The following reading is from Take Five’s new Student Perspective series. Graduate students studying Cultural Diplomacy as Communication at the George Washington University are encouraged to think about themes such as youth, gender, health, climate, free press, and democracy, and write on how these themes relate to cultural diplomacy and to communication. The posts involve thoughtful commentary on the writer’s chosen theme, linking to class readings and discussions.
By Kalyani Phansalkar
The potential of cultural diplomacy, at least in the US, is hampered by the lack of coordination between private and public entities in creating a coherent strategy. Scholars such as Cynthia Schneider argue that a lack of “interagency strategy for cultural exchange and diplomacy [marginalizes] arts, culture, and media…and limits the potential of existing programs.” In the age of Web 2.0, the cost of gathering content and coordinating programs has diminished significantly, opening up a space for cultural programming to take a more significant role in diplomatic issues. However, without the presence of a robust cultural diplomacy framework, these fragmented digital interactions will have a limited effect.
In some ways, Denmark has harnessed the new technologies and facilitated cooperation between public and private sectors to create a cultural program that raises awareness about climate change. The Culture | Futures Network, a growing collaboration of cultural actors and private enterprises, strives to educate and engage the global population on issues of sustainability and the human ecological footprint. This network serves as a kind of umbrella for smaller cultural and creative groups that specialize in film, art, dance, drama, or graphic design. By joining different, often fragmented efforts, the Culture | Futures Network is able to most effectively translate the message of environmental sustainability across borders.
It has recently launched an Earth Day 2013 Art Campaign called the CO2 Drive that leverages the use of new technologies, including the smartphone, to create art and raise awareness about climate change. The CO2 Drive creates GPS-based paintings, using cities as “canvases” and smartphone technology as “paint” as people around the world promote climate-friendly transportation. In essence, the GPS paintings will look like CO2 tags around the world. Furthermore, the network also promotes film screenings about environmental issues around the world. A recent screening included Vertical Cities – a film about a large slum settlement outside Mumbai. Films, productions, dramas, and other exchanges followed by debates offer a forum to discuss environmental issues through the prism of culture.
The issue of climate change is not tangible, in the sense that it cannot be given, traded, exchanged, stolen, etc. Unlike poverty or disenfranchisement, it cannot be ameliorated through donating food or demanding rights, respectively. Therefore, it needs to be resolved through a mean of cultural exchange that empowers citizens to take ownership of their surroundings and reduce their environmental impact. According to John Worne, “strong, effective cultural relations mean ultimately we will need less guns and fewer food parcels because sharing knowledge and ideas between people worldwide is among the best antidotes to conflict and giving people access to skills, languages, jobs and opportunities.” In essence, programs that empower global citizens enable enduring efforts across the globe to resolve large-scale problems.
The Danish Cultural Institute, along with various other parallel organizations, has formed bridges with private and NGO groups in order to facilitate a cultural dialogue on environmental issues and climate change. These organizations include the British Council, Culture Center of Spain, The Goethe Institute, International Federation for Arts Councils and Cultural Agencies (IFACCA), and The Asia-Europe Foundation. By offering avenues for different art projects, the Culture | Futures Network strives to make climate change a relevant part of one’s identity and culture. For instance, the network recently launched the Roskilde Festival, which asks participants to produce original works of art from garbage and recycled material. Therefore, participants from around the globe can imbibe their meanings and tradition of art into a concept that strives to raise awareness about environmental issues and climate change. This cultural resonance will make environmental sustainability a prominent issue on the global stage.
Furthermore, the Culture | Futures Network ties with a larger Danish foreign policy initiative called Global Green Growth Forum. The 3GF strives to explore avenues for a new green economy that sustains industrial growth, but curtails greenhouse gas emissions. According to the Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the “3GF seeks to become the leading international venue for public demonstration of leadership and cooperation on green growth by top-level global decision-makers.” Therefore, this cultural framework brings together participants from all across the globe around the environmental issues, while at the same time, promoting Denmark’s vision about a new industrial revolution that will “effectively realize the potential for long-term global green growth.”
Kalyani Phansalkar is a second year graduate student at the George Washington University’s School of Media and Public Affairs.