The huge global reach and potential of Britain’s world class artistic and cultural assets – from Razorlight to the Royal Ballet - should be at the heart of government relationship building abroad, a new report from think tank Demos warns today.
Cultural Diplomacy, launched in the wake of Britain’s success at the Oscars at a major conference at the V&A, says that while culture brings us enormous material benefits, in terms of tourism and ticket sales, it also shapes the world view of Britain – and we are wasting this potential. Our place as a cultural world leader is threatened by those countries who harness the power of culture in international relations, it says.
The report recommends:
Arts experts and cultural leaders to have a seat at the international policy making table
London 2012 to have a key focus on the power of culture to forge links, especially with China, with major British cultural institutions seconded to work on the Olympiad
The role of culture across government driven by a new cultural diplomacy team in the Foreign Office’s Public Diplomacy Group
Major programme to build ‘cultural literacy’ for next generation harnessing the power of the internet and mass media to build relationships abroad.
Cultural Diplomacy says that the UK has 30 million overseas visitors each year, who contribute £14.7 billion to the economy, and 85% of these visitors say that they come to see our museums. Each year the British Council facilitates more than 1500 cultural events in 109 countries. However, UK exhibitions around the world have not featured in the top ten ‘most attended’ list for three years and China, Russia and India are investing heavily in culture’s international role, putting our place as a global leader in cultural excellence at risk.
Culture also has the power to succeed where formal politics fails, says the report. It keeps channels open where political relationships are strained and provides a forum for unofficial relationship building. In the case if Iran, the British Foreign Secretary was able to share the same stage as his Iranian counterpart at a cultural event. In China, the success of their version of Pop Idol is bringing the concept of democracy through viewer voting to millions of people.
The rise of the internet, international travel and mass media have increased the influence of culture on the international stage giving it a leverage that is both rapid and comprising many millions of individual interactions. The image of Britain is shaped just as much by cultural events or tourists’ positive experiences as it is by formal political relations, says Cultural Diplomacy. ‘We are all diplomats now’, it says, and the UK has to harness the role of individuals in these new forms of diplomacy.
Co author of Cultural Diplomacy, John Holden, said:
“The UK is at an important crossroads. The new challenges we face, such as climate change, terrorism and migration cannot be solved by military might or unilateral policy innovations. Cultural diplomacy is an increasingly precious resource in international relations. Britain must use its enormous assets in smarter ways so that culture works to its advantage.
“This is not about culture being a tool of diplomacy. Its independence is its strength. But, in the 21st Century, it will be the countries that make hard and soft power work together, hand in hand, that will succeed in achieving their goals.”