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HUMAN RIGHTS

In the coming years the ACF Washington will work on the correlation of art and culture with human rights, how art can or cannot address pertinent political and social questions that we are dealing with on a daily basis and if such an approach can make the whole concept of human rights, often seen purely as a matter of international lawyers and activists, more accessible to the public as a whole.

Human rights are the basic rights and freedoms that belong to every person in the world, from birth until death. They apply regardless of where you are from, what you believe in or how you choose to live your life. They can never be taken away, although they can sometimes be restricted.

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The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) is a milestone document in the history of human rights. Drafted by representatives with different legal and cultural backgrounds from all regions of the world, the declaration was proclaimed by the United Nations General Assembly in Paris on  December 10, 1948. It sets out, for the first time, fundamental human rights to be universally protected. Since its adoption in 1948, the UDHR has been translated into more than 501 languages – the most translated document in the world – and has inspired the constitutions of many newly independent states and many new democracies. Eleanor Roosevelt (1884–1962), one of the founding members of the UDHR said in her speech Where Do Human Rights Begin at the United Nations on December 10, 1958:

Where, after all, do universal human rights begin? In small places, close to home - so close and so small that they cannot be seen on any maps of the world. Yet they are the world of the individual person; the neighborhood he lives in; the school or college he attends; the factory, farm, or office where he works. Such are the places where every man, woman, and child seeks equal justice, equal opportunity, equal dignity without discrimination. Unless these rights have meaning there, they have little meaning anywhere. Without concerted citizen action to uphold them close to home, we shall look in vain for progress in the larger world.
— Eleanor Roosevelt

The phenomenon of artists calling attention to human rights violations and to social and political conflicts around the world through their work is not new. One of the most prominent examples is probably Ai Weiwei (*1957), whose political activism has earned him a worldwide reputation. Over the last twenty years, however, an increasing number of artists around the world have used artistic expression to voice opposition or criticism of certain political, economic, social or other concerning circumstances either in their own community or of a global nature as such. Their goal is to use their non-political voice to raise awareness and initiate change. It is a very accessible inspiration to get involved into shaping your community, build capacity for local leadership and have fun doing it by using creative and enjoyable means. At the same time more and more critical voices are speaking up, reminding that artists must strike a balance between self-expression and respect for their subjects and that the morally good intentions of art activism substitute for artistic quality. Caution is being expressed to think that art is not a value in and of itself, but rather a vehicle through which some values are being expressed.

Undoubtedly, there exists a strong link of art and culture with education, health, citizenship and economic development, which in the end are all human rights questions. Culture is no longer understood uniquely as an isolated sector of activity. Instead, more and more it is being seen as an aspect of the lives of individuals and communities. Human creativity, in all of its forms, is the prime driver of economic growth as well as political and social stability. Culture and art overcomes borders, opens doors and unites people of different backgrounds, faiths, religions and views of the world. By presenting and communicating cultural and scientific achievements it is possible to reach out to many people nationally and internationally and at the same time address actual social and political questions.

Many Austrian artists can contribute to this debate with highly interesting creative thoughts and artistic expressions and we are excited to let our audience in the DC metro area get to know them and engage with them directly at our cultural events. Furthermore, the Department of International Cultural Policy of Austria's Federal Ministry for Europe, Integration and Foreign Affairs has developed a new grants-promotion program called Creative Austrians, which aims to put young creative Austrian minds with ideas interlinked between art, science and social-political development, into the spotlight. They provide practical solutions for possible future developments, which can be applied both at local and global levels. In addition, this program also aims to spark international interest in Austria’s dynamic creative industry, particularly among a growing circle of “mobile creatives”.