Monday, April 30, 2012

Culture Vultures Meet in Salzburg, Austria (Day 2, April 29)

Culture Vultures Meet in Salzburg (Day 2, April 29)
(for the program of the Seminar, see)

I'm one of the participants taking part, regrettably a day late, in the April 28-May 2 "Public and Private Cultural Exchange-Based Diplomacy: New Models for the 21st Century" conference largely funded by the Sterling Clark Foundation. The event is being held at the Salzburg Global Seminar, housed at a palatial 18th estate with a spectacular view of the Alps (and where the film The Sound of Music was partially filmed).

On April 29, I attended a plenary session, "Shifting Economic Power: New Parameters of Engagement in a Multi-Polar World" and two "breakout sessions" -- one for the above plenary, and the other for "Re-Imagining Public and Private Roles in International Cultural Engagement for the 21st Century." In the evening, I was present at a "Firechat Chat" on "The Role of Museums in International Engagement."

Seventeen persons taking part in the seminar are from the United States; 35 are from other countries, including in Africa, Asia, Australia, Europe, and Latin America. These individuals represent a wide variety of professionals, from the government and private sector (including foundations), concerned with culture and cultural diplomacy.

This blog will not summarize the intellectually stimulating sessions in detail, but rather highlight points (some of which are not unfamiliar to the arts community) that I found noteworthy. Specialists looking for a comprehensive coverage of the conference (and its recommendations) will be rewarded by its final report which will appear in the near future. Some main points of the sessions I attended:

"Re-Imagining Public and Private Roles in International Cultural Engagement for the 21st Century "(Breakout Session)

--Culture is in need of support and recognition from governments. Politicians do not consider culture a priority.

--There are many reasons to fund the arts with public money, from enlightening citizens to engaging foreign countries ("engagement" as a purpose of cultural diplomacy is a oft-repeated word in the conference). Increased tourism can be an added benefit from the promotion of culture, as can creating income-producing crafts for developing countries. The political class should be made aware of these positive results stemming from culture.

--Non-governmental funding for culture is hard to obtain, even in the U.S., where more money for support of the arts originates from private sources than in countries where there is a long tradition of state sponsorship for them. One conference participant pointed out that, in a Latin American nation, private money, when it is given away, is usually intended for the church, because (as is not the case with the arts), this act of philanthropy supposedly can save your soul.

--Cultural activists should help artists find ways to earn an income themselves rather than depend on private grants or state subsidies. The internet site Kick-Start is an intriguing model on how to stimulate "grass-roots" cultural projects.

--Culture can create a sense of national identity in some countries, but not so much in the U.S., marked, in the words of a participant, by "a mess of cultural ideas." In China, culture is a "glue" used by the government to bind the population together.

"Shifting Economic Power: New Parameters of Engagement in a Multi-Polar World" (Plenary Session)

--In our increasingly multipolar world, emerging countries in Asia are asserting themselves culturally and showing national pride. A "tectonic shift," marked by a global shift of power to "the Rest" (in contrast to the West), is taking place.

--Among elements of emerging powers' cultural engagement are the government, the media, and the diaspora.

--The West must develop partnerships with the new Asian powers, and find innovative models of collaboration with them.

--Hybrid cultures traverse tradition; a cosmopolitan spirit is needed for engagement.

--Non-democratic systems (e.g., the Soviet Union) can appreciate the power of culture more than democratic ones. Brazil, under dictatorship, supported high culture more than when it turned to democracy. Culture doesn't necessarily mean civilization (e.g., Nazi Germany).

--When a civil society compromises on its basic values, it risks putting its culture in danger by not enabling its creators.

--In the U.S., matters are moving backward in cultural engagement. Supporting books on religion is a current trend.

--Europe, whose ethnic composition is changing drastically, needs "help" in learning how to engage with the rest of the world culturally.

"Shifting Economic Power: New Parameters of Engagement in a Multi-Polar World" (Breakout Session)

--Persons who could have enriched the conference by their presence: young leaders, members of the savvy social-media new generation.

--Culture in Russia has always been a part of its history. State-supported culture there continues to be the norm, with the government trying to win over youth by encouraging more up-to-date cultural events. Currently in Russia there are only three foundations promoting culture.

--In China, the internet has created a "community beyond borders" that is marked by cultural entrepreneurs. Trading in cultural products will be most profitable in the future.

--Thomas Friedman's "flat world" may be an efficient economic model by removing the obstacles to the global distribution of goods, but to stimulate cultural engagement what is needed is a multidimensional world that prizes diverty.

--There are certain principles (whose implementation varies according to time and place) that should guide cultural engagement (a) responsible leadership, which depends on a harmonious relationship between artists/creators, funders/supporters, and audiences/public (b) involvement of the new generation (c) Making the voice of culture heard by government and society; assuring that it has a seat at the table.

--Proper training is essential for successful cultural engagement.

"The Role of Museums in International Engagement" (Fireside Chat)

--Issues pertaining to museums discussed included: educating the public; exchange projects; national identity; encouraging multiple voices rather than creating a repository of permanent knowledge; self-censorship; the place of foreign objects in the institution that houses them; repatriation and loans of collections; the art marketplace.


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