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CCA Bulletin: Will Ottawa follow U.S. lead and turn up the heat on cultural diplomacy

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CCA Bulletin: Will Ottawa follow U.S. lead and turn up the heat on cultural diplomacy

CCA Bulletin 2/11, January 17, 2011

The US government turns up the heat on cultural diplomacy: Can we hope that Ottawa will do the same?

Just the facts

For the past four years, the Canadian Conference of the Arts (CCA) has deplored the fact that the federal government no longer has a coordinated strategy for the promotion of Canadian artists and cultural works to national and international audiences and markets. Beyond the purely economic aspects, we have also expressed concerns about the fact that Ottawa has all but abandoned cultural diplomacy as part of its foreign policy. This is why we were particularly interested in examining our neighbours south of the border, where the concept of cultural diplomacy seems to be enjoying a revival after having been somewhat cast aside after the end of the Cold War.

On Friday, January 7, the United States Embassy in Ottawa hosted a livestream viewing party and discussion on cultural diplomacy. The presentation, titled “Culture in Diplomacy: A New Era for Arts & Cultural Relations,” was led by Ann Stock, Assistant Secretary of State for Educational and Cultural Affairs, and broadcast from the annual conference of the Association of Performing Arts Presenters (APAP) in New York City. The panel included the Quebec Minister of Culture and Communications, Ms. Christine St-Pierre.

During her presentation, Assistant Secretary Stock outlined the Obama administration’s efforts to use cultural diplomacy as an important foreign policy tool and emphasized the Department’s mandate to establish more mutually reciprocal relations with foreign cultural groups and programs. She touched on many of the State Department’s flagship cultural program initiatives, including Rhythm Road, DanceMotion, smART Power, Center Stage and Cultural Envoys.

Following her presentation, Stock moderated a panel of international speakers. Christine St. Pierre, Quebec’s Minister of Culture and Communication, discussed the province’s successes and challenges in endorsing its arts and culture both domestically and internationally.  Eugene Downes, Chief Executive of Culture Ireland, spoke about the intricacies of launching and sustaining an Irish cultural diplomacy program with very limited manpower; he stressed the need to maintain a tight focus and simple funding program. For his part, the representative of the British Council accentuated that, in order to develop a mutual level of trust and understanding with foreign countries, cultural diplomacy programs are best served by developing grassroots, dialogue-based initiatives.

Tell Me More

The cultural diplomacy initiatives instituted by the United States and other nations are of particular interest to the CCA insofar as they enhance awareness about the potential benefits of promoting domestic arts and culture internationally.

Although in the mid-90s, the Government of Canada had declared “the promotion of Canadian culture and values” to be the third pillar of Canadian foreign policy, this approach has been all but abandoned over the past seven years. This is despite the strong evidence that it not only contributes to the much needed development of foreign markets for our cultural products, but also plays an important part in shaping our image with other nations while supporting Canada’s other commercial objectives abroad.

As mentioned above, despite several small international programs within the Canadian Heritage portfolio agencies, there is currently no coordinated pan-governmental strategy for the promotion of Canadian artists and cultural works to national and international audiences. The Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade (DFAIT) which formerly had a program devoted to developing cultural markets abroad, now only offers the Global Opportunities for Associations (GOA) contributions program, which generally supports national trade associations to benefit the entire realm of industry. Though the current government has shown an interest in making investments in the creative economy, it has not included a comprehensive program to ensure that our cultural sector can cultivate new markets at home and abroad. Since the abolition of the PromArt and Trade Routes programs in 2008, the Quebec government has stepped forward by adding an annual $3 million to support its cultural sector; however, despite numerous appeals and evidence put forward by the sector, the federal government has yet to repair the damage done.

Beyond the need to develop markets abroad for our artists and cultural industries, it is important that culture be reinserted into Canadian foreign diplomacy. Over the past few years, the CCA has attempted to promote awareness and discussion regarding the crucial contribution artists and cultural institutions can play with regards to the international image and trade objectives of our country.

In November of 2007, the CCA hosted a symposium titled The Role of the Arts and Culture in Canadian Public Diplomacy. Many delegates at the symposium (including former politicians, former diplomats, artists and cultural workers) stressed the need for better coordination between the various players in this field, the importance of maintaining strong networks world-wide, and the necessity to take advantage of new technology. A background discussion paper was published and a working group was established to develop an action plan ensuring greater involvement on the part of the cultural sector in Canadian diplomatic strategy. More immediate concerns and a lack of resources have led to the temporary abandonment of this initiative.

In June 2008, the CCA continued the discussion by hosting a public debate titled Between Public Diplomacy and Nation Branding: a New Way of Thinking the Internationalization of Canadian Culture. Panelists discussed the value of “nation branding,” as well as other perspectives and models as a means of spreading Canadian culture abroad. In its 2009 and 2010 pre-budget submissions, the CCA also encouraged the federal government to invest an additional $40 million per year into the expansion of the capacity of the Canada Council for the Arts to invest in national and international market development. Moreover, it encouraged the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade to collaborate with the Canada Council for the Arts on its cultural initiatives abroad.

      It is interesting to see that other countries share our views regarding the renewed importance of cultural diplomacy within our increasingly globalized world. If Canada can mould its environmental policies on American initiatives, is it too much to hope that it may also finally realize the important role culture can play in its world positioning?

What can I do?

Read our pre-budget submission supporting cultural diplomacy and comment on our blog. Write to your MP and emphasize your desire for arts and culture to be part of Canada’s diplomatic approach abroad.

Alain Pineau
      National Director / Directeur général
      Canadian Conference of the Arts / Conférence canadienne des arts
      406 – 130, rue Slater Street
      Ottawa Ontario K1P 6E2
      Tel / Tél: (613) 238-3561 ext.12 / poste 12
      Fax / Télécopieur: (613) 238-4849 |
The Canadian Conference of the Arts (CCA) is the national forum for the arts and cultural community in Canada. It provides research, analysis and consultations on public policies affecting the arts and the Canadian cultural institutions and industries. The CCA fosters informed public debate on policy issues and seeks to advance the cultural rights of Canadians.

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