Istituto Luigi Sturzo and Cultural Competences

Cultural competence: essential, but often forgotten

Cultural competence, as part of the European framework of key competences, is characterized by its complexity. Indeed, it can assume many different forms: we can talk about culture as a mean of social inclusion, as an indivual expression, as openness to others, as a bridge between peoples, which also implies the richness of local cultural traditions, intercultural dialogue and exchange, the language of of arts and creativity.

It is  a transversal competence, because it is often present in other skills and creativity can be used to acquire other competences, becoming a vehicle for that.

We know it is often acquired in informal or non-formal contexts; and that it is crucial for both our personal development and our social life.

It is therefore an essential competences, and it is everywhere.

However, this is the main forgotten part of the competence framework, and it is often overlooked and/or underestimated. This is perhaps due to the difficulty of identifying it as a specific competence, because of its very broad definition, which includes several dimensions, and is much closer to individual inclinations than the others.

In addition, it is very difficul to translate the cultural competence into a competence useful for positioning ourselves in the job market, and this reflects the dilemma which sees competences caught between a utilitarian and economic logic on the one side, and a humanist vision, based on the singularity of the individual, on the other side.

In addition, it is often underestimated the fact that culture is a poweful instrument for social inclusion and can be essential to promote citizenship, that art and creativity can themselves be ideal tools for the acquisition of competences, while the added value of culture as a diversified and transversal competence is forgotten. We also often forget that the cultural traditions rooted in a territory represent its identity. Or we don’t speak often about the impact that culture and arts can have on the individual sphere, personal growth and development, and how a piece of art can enrich a person just enjoying it.

Finally, we forget that culture, in itself, is a professional sector, and requires specific skills and attitudes which are changing over the time and need to be adapted. Istituto Luigi Sturzo is as an example of that, being a cultural institute, working on cultural heritage, in a country like Italy, where culture and arts have a very important place for the national identity.

These are the challenges of cultural competences, which are also the challenges addressed in the Art-Connection project. They are not technical competences, but they are more linked to the human dimension: we therefore need sensitive and respectful practices; and we need to design and adapt ways we value and recognize these competences, in order to capture and take into account their specificity.

Because of being transversal and fluid, it’s important to ensure that cultural competence – especially in informal and non-formal contexts – is recognized, identified, analysed, and brought to the awareness and consciousness of those who possesses it, and are often not aware of it. Narrative and biographical practices and tools, for instance, are useful for giving voice to people, putting them in the condition of being able to tell and reflect on, in a transformative sense, their own life experiences.

How can we let the cultural dimension emerge? How to promote it? What political and educational strategies we could adopt to this end?

We introduced the debate on this topic within the framework of the European project Art-Connection.

The experience of Istituto Luigi Sturzo as a modern cultural institute: valuing the cultural heritage and the social role of culture

Istituto Sturzo, as a modern cultural institute in Italy committed to the protection and enhancement of its rich cultural heritage, brought to the project its own experience related to the cultural heritage and culture as a professional sector.

Founded in 1951, the foundation is one of the first Italian institutions which worked to open the country’s cultural heritage to the general public.  The Institute holds a considerable documentary heritage. First of all, its historical archive, consisting of 117 collections, with documents, posters, photographs, audio files and film, that can be translated into 2 km or documentations: it preserves not only Luigi Sturzo’ papers, but also those of many politicians and intellectual who were crucial for the Italian history from World War II to the present day. In addition to this, there is a unique, rare book collection, made of over 140,000 monographic volumes and 60 periodicals constantly updated. This heritage, which tells the story of Italy but also of Europe and international relations in the 20th century, is kept inside a splendid palace, Palazzo Baldassini, built by Antonio da San Gallo the Young between 1515 and 1518. The palace was constructed during the Renaissance, a period in which Italy was at the centre of an intellectual revolution that brought great innovations in the artistic as well as the architectural fields. Frescoes by painters from the school of the famous Raphael are still preserved there. Inside this 16th century palace, the history of the 20th century is preserved.

The conviction that culture is an asset for all, and that it has a value which citizens should enjoy and to which they can contribute, is deeply rooted in the identity of the Institute.

The Institute has been therefore engaged in a process of profound renewal by carrying out multiple initiatives of cultural promotion and production. And today, it conducts interdisciplinary research related to culture to meet the challenges of citizenship, globalization and European integration.

Since its foundation, indeed, the Institute has moved in two directions. A first line of activity is traditionally linked to the rich heritage it preserves in its historical archive and library. A second line of activity is aimed at contributing to keep this memory alive, contributing to the most recent debates, providing tools to interpret the transformation of our societies today, but also ideas and more concrete proposals in terms of policies, engaging people and making its heritage more and more accessible to the wider public and strengthening the cultural offer and the fruition of cultural heritage.

At the same time, it has promoted over time an intense program of cultural activities to promote wider dissemination by expanding its target groups, facilitating the virtual access to knowledge and the digitization of heritage and using creative and innovative methodologies for the dissemination of tangible and intangible heritage material.


In a situation of crisis for cultural institutions that has lasted for years, the Institute has invested its energies in the idea that cultural activity can be a fundamental resource for overcoming moments of difficulty. Cultural activities are meant here in the broadest sense both as a historical awareness of its own identity and its relationship with other cultural and political subjects in the country, and as an offer of civil and political training.

Cultural skills and culture as a tool for social inclusion and active citizenship and for acquiring new skills, has played a central role in the Institute’s activities, along various lines. The Institute developed various projects that use culture, in its various expressions, to promote active citizenship, educate global citizenship and civic consciousness, transmit values and principles of our Italian and European identity:

For instance, since 2015 Istituto Luigi Sturzo has been hosting, volunteers within the Universal Civil Service engaged in specific projects for cultural heritage.

The Universal Civil Service is a social commitment and active citizenship experience, with a high educational value within Italian non-profit organizations and public institutions, for young people aged 18 to 29.

Istituto Luigi Sturzo participates by involving the volunteers in a project called “Digital library: giving memories a future”, with a dual result: it increases its catalogued and inventoried documentation, making it available to a wider public, and at the same time it improves the cultural and citizenship skills and awareness of the volunteers and their understanding as they become more familiar with an important piece of Italian and European history.

Throughout the years, the Institute has also engaged in numerous other projects using culture and its cultural heritage to promote active global citizenship. A series of audio-visual screenings, exhibitions of historical material, pictures and election manifestos as well as movies and theatre shows have been the means of sharing the values of our society using an easy, more direct language which can be better understood by everybody and prompts personal feelings and emotions.

The Institute also developed social innovation projects enhancing the cultural offer and connecting culture, memory, territories and personal growth.

“Memory gate” project is an example: the Institute created a multimedia journey which visitors experience as a journey into memory, whose narrative is constructed of images and sounds that make the visitors immerse themselves in a historical commemoration of the events of 2nd world war of great emotional impact.

Additionally, the Institute developed projects focused on the enhancement and recognition of transversal skills, in particular cultural skills, through reflective methodologies.


Finally, Istituto Sturzo has been promoting a number of different projects addressing the development and recognition of competences needed for working in the cultural and creative/artistic sector, reflecting on how to adapt skills to a sector with evolving professional skills and improve the transversal competences needed.  In all its projects, the Instituto has made good use of the mentoring process and the digital storytelling methodology, which aim at showing and recognizing the skills acquired in a learning process, putting people at the centre of this process, and which can be particularly useful for making transversal competences – such as cultural ones – visible.


In the Art-Connection, the Institute developed a specific action research to demonstrate how arts and culture can be an instrument of social cohesion and, more specifically, can be explored within the intergenerational dialogue to facilitate the learning and self-learning processes and the implementation of competences at a wider range.

More specifically, a group of young volunteers of the civil service, who are involved in 4 cultural institutes in Rome in activities to preserve their cultural heritage, were the target groups. Mentors and cultural developers guided them into a different experience of co-creation, to demonstrate how this experience can become an important tool to better understand their roots, identity, community and values, and therefore their present, and to acquire new competences, such as working in teams. The experience was also important to let the volunteers’ creativity emerge, as it showed how they can then use their creativity and various artistic expressions as a tool to communicate what they have learned also externally, for example to the local community. Indeed, they communicated it in a less traditional and conventional way, using tools which are more familiar to the younger generation, able to reach a different or a wider public, also generationally speaking.

This video, made by the volunteers involved in the action research, tells their experience and shows the Institute’s cultural heritage through their eyes and lens.