Canada House

Renewing Canada’s cultural diplomacy

November 22, 2019
Photo: Alex Marc

Blog post from the Director and CEO, Simon Brault

The Canada Council: an indispensable partner

In recent years, the Canada Council has collaborated closely with the Government of Canada and its embassies on major cultural diplomacy initiatives. The Council has helped evolve Canada’s approach to cultural diplomacy by drawing on its knowledge of and ties with the arts milieu, as well as the independence of its decision making.

The Senate Report and clear government intent

On June 13 of this year, the Standing Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade published Cultural Diplomacy at the Front Stage of Canada’s Foreign Policy. This first comprehensive review of the subject since 1994 emphasizes the crucial importance of consistent, strategic, and predictable government support for the implementation of a cultural diplomacy strategy.

The importance and value of cultural diplomacy are undeniable. Cultural diplomacy is closely bound up with public diplomacy. Art, literature, and culture are an essential dimension of effective public diplomacy, which allows diplomats the latitude they need to accomplish the governmental mission entrusted to them. For the Canada Council, cultural diplomacy is one way to give even greater worldwide exposure to the artistic and literary creation we have already funded.

I have had many opportunities to address this topic on various platforms, including at meetings organized by our ambassador in Paris, Isabelle Hudon.

Mexico, Germany, Côte d’Ivoire: cultural diplomacy in action

We are already playing a prominent role on the world stage of cultural diplomacy. Through the Council’s efforts, Canada was selected as the Guest Country at this year’s Festival Internacional Cervantino 2019. In addition to the presentation of 17 shows from across Canada, the event proved to be an ideal occasion to celebrate the 75th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Canada and Mexico. The Canadian Embassy in Mexico City and Global Affairs Canada also financed and presented a series of activities at la Casa Canada with other partners, including Canadian Heritage, Quebec’s cultural enterprise agency SODEC, the National Gallery of Canada, and Telefilm Canada.

In the months leading up to the 2020 Frankfurt Book Fair, at which Canada will be the Guest of Honour, the Council will support hundreds of artists and companies from all artistic disciplines as they tour every part of Germany. Through formal agreements with Global Affairs Canada and Canadian Heritage, we will conduct our largest cultural diplomacy undertaking to date.

In March 2020, Canada will also be the Guest of Honour at Africa’s largest performing arts trade fair, the Marché des Arts du Spectacle d’Abidjan (MASA) in Côte d’Ivoire, under an agreement signed directly with the Canada Council. With this agreement we will be helping our artists gain the exposure they seek while also strengthening Canada’s presence in Africa.

Canadian arts and culture at the heart of a renewed cultural diplomacy

Our largest contribution to the international exposure of artists from Canada and their work will continue to come from our Arts Abroad granting program. Our funding criteria are the artistic quality of the proposed projects and their potential impact on the development of artists’ careers. Here, artists and organizations define their own goals.

The success of cultural diplomacy initiatives requires artists to be aware of issues that go beyond their usual presence or performance. It also requires that artistic work be relevant and uncompromising (this is where the Council’s role is most crucial) and that diplomatic staff be respectful of the artists and the public invited to events. Cultural diplomacy is a call for an open, intercultural discussion on works without being judgmental about the views of others and without attempting to dictate a particular viewpoint.

Great things often happen at the crossroads of artistic outreach, diplomatic initiatives, and cultural exports or trade. Artists expand their creative horizons, diplomats improve bilateral relations, and markets for culture and the arts flourish.