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The Role of the Arts and Culture in Canadian Public Diplomacy

June 17, 200817 June 2008

Culture, international trade and foreign policy

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This report provides an overview of discussions at a November 2007 conference on culture and public diplomacy. The report states that the “arts and culture play a central role in the diplomatic strategies of numerous countries, which see the presentation of their culture abroad as a chance to tell the world who they are and to create a positive image useful in pursuing their goals”.

The key points in the conference summary include “the need to redefine the goals of diplomacy as they concern culture”, greater dialogue between the cultural sector and government regarding the place of the arts in society and in foreign policy, greater coordination among stakeholders, the need to develop and maintain networks, the need to take new technologies into account, and the power of international partnerships.

The panel on diplomacy strategies included two former cabinet ministers and a dancer/choreographer. As noted in the conference report, former minister Bill Graham indicated that culture should have a strong place in foreign policy, “based on the principle that the primary goal of foreign policy is to tell the world who we are”. Culture can help create a positive view of Canada abroad. Former minister Marcel Masse indicated that “cultural issues are essentially missing from discussions in parliamentary caucuses, and, indeed, in public debate in general”. In addition, there is very little dialogue between the federal government, the provinces and the cultural sector on these issues. Choreographer Judith Marcuse indicated that Canada should “develop a more inclusive approach to the arts and diplomacy”, since artists are on the front lines of global linkages and cooperation. For Marcuse, “art serves as a dialogue” that can help “forge a deeper connection and better understanding among peoples”.

During the panel on foreign practices, a former Japanese diplomat noted that “‘pop’ culture must be taken as a serious cultural ambassador” and that cultural diplomacy should also include youth exchanges and language promotion. A former Quebec representative abroad “cited special events, artist residencies and youth organizations as successful tools, which have created an international address book for Quebec’s cultural sector”.

In the international networks session, it was noted that many artists and cultural workers are “potential diplomats, since international relations are part of our day-to-day lives”. A conference presenter noted that, in a globalized world, formal relations between nations may be ceding ground to economic and cultural connections between citizens and businesses.

Regarding future directions, the final session of the conference highlighted the need for “new policies, methods and means … to ensure Canadian artists and values are projected on the world stage”. In the longer term, the conference recommended that the government – no matter which party forms it – should adopt a strategy that gives greater visibility to Canadian artists around the world.

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