The arts have a vital role to play in advancing Australia’s foreign policy priorities. Through their contribution to public diplomacy, the arts offer unique opportunities to showcase Australia’s creative excellence and reflect Australia’s values and identity as a stable, sophisticated and creative nation that is both culturally diverse and socially cohesive.
In particular, the performing arts have the ability to draw people together in relatively ‘neutral’ settings to share experiences on an immediate and very human level. Music, dance and physical theatre can transcend language, while theatrical performance can take audiences on narrative journeys that build empathy and insights into unfamiliar situations and cultures.
These engagements also offer strategic opportunities for building people-to-people relationships, enhancing socio-cultural understanding, and create positive environments to complement emerging trade and diplomatic relationships.
Other nations take cultural diplomacy very seriously. China, for example, sees it as central to the way it engages internationally, and Australia needs to be able to respond and reciprocate, given China’s importance in world order, the Asian region, trade and as a named priority country.
Last year, UK Department of Culture, Media and Sport designed a program to commemorate the life and works of William Shakespeare, 400 years after his death. Through theShakespeare Lives campaign, theGREAT campaign partners and theBritish Council celebrated the influence of Shakespeare on culture, language and education across the world, and together withVolunteering Services Overseas, raised funds to support child literacy around the world. This included Malthouse’s productionShadow Kingtouring to the UK as part of this year-long strategic celebration. In the department’s words, ‘Sharing our favourite Shakespeare moments and inspiring the world with the magic of his creativity is surely cultural diplomacy at its best.’ UK Department of Culture, Media and Sport.
Arts contribution to Australia’s cultural diplomacy is not only about Australian works touring oversees. International collaborations, co-productions and the international exchange of principal performers through guest artist experiences and workshops on a tour are examples of cultural reciprocity that benefit Australian performing arts companies and their audiences, as well as their international partners.
Good work is being within DFAT to develop soft diplomacy skills and build co-ordination and capacity to support and leverage diplomatic and trade benefits through cultural diplomacy. But, without a core and visible position within government’s new foreign policy, strategic cultural diplomacy programs will remain vulnerable to competing interests and shifting sands.
The arts offer cultural diplomacy opportunities in regions where Australia has long-established relationships, as well as territories where connections are still evolving. Australia’s major performing arts companies are active in many countries across the world, including in Asia. For example, there are the cultural ‘bridge-building’ tours to China by The Australian Ballet and major state symphony orchestras, and international collaborations by Malthouse Theatre and Black Swan State Theatre Company. Performances, regional development and education initiatives in the broader Asia region include the Australian Chamber Orchestra, West Australian Ballet, Bell Shakespeare, Circus Oz and Musica Viva.
In addition to the majors, a diverse range of other key performing arts companies also tour the globe, often working strategically with Australia Council’s support to nurture international audience and sector connections, and offering their own unique capacities to leverage people-to-people links.
Developing a foreign cultural policy within the Foreign Policy will help guide our various diplomatic bodies, arts and cultural organisations, overseas missions and government departments. Australia currently spreads responsibility for cultural diplomacy amongst a number of groups and departments, unlike the United Kingdom or France, for example, which have major organisations for cultural diplomacy (the British Council and Alliance Française, respectively).
The British Council’s founding articles set out the belief that ‘the world will be a better, safer, more prosperous place if people and peoples have a “friendly knowledge and understanding” of each other, and that the United Kingdom’s long-term influence, economic growth and security benefit greatly from that. Everything the British Council does going forward must and will be aligned with this mission to contribute to the best future for the UK in the world.’
This type of cultural diplomacy, clear-eyed vision and program commitment is needed in Australia’s new foreign policy. Positioning public diplomacy, including cultural diplomacy, as a core pillar of this policy should be the first step.
These ideas and more are included in AMPAG's submission to DFAT white paper.
 The GREAT Britain campaign showcases the best of what the UK has to offer to inspire the world and encourage people to visit, do business, invest and study in the UK. It is the Government’s most ambitious international promotional campaign ever, uniting the efforts of the public and private sector to generate jobs and growth for Britain. The campaign has already secured confirmed economic returns of £1.9bn for the UK.