Creative industries and cultural diplomacy in a challenging time

When we assert the role of creative industries, we inevitably celebrate human creativity, which lies at the foundation of creative economy. Because if we should continue to produce new and diverse objects, services or solutions, we need to retain and develop our imagination, exercise our unconventional thinking and prove our courage to follow unchartered paths. By celebrating creativity, we honour all actors that, despite a difficult time, continue to drive the creative economy forward, from independent artists to commercial companies, and from NGOs to public institutions.

Creative industries and cultural diplomacy in a challenging time - GEOPOLITICA.info

As we know, creative industries have a significant economic weight and an increasingly important social role. They employ 1% of the world’s active population and 3% of the European Union’s workforce. Yet, many of them cannot survive without public investment, tax exemptions or grants. If we are to protect them, we need to ensure that the educational, legal and fiscal conditions that make them thrive are not damaged. On the contrary.

According to Regulation (EU) No. 1295/2013 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 11 December 2013 on the establishment of the Creative Europe Program (2014-2020), creative industries are sectors of the economy concerned with the “development, creation, production, dissemination and preservation of goods and services.”

According to UNESCO’s definition, creative industries mean creating, producing, preserving and marketing goods and services based on “intangible content,” a vague notion that somewhat approximates the idea of creativity.

Unlocking the potential of cultural and creative industries (2010) distinguishes between creative industries and cultural industries, starting from the commercial capitalization of creativity. The first would be to create, produce, distribute, store goods and services of this kind for an economic purpose, to achieve profit, while for others creativity would be an end in itself, with commercial objectives being secondary.

Most studies agree on the areas that make up the creative industries. Since “intangible contents”, stemming from “creativity”, are found in many human activities, no wonder their list is very comprehensive.

In the broadest sense, creative industries would include: architecture, archives and libraries, audiovisual (TV, radio, multimedia), cinema, visual arts, cultural heritage, design (including fashion design and web design) music in all its forms, books, publications and the press, advertising, performing arts, crafts, video games, software development and IT solutions, crafts, as well as the research activities underpinning many of these areas.

Creative industries occupy an increasingly important place in national economies and in the global economy as a whole. Their impact can be discerned, as the European Commission shows, in many ways, among which the most obvious are: job creation, fostering social inclusion, catalysing innovation, developing the information society.

For each individual, however, the authors of the Millenium Ecosystem Assessment report support, the benefits provided through creative industries are in fact non-material, that is, they facilitate spiritual experience and meditation, open up cognitive horizons, stimulate reflection, and bring about aesthetic experiences.

In the context of new forms of expression in today’s Europe, we are increasingly talking of cultural diplomacy. Cultural diplomacy has become more and more important in international affairs. In many respects, it is the most characteristic diplomacy of our age, when openness, participation and cooperation have become dominant values.

Cultural diplomacy is a form of diplomacy because it has an international approach, which pursues, as well as classical diplomacy but with different approaches, the achievement of the main political goals of a state: the maintenance or strengthening of the national power and the position, the advantageous positioning in a certain space externally, the creation of premises (trust, mutual knowledge, admiration) favorable to political and economic cooperation, etc.

The relation between creative industries and cultural diplomacy

We can ask, rightly, what it is the nexus between creative industries and cultural diplomacy. Why is it important to bring this link into question, in the current context? Both rely on culture and belong to the greater sphere of culture.

Cultural diplomacy is the diplomacy that acts on the open stage, right in the spotlight. Because cultural diplomacy is the diplomacy that is engaging the general public, outside the official area, in order to inform it and educate it about national realities.

Cultural diplomacy is an approach complementary to classical diplomacy, which, although ultimately oriented towards the same great national goals, uses different practices and addresses different audiences.

And what are the desired by-products of cultural diplomacy?

Propaganda? Manipulation? Not at all.

It’s familiarity, trust, admiration that a true cultural diplomat seeks to instil in their interlocutors.

Some imperial past states, such as the UK or Germany, avoided the notion of public or cultural diplomacy for fear that international audiences would perceive their promotion projects as a resumed, disguised, colonial tutelage of the past. As such, they prefer the notion of “international cultural relations,” which is just an innocent hypocrisy, since the actual actions are also carried out by public institutions, (even if they are autonomous foundations of national interest, with public funds measure), pursuing generous and universal goals, but serving at the same time the national interest.

In any case, even if it is given complementary and indirect influence, public / cultural diplomacy remains one of the most sophisticated external actions of a state. In its superlative forms, it is a complex approach, which is at the intersection of politics, classical diplomacy, arts & culture & science, creative industries, propaganda, public relations, nation branding.

Classical diplomacy and cultural diplomacy are overlapping practices in that, in pursuit of safeguarding national interests, they perform, through their most characteristic institutions – the embassy and the cultural institute – similar functions: strengthening relations and dialogue between states / nations / cultures, deepening mutual knowledge, national representation in foreign states, information on local realities, etc. But while operating in a common strategic horizon, classical diplomacy and cultural diplomacy make it largely different. The approaches to which they refer as well as the specific objectives are how they can no longer own.

Alternative approaches and practices are outlined that transcend the approved international cultural exchange scheme. The impact of globalization and the technological revolution is also felt here. Cultural interactions are increasingly taking place outside the state and its institutions, in an uncontrollable and even anarchic way. New technologies contribute to the leveling and democratization of the context in which cultural exchanges take place and, being open and relatively cheap environments, make it possible for a plurality of international cultural initiatives.

The psychology and sociology of cultural consumption, taste and cultural preferences appear, especially in the case of young people, marked by internet, digitization and new channels of distribution of culture. As a rule, the monopoly of official institutions and formats of cultural or coordinated state exchanges is, in these environments, seriously challenged.

In the new context, in order not to lose their effectiveness, successful cultural diplomacy is not, as before, a mere export of its own values, artefacts and personalities in order to strengthen its power, prestige, and national influence. Unilateral, univocal action leaves the place of mutual action, in which the project of cultural diplomacy is a bilateral creation, containing elements and protagonists of both cultures. They do not lose sight of the great political goals they have always pursued, but try to achieve them through more subtle approaches, through cooperation and mutuality. Because his dominant audience is a progressive, internationalist and pacifist, successful cultural diplomats know that they can not build or rebuild the international prestige of the state – and hence maintain or increase the national power – unless they are empowered by the ideology of their publics, rely on co-operation if they do not hesitate to engage in more critical, unconventional or non-conformist attitudes if they are concerned about the spraying of stereotypes and the discovery of the Other through common dialogue and action.

Increasingly, desirable approaches are now those that stimulate intercultural dialogue, drive partnership and collaboration, and succeed in being attractive and relevant not only in the culture of origin but also in the local audience. Successful cultural diplomacy means not only a univocal projection of national identity, ie differentiation and specificity, but the discovery and promotion of areas of cultural and identity convergence between nations. Its impact depends on the authenticity of the messages that it conveys, the truth of the experiences it proposes. Cultural diplomacy projects must have the capacity to resonate with the expectations and needs of partners to become part of a generalized, supranational and continuous dialogue.

Examples of cultural diplomacy 

A successful example of multilateral cooperation and multilateral cultural diplomacy among states is the model of the European Union.

The ERASMUS Academic Exchange Program as well as the Leonardo da Vinci program for education and training have played an essential role in EU foreign policy as examples of cultural diplomacy that have demonstrated the importance of building cultural bridges that have benefited citizens from EU countries .

Through cultural exchanges and dialogue, the EU has proven to be the most important actor of cultural diplomacy around the world, has proven it can provide models for successful strategies based on cultural diplomacy.

The international system is hierarchized according to the military, political, economic power of the states. As a rule, cultural influence correlates with the position of power of a nation: the most powerful states (USA, France, Germany, UK) are the most attractive from a cultural point of view. As national interests differ according to the position of a in terms of international power relations, so the priorities, actions and contents of cultural diplomacy – not to mention the resources they can invest – of the powerful states are different from those of small or medium-sized states.

Ultimately, cultural diplomacy is as diverse as the states whose interests it protects. Countries with an imperial or hegemonic past, still influential, seem fascinated by social and educational bills, especially in problematic regions, to which they are cautiously advancing that their actions are not seen as neo-colonial initiatives. Small countries, with restricted languages and cultures, continue to pursue, through international cultural relations, classic objectives of external positioning, attempting to become known by older or newer means, to strengthen their national prestige (source of power national) or neutralize stereotypes that diminish them.

The program of the cultural institutes of the powerful, high-culture countries (France, Germany, Great Britain, to a lesser extent Italy and Spain) and the less politically and culturally influential countries express with strong fidelity the position of power, the philosophical-moral options , the political values and the cultural status of the states they represent. The programmatic choices of the cultural institutes of Great Britain and Germany – the largest and richest – are infused with great political and social goals. Their cultural projects are thus the vehicle of political-ideological messages and always put on the scene a progressive political agenda.

For example, with regard to the Goethe Institute, most events in the field of visual arts (including design, architecture, and fashion design) assert political values or are built around a relevant political or social issue. Creativity in the fashion area is celebrated only if it has an extraesthetic relevance.

For the British Council, the oldest and largest cultural institute in the world, the cultural and artistic promotion objectives are inferior to educational goals, including the vast and lucrative English programs, and to the objectives international development (women’s empowerment, leadership, social and gender equality). Not only are the strictly cultural-artistic projects less numerous than educational or development projects, but all relate to a political and social theme, which they emphasize by means of each arts (film, visual arts, design, literature ) whether it is migration, poverty and inequality or ecology, terrorism.

At the opposite end, the bottom line in the global power hierarchy is the concrete action of the cultural institutes in the countries of Central and Eastern Europe.

Their programs highlight – without obviously being recognized as such – the effort to correct the deficits of influence, power, cultural universalization that have been preoccupying those states for a long time. For example, the Romanian or the Polish Cultural Institute’s projects, in all fields and formats, aim to assert cultural values that are little known or not sufficiently appreciated, to introduce national personalities and artifacts in the most prestigious contexts, to inform about historical facts not very well known.

The Romanian Cultural Institute is one of the most prestigious cultural institutions in Romania and Southeastern Europe. Through it’s programs and contribution to the Eunic programs, it succeeded in imposing himself in the area as the most important partner of the most relevant festivals and cultural events.

The narrative about national identity, which underscores European appearance, connection to Western civilization and international contributions, is the substance that feeds most of their programmatic decisions just as the great political and social causes structure all the programs of the great Western cultural institutes. And the strengthening of national reputation by showing cultural and artistic successes is the ultimate goal to which most of the projects are aligned. However, it must be said that in the programs of these cultural institutes the projects with an identity substratum coalesce with initiatives similar to the social or niche approaches of the major institutes, which affirm the connection of these cultures to the main international streams. The synchronization of formats and approaches is probably a way of affirming the cultural and ideological appearance of these nations in Western space.

Among these are the cultural diplomacy of middle and small Western countries and rich countries outside Europe (Japan, South Korea). Cultural diplomacy programs of smaller Western states (Austria, Switzerland, Benelux, Nordic countries) do not solve positioning or identity deficits, as is the case with much of the external cultural action of the former communist states. They respond on a smaller scale to the approaches of the major institutes, with a commensurate impact on the resources invested and reconfirming their median power position on the international scene and their relatively limited but not non-existent force of cultural attraction.

The Japanese and South Korean cultural diplomacy is essentially manifested by a mixture of artistic cultural projects that demonstrate the Westernization of these states. For this reason, although they belong to such different spaces, the cultural diplomacy objectives and programs of the Asian countries and of the East-Central and South-Eastern European countries show surprising similarities, which can be explained perhaps by the similarity of the modernization processes.

As expected, the United States, the largest military and economic power and, with some fluctuations, cultural (like soft power and pop culture), is a special case, because international responsibilities make them support the most complex cultural diplomacy effort , which explicitly supports – through extensive educational, international development, information and less cultural and artistic promotion, carried out by several federal agencies and institutions.

The communication campaign launched by the Benetton Group and its UNHATE Foundation in 2011 triggered a global attitude to combat hate culture in all its forms. This is an example of a very original cultural diplomacy, originally aimed at creating a new culture against international hatred.

The campaign has stimulated reflection on how ideas, “even if they are divergent and opposed, should lead to dialogue and mediation,” Bennetton said.

With unusual slogans, the campaign won the Grand Prix at the Cannes Film Festival and helped boost the desire for participation and change among people.

There are more other examples. The “BEATING WING” orchestra is a project that was born in Manchester and is made up of refugee or migrant musicians. This allowed each of the musicians to bring their own musical style to the ensemble, which attracted the attention of contemporary composers and led to successful collaborations with great musicians. This orchestra is an example of cultural diplomacy within the community, an original project that strengthens the relationship between the Manchester blend of cultures.

The cultural exchange shared by musicians on the occasion of the participation in this project and the public’s awareness of a wealth of different cultures allowed the success of this authentic cultural diplomacy.

Recently, an international event organized by the Romanian Cultural Institute together with the La Sapienza University in Rome – “CREATIVE INDUSTRIES IN A NEW EUROPE: FASHION AND CULTURAL DIPLOMACY IN A CHALLENGING TIME” brought together artists, policy makers, policy analysts and academics from the creative industries , fashion design, cultural diplomacy and international relations. As the international landscape is heading for new forms and the European Union strives to redefine its identity and reaffirm its values; the conference examined the role of creative industries, with particular emphasis on fashion, as a driver of growth and cultural cooperation in this new global paradigm. At the same time, through several thematic panels, the participants discussed about the impact of creative industries on European “soft” power, the relationship between fashion and history, the link between cultural diplomacy, creative industries and national/European branding, and the contribution of creative industries to European economy and development.

The possibilities of cultural diplomacy remain dependent on the power that those countries are projecting at international level, as well as on their historical experience. The attractiveness of a soft power, the tradition, the mobilizable resources naturally rank the scale, efficiency and impact of cultural diplomacy actions.

A set of changes at the institutional level, capable of expressing, through concrete projects and programs, this strategic focus change at European level, is imperative. These changes – some of which are already being felt – aim to create tools for promotion and implementation, capable of constantly interacting with the international academic and economic world, and swiftly assume the scientific suggestions that research makes available in the relevant fields, first and foremost creative industries and cultural diplomacy, to turn them into concrete initiatives or to improve the quality of people’s life.

Liliana Turoiu. PhD Professor, Fine Arts University Bucharest

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