Thinking on Art as a Sustainable Instrument of Cultural Diplomacy

  • Abstract:

    The notion of art as an effective instrument of cultural diplomacy is undervalued and not fully explored, even though cultural diplomacy has a long history and has surged over recent years. It is argued that this may be because the methods are not researched or analysed enough, underestimating the intrinsic potential that art may have in wielding ‘power’ and transforming negotiations. Critics also question whether traditional approaches of cultural diplomacy really work and how efficient they prove to be in the long term in changing the perception of a country or in improving or reaping better relations between nations. One of the problems has been the difficulty of measuring the impact on audiences of cultural activities over time, since art events may be short-lived and not so effective in achieving more long-term mutual relations. In reality, the global cultural landscape has changed and with it the role of art in cultural diplomacy. New technologies, Internet and social media have radically impacted methods of exporting, exposing, negotiating and communicating culture across borders. Cultural diplomacy is a form of ‘marketing’ and the ubiquity of ITC has changed the way artists operate. Increasingly, artists, curators and cultural operators have been able to create their own instruments of cultural diplomacy, exploring independent negotiations and management electronically outside the formality or involvement of governmental or corporate structures. In truth, artists have always been independent ‘ambassadors’ of culture through their expression and exhibitions. Art as an instrument of cultural diplomacy performs in rampant ways fostering multifarious forms of intercultural dialogue. Beyond the monetisation of art as an instrument of financial exchange, it needs to be looked at as an instrument for opening transformative spaces of inquiry, social interaction and participation, enculturation, education, research and dialogue as a means to promote betterment or policy-oriented solutions to issues affecting different nations, people and cultures. The Maltese government is investing in cultural ecologies including a newly developing infrastructure dedicated to contemporary art and internationalisation. The focus of this paper is to discuss the role of the contemporary art space as an instrumental tool harnessing new approaches of cultural diplomacy that engender sustainable and advantageous international relations; this whilst embracing curatorial practices that align with notions of alterity to effectively broker collective interests, present European values, and ‘unity in diversity’.