Yet for all the optimism about cultural opportunity and vitality in the verdant Alpine setting of the Schloss Leopoldskron, Seminar participants also diagnosed a multitude of challenges in the realignment of cultural exchange-based diplomacy, along with relevant and often troubling gaps in the emerging framework for international cultural engagement.
Even the most effective cultural managers and policymakers have scant leverage over the macro-dynamics that set the context for global cultural interactions—from “hard” political conflicts and population shifts to gaping disparities in public health, education, citizen rights, literacy, and cultural participation, not to mention the unevenly distributed blessings of information technology. Cultural engagement, it was frequently noted, presupposes a measure of curiosity on the part of artists and the public alike. The nurturing of such curiosity is a prerequisite of successful cultural policy and engagement. Where it is absent, the tools of cultural exchange are blunted.
One participant in Salzburg summed up the concerns this way: “There is an under- lying tectonic shift in the field overall—generational change, systems change—that lies well beyond the field of cultural engagement. There is uncertainty about basic arts advocacy and how we build audiences. Means of participation and appreciation have shifted dramatically. We can’t fix all these problems.”
Three days of intensive deliberations in Salzburg identified at least five dimensions of mismatch between current practices and current realities in the sphere of cultural engagement:
– Outdated Legacy Systems: Many existing structures, institutions, and norms of engagement are anachronistic. The sector needs to rethink its rationales and attitudes, institutional models, and information-sharing and data-gathering mechanisms, to make engagement practices congruent with today’s multi-polar world and its pluralistic artistic discourses and cultural markets.
– Weak Channels of Engagement: The momentous realignments of economic globalization have not been matched with the evolution of effective institutions, norms, and channels of cultural interaction. The field needs new infrastructure that encourages a world in which collaborative, reciprocal, balanced partner- ships are the norm.
– Lack of Common Ground: Gaps in practices and attitudes exist not just between different regions but within regions, among age cohorts and creative sectors, and no less often between artists and cultural organizations.
– Conceptual and Rhetorical Deficits: The field is having difficulty articulating a terminology that is adequate to the complexity and fluidity of today’s culture. Advocates of cultural engagement are challenged to define what exactly they are advocating, and to whom. Terms such as “diversity” lack clear definition. Vague and malleable concepts and rhetoric lead to fuzzy strategies.
– Absence of Coordination: Cultural groups tend to be subsumed by the day-to-day demands of cultural management. Absent consistent, strategic action, a multitude of scattered initiatives fail to scale up to a larger and more consistent whole. Actions and programs do not achieve broad visibility and impact.
The Salzburg Global Seminar 490 was convened to grapple with the challenges of cultural engagement at a critical juncture, as the world takes stock of a new geopolitical system that has emerged in the wake of the Cold War. The meeting came at a time when governments across the globe, in particular in nations with a history of expansive arts funding and diplomacy, are digesting the implications of economic austerity. “The crisis is having an effect,” a European cultural manager allowed. “The consolidation of public funding will have an enormous impact on what is going to happen—we are at the beginning of extraordinary change.”
Under such circumstances, the Seminar was not intended simply to be a celebration of the ideals of cultural exchange. It sought to clarify the purpose and benefits of cultural dialogue, map the missing elements required to sustain meaningful cultural engagement, introduce new approaches to partnership and advocacy, and propose actionable frameworks for a world in which, as several participants suggested, “the West and the rest” are no longer separated into sharply delineated zones of cultural vibrancy and opportunity.
The proceedings revolved around four broad themes, each serving as the anchoring topic of a white paper, a keynote presentation, a plenary panel discussion, and four small-group discussions. The following sections of this report survey observations from the Seminar in each thematic block, along with recommendations for each topic area and for the conference as a whole.
In keeping with the principle of Chatham House Rules, this report avoids any direct attribution of comments to Seminar participants. Illustrative quotes, however, are used liberally throughout to convey the themes and atmosphere of the event. The intent of this summary is to synthesize, to the best extent possible, three days of extraordinarily diverse presentations and discussions, pointing the way forward to more effective action to further cultural exchange-based diplomacy.