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Cultural Diplomacy – an exercise for the tightrope artist?

Cultural diplomacy as of politically motivated image building, cultural capacity building, or creating a better world? Is it possible to follow these three purposes at the same time?

ifa laboratory director Johanna Kouzmine-Karavaïeff Suo has recently finalised research looking at cultural diplomacy notably from a cultural strategist’s perspective. She has looked into challenges for foreign ministries in relation to cultural action, at examples of how culture is employed international relations or how culture is internationalised.

Governments interpret cultural diplomacy in various different ways; culture as promotion, culture as development, culture as weapon, culture to gain power, culture as strategy, culture for dialogue, culture for mutual understanding, culture for its intrinsic value, culture for capacity building.

How can a country present a dynamic context for culture, with balanced programmes in external relations?

It is probably time for a new paradigm for culture diplomacy, to embrace bigger and more generous approaches; working with jointly defined ideas, needs, disciplines and values. As culture is equal with people, how can cultural diplomacy engage with people, function as dialogue, develop communities, build collaboration, address global challenges and the needs of the cultural and creative sectors?

Culture in direct connection with global challenges

In Colombia the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Sports and Culture Diplomacy Programme has the philosophy that building on people’s capacity within the country will benefit the country also in its external relations; through the new relationships that the youth participants build and the excellence they develop through the programmes.

Cultural diplomacy should be more multilateral. Not only between nations to solve global issues, but also multilateral in the sense that it engages with different segments and sectors of the society to present results that impact the many, and not the few.

We should rethink cultural diplomacy from a social innovation perspective.

There is a lot of buzz around cultural diplomacy today, but one may ask if there really should be, if cultural diplomacy does not respond to needs of the Culture and Creative Industries or to global challenges.

The term ‘cultural diplomacy’ is broadly used and widely interpreted. The use of the term may be outdated. Culture and external action could be a more appropriate term, as it gives room for vast practice and does not instrumentalize in any way.

In the title of the thesis a link is made between cultural diplomacy and the tightrope artist. Maybe the outcome of a wrong step in cultural diplomacy practice is not dire, as in the case for the tightrope artist, after all there is no right or wrong way of engaging with culture in the context of foreign and external relations.

However the title is chosen to give cultural diplomacy the attention it requires; it is a demanding exercise to get right. Getting it right can contribute to much more than the image of a country (only some examples mentioned here), to the fulfillment and empowerment of people, dynamic culture and creative industries, relevance between domestic and global needs, and the creation of natural ambassadors among the population.

Promotion-oriented cultural diplomacy has a clear ‘return on investment’ thinking but it seems that actions in line with capacity building, social programmes and global challenges bring more return and image to an entity or country. The latter way of engaging does not have the return of investment as first objective, but it comes naturally as byproduct.

Cultural Diplomacy – an exercise for the tightrope artist? offers the following chapters:

Definitions of concepts and terms

Cultural diplomacy – definitions, objectives and approaches

Examples and ideas of culture in international relations (Geopolitics and cultural diplomacy, Culture and Cultural diplomacy addressing sustainable development goals, UNESCO, Cultural Rights. Culture is a human right, the Fribourg Declaration, American artist Jon Rubin’s bridge building practice)

Case project Colombia – Belgium, Pile ou Face/ Cara o Sello       

The context of cultural diplomacy in Belgium and Colombia      

The context of cultural diplomacy in Belgium (The Flemish Community, Wallonia, the French Speaking Community and Wallonia Brussels Federation, The German Speaking Community, Brussels Capital Region, Cultural diplomacy from a federal level standpoint, The position of Belgium today, Challenges and opportunities)

The context of cultural diplomacy in Colombia (Country context, Colombian cultural diplomacy in policy and practice, The position of Colombia today, Challenges and opportunities)

Positioning the project Cara o Sello/Pile ou Face in relation to Belgian and Colombian cultural diplomacy contexts

Cultural diplomacy -Conclusions and final thoughts on challenges (10 pages)

Interested in knowing more? Please send a mail to: johanna@ifa-laboratory.com