A new research report by The Open University with the Hertie School of Governance (Berlin) says that under certain conditions, cultural activities contribute to reducing conflict and strengthening civil society.
They found their cultural programmes (alongside others) can help open up dialogue between conflicted parties. However, Professor Gillespie says these relationships invariably involve “a difficult diplomatic dance”. Tricky trade-offs have to be negotiated, for example, between reaching the largest number of people and creating high-quality cultural experiences; taking risks in opening up opportunities for new cultural producers or sticking with the ‘usual suspects’.
Powerful symbolic value
Professor Marie Gillespie says that although there was plenty of evidence of misaligned goals and missed opportunities, the projects they looked at in Egypt and Ukraine still had powerful symbolic value. Sometimes, the physical presence of foreign cultural actors and organisations like the British Council provide ‘safe spaces’ for cultural experimentation in places where freedom of expression is restricted. She notes:
“Culture has the capacity to build bridges of communication and understanding between peoples and countries in contexts of conflict – but whether, and how, and under what conditions it does so remain elusive.
“Our report sheds light on these important questions at a time when the UK takes an insular turn as it negotiates Brexit, and when budgets for international collaborations are being reduced. Friendly international cultural exchange and collaboration remain a vital dimensions of UK diplomacy, but like all organisations the British Council and Goethe-Institut will have to reinvent themselves for the 21st century and make better use of blended (face-to-face and digital) approaches to intellectual and cultural exchange.”
Find out more
The full report, Culture in an Age of Uncertainty , is available on the British Council website.
Read more about the project in this article by Alasdair Donaldson, Cultural Value Project manager at the British Council.