Thursday, November 29, 2012

Here's one for Cultural Diplomacy

Dominique Lopes
SIS-628-02 Applied Public Diplomacy
Craig Hayden

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.    

1 comment:

  1. I think cultural diplomacy, broadly defined, can be the most powerful agent of public diplomacy. If we define it as a program or endeavor designed to make a certain group of people understand how we view the world, how we live and who we really are, it is essentially an exercise in empathy.

    While arts exchanges and dancing together do have a 'culture' aspect in the sense of high-culture/low-culture, I think this is distantly secondary to the prime function - to allow these artists to experience the world from another perspective. This is the real engine of change for these programs.

    They do take a long time to come to fruition, but this is because a significant experience really takes time - not only for the program, but also for the deep reflection that individuals need to go through after processing the experience and exchange. It is also expensive to run these sorts of exchanges on a large scale - except of course in the case of student exchange, which, at least to me, functions also as cultural diplomacy under the definition above.

    Marc Hedman