SIS-628-02 Applied Public Diplomacy
The importance of Cultural Diplomacy
The question was brought up in class of whether or not Cultural Diplomacy should be practiced. In light of the difficulty to measure and evaluate its outcomes and impacts and on the various ways to define “culture”, Cultural Diplomacy can be seen to be an irrelevant avenue for the policy persuasion attributed to public diplomacy practitioners. However, I believe that Cultural Diplomacy allows PD officers a unique outlet for interacting with foreign publics on a very basic level. Arts, food, and local folk lore are common to every nation and therefor present an informal gateway for persuasion.
Cultural Diplomacy initiatives for the most part can take a long while to come to fruition, but this does not mean that they are impossible to measure and evaluate, nor does this mean that they must always take time to achieve an impact. One of our readings this semester used the example of the Smithsonian, an American arts organization, partnering with Haiti after the earthquake. The Smithsonian came in to give guidance and support to Haitian arts organizations who were trying to rebuild and re-claim their cultural heritage after the devastation. This partnership was a cultural exchange under the heading of culture defined as arts and education. It was a one off whose impact immediately transpired in the knowledge that the Haitians received and the art works that they were able to recover. Quantitative and qualitative measurements could easily be evaluated right after the exchange in the favorable opinion towards the United States and the numbers of arts organizations that were able to re-build.
Cultural programs also offer venues for policy makers from different countries to come together outside of government meetings. These occasions allow the officers to talk informally and perhaps more personally about important initiatives. The “last three feet” concept is most apparent during these times. The parties are relaxed and come together for conversation, not debate. It is very hard to talk at someone about policy decisions while say learning how to dance a traditional hula. Dialogue is sparked and people begin to see each other as equals, if not friends, making coming together on certain policies more likely.
Cultural Diplomacy is important because culture in all its many forms is important to every country. When we can come together and learn more about each other we see each other less as the “strange other” and more as individuals much like ourselves. Though it is hard sometimes to pin point exact impacts directly related to specific cultural diplomacy programs, these initiatives open up more realms for two-way dialogue than any other tool in a PD’s toolbox.