World Heritage Sites which serve as reminders of our past from every era from the Neolithic to the 1950s. They span the breadth of all four constituent nations of the United Kingdom and across its Overseas Territories and Crown Dependencies. The UK is also host to UNESCO Creative Cities which show us the power of the UK’s creativity as a force for economic and sustainable development.

   Explore our Sites        

The UK National Commission collaborates on, and endorses projects that enhance, promote and preserve the culture in the UK, both past and present.

Since it was established, the UK National Commission for UNESCO has worked in partnership with likeminded organisations and colleagues to help promote and enhance visibility of our Culture, as well as working together to tackle challenges.

UNESCO Prizes in culture are prestigious awards addressing global issues and themes, which are conferred on individuals or organisations by the Director-General for UNESCO upon recommendation by an independent and international jury. They each carry a high symbolic value, and are awarded with a substantial monetary award.

UNESCO recognises significant days in the year with ‘International Day’ status.

Discover our Communication & Information Programme

   Explore our Communication & Information Programme