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Public and Private Cultural Exchange-Based Diplomacy: New Models for the 21st Century
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Theme One: Re-Imagining Public and Private Roles in International Cultural Engagement for the 21st Century
The new context of transnational cultural engagement demands innovative approaches from government actors and private-sphere actors alike. In the U.S., and increasingly in Europe, governments have been reducing their involvement in cultural exchange and handing over responsibility to the private sector. By contrast, many “emerging” regions, notably in Asia, Central and South America, and the Gulf, are experiencing a golden age in cultural diplomacy. Some are making significant investments into institutional infrastructure and providing new lines of support for exchange initiatives. The first thematic block of the conference inquired into new approaches and attitudes in the field.
Comments in these sessions, combined with suggestions from the Seminar’s opening discussion on the importance of cultural engagement, pointed to key prerequisites for successful policy-setting for state actors. As more than one speaker noted, governments need to put cultural diplomacy in a larger context, making it an integral part of the development model of their nations. Culture should be part of a national strategy, not just an afterthought. Arts exchanges should be positioned in the wider and economically salient context of the cultural and copyright industries. It is important to acknowledge the contributions of the cultural sector to the long-term prosperity of modern nations, various speakers noted.
The Seminar participants warned, however, about reflexively promoting an “inter- national style” in cultural exchanges and infrastructure. All too often, critics of recent initiatives suggested, governments appear more concerned with building institutions with brand-name architects and institutional partners. Successful policy, by contrast, demands diversity, autonomy, the cultivation of local artist and practitioner networks, and a considerable amount of trust in local civil society and private sector partners.
Policymakers need to understand, as more than one speaker pointed out, that cultural programs cannot yield quick results. They are often impervious to the sort of quantitative measurements that agencies look for when evaluating funded programs. As an Asian analyst of cultural diplomacy reminded, “culture is not an expense, but an investment.” Governments should resist instrumentalizing the arts. And they should detach cultural programs from ideology: “The best propaganda is no propaganda,” the speaker concluded.
Suggestions for private-sector partners offered a number of guideposts for the successful planning and implementation of exchange initiatives. Institutions need to seek out mechanisms for self-financing programs that do not depend on state support. They must recognize, along with public policymakers, that exchange programs are successful only when they work both ways. Good exchange programs facilitate creative contacts. They build lasting relationships between artists, not just among experts, advocates, and institutions. “One-off” engagements are to be avoided, it was voiced repeatedly in Salzburg. Organizations should design programs that combine start-up events with follow-up visits. Managing cultural exchanges, as an American programmer of events and festivals said, requires at least three years of active involvement at each site.
Several participants warned that public-private partnerships, while holding much promise for long-term engagement, have not yet lived up to expectations. “The language of public-private partnership is the correct language,” a keynote presenter allowed, “but we have not been able to deliver the results that this language promises.”
At the same time, participants warned, organizations and NGOs need to step up their efforts to lobby governments to advocate the cause of global cultural engagement and for the arts in general. This requires the ability to make an intrinsic case for the arts as a means of transcending borders and building important relationships. Within this context, access to reliable and consistent data would also be helpful, to link cultural programs to issues that motivate policymakers, such as education, crime, and immigration, a veteran government official pointed out. Other speakers observed that public- private partnerships should evolve beyond scattershot projects that do not add up to a larger and more strategic whole. Programs should scale, where possible, to full-fledged institutional consortia that can work across a wider community and across different cultural sectors.
The relative strengths of private philanthropy and public financing approaches loomed large over the discussions on public and private roles in cultural exchange. As several participants reminded, public financing frees organizations from the burdens of fundraising, and it can sometimes offer greater creative leeway for programmers. However, government support can keep organizations on a short leash. Further, the steady annual flow of public funding may produce complacency on the part of the recipient.
Private philanthropy, by contrast, bestows its largesse unevenly, often gravitating to high-status institutions and projects. It tends to infuse the interests of well-to-do patrons in the cultural process. Private art collecting in particular, it was noted during a discussion on international museums, tends to chase fashion and sometimes shun controversy. However, on a more positive note, the mechanisms of private funding do create a closer bond with the public. Benefactors and members of arts groups become direct stakeholders in an organization’s work. The search for money also means “you can’t get lazy,” a veteran American fundraiser commented.
In the world’s most disadvantaged regions, private philanthropy has a unique function. In some parts of Africa, a speaker from the continent reminded, government plays no discernible role in culture whatsoever. Here, where traditional concepts of cultural policy and diplomacy hardly apply, foundations can facilitate cross-border connections between practicing artists and cultural organizations.
The Salzburg participants offered reminders to the public and the private sectors about the objectives of cultural engagement. “The question of artistic quality needs to be mentioned,” a veteran American cultural diplomat cautioned. “Artistic quality is a goal of cultural engagement.” And while policy debates are often preoccupied with practical and financial matters, a participant from Asia reminded us of their human stakes. “Even though we talk a lot about infrastructure,” he said, cultural exchanges are ultimately “about bringing people together.”
Section Conclusion:
Recommendations for Public and Private Actors
         –  Develop mechanisms to document the contributions of exchange programs.
         –  Identify advocates to make the point globally about the importance of cultural
exchange–based diplomacy.
         –  Create better strategies to communicate and lobby between private sector and
         –  Document and share approaches to the successful management of public -
private partnerships.
         –  Refine arguments on behalf of cultural exchanges that place them at the heart
of nations’ economic models and show that they are not an expense but an
investment into the growth and well-being of nations.
         –  Seek out government agencies not typically linked to cultural programs but
with a plausible connection to them (e.g. trade, military, development).
         –  Gather reliable data through international collaboration on arts programs, their
contributions to local and regional economies, and tourism.
         –  Create a matrix or map that describes, in each specific context, the different
roles of public and private institutions relative to cultural exchanges.
         –  Set up a training program for cultural journalists to understand and report
on the complexities and benefits of arts policy and international cultural
         –  Translate and disseminate key documents on definitional issues relating to
cultural diversity and international cultural engagement.