Simon Brault

In Defence of a Renewed Cultural Diplomacy

Radio-Canada/Christian Côté
“Plus on est de fous, plus on lit” radio show
June 4, 2019, edition
Simon Brault’s open mic topic: In Defence of a Renewed Cultural Diplomacy

My name is Simon Brault. In a few days’ time, I will be embarking on my second term as Director and CEO of the Canada Council for the Arts. And I was recently the first Canadian and first Francophone to be elected Chair of the International Federation of Arts Councils and Culture Agencies.

I’ve been immersed in cultural action since I was a teenager. For me, it’s not a profession—it’s a cause.

In the last five years, I travelled this complicated and complex country to meet with various artistic communities. I also learned a lot from Indigenous elders, healers and artists that I met. I heard from new voices that many more of us ought to hear.

I also travelled the world, and I was made aware of just how easily darkness, injustice and desperation can overpower the forces that foster human development. Nonetheless, I’m convinced we can and we must mobilize all of our forces, with all our strengths to create a story that effectively carries more people as passengers than it leaves shipwrecked.

But in order to do that, we have to start by abandoning all the pretences that adorn our discussions about the state of the world. Let’s break down indifference to the circumstances of others. Let’s move out of the digital stupor that trivializes our freedom of expression, distorting it and drowning it in a sea of rumours and vapid comments that benefit algorithm heavyweights.

Let’s once again summon creativity, culture and the arts to the bedside of our endangered humanity. We can do it—we can bank on the power of cultural diplomacy, because it has the power to contribute to improving the state of the world, one country at a time, one event at a time, if it is practiced with democratic and progressive aims in mind. That’s what I’m defending, and the message is being heard more and more in Ottawa and at our embassies across the world. Canadian artists travelling abroad have echoed this approach back to me.

What are the arts and culture telling this humanity? A lot of things, actually—mostly, what it doesn’t want to hear, what is stifled by propaganda campaigns both large and small.

Let’s get back to the thread of a great story that speaks of a common future. Let’s give the floor to our creators, our freethinkers on the diplomatic scene.

Why don’t we free them from the role of cocktail party ornaments that we gladly offer them? Let them step off the beaten path! Let us refuse to see them act as a screen for preconceived notions. Because contrary to the caricature that is often made of it, authentic cultural diplomacy is not merely a vending machine for tickets to cocktail party events.

Renewed cultural diplomacy aims to create spaces for discussion based in respect, attentiveness and openness around the artistic and literary works, and experiences that express what they want to express free from any diktat, and often far removed from the idyllic and misleading postcard some people would prefer to present for Canada or Quebec.

Renewed cultural diplomacy would offer an uninterrupted series of moments for meditation through which the citizens of various countries could engage in discussions about works that attempt to make sense of this senseless world.

Art has the power to liberate us from our conditions of horrified, distraught witnesses, powerless when faced with constantly worsening humanitarian and environment crises.

So let’s finally use this power for good!

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