What is cultural cooperation?

The term “international cultural cooperation” refers to formalised collaborations that involve cultural actors across national boundaries, and aim at disseminating knowledge, culture, and artworks. The actors involved are many and diverse. In some countries, departments in foreign ministries and embassies are specifically dedicated to cultural cooperation, whilst in others, this task is preferentially conducted by specific organisations loosely tied to the state. Cultural cooperation sometimes is also conducted directly by private foundations, educational or cultural institutions, as well as by NGOs.

Cultural cooperation can:

  • Foster mobility of students, scholars, artists and cultural producers, through exchange and residence programmes, as well as through scholarships. Cultural services of embassies can work, for example, as facilitators and provide support to local organisations that wish to invite artists from their country.

  • Favour the organisation of events, such as festivals, biennials, conferences, exhibitions and yearlong celebrations. Such events can serve to celebrate certain traditions, heritage or cultural practice as well as to encourage exchanges of ideas and innovation.

  • Provide technical assistance and capacity building, in fields like heritage preservation, the promotion of cultural industries or the protection of cultural rights. Such assistance can take the form of professional training and mentoring, as well as of setting up new cultural institution.

  • Promote education and teaching, for example of languages or art forms, such as in the case of calligraphy, an activity that implies setting up schools, university chairs or libraries.

  • Support negotiations, for example for what concerns international cultural trade barriers, such as with film quotas, or the repatriation of artworks and artefacts.

International cultural cooperation can be either bilateral or multilateral. The former involves just two countries and relies on the effort they make to identify commonalities in their respective histories or in contemporary cultural practices. Various factors can affect the nature of such cultural cooperation: the level of development of the two countries’ cultural sectors, pre-existing relations and the strategic interest that they see in collaborating with each other, beyond the cultural aspect. Bilateral cooperation serves to build trust and strengthen ties between countries and can favour agreements on many topics of negotiations.

Multilateral cultural cooperation, besides, involves multiple parties such as international organisations, foundations and associations. It can aim at creating cultural links and common histories and cultures (like a common language or a common religion), as well as at fostering cooperation on a specific topic (like preserving heritage, fighting traffic, promoting trade of cultural goods).

Multilateral cultural cooperation can take place at the regional level to strengthen ties among neighbouring countries and contribute to integration. It can also aim at establishing common norms, through conventions and declarations, as well as channel international collaborations to foster know-how exchanges and to favour the circulation of ideas.

Objectives of international cultural cooperation can differ a lot. For instance, when the United Nations Organization for Education, Science and Culture (UNESCO) was created, it aimed to foster the advancement of knowledge and to contribute to mutual understanding by encouraging the generalization of education, science, and culture as stated in the objectives set out in the Declaration of Principles of International Cultural Cooperation (4 November 1966): “to spread knowledge, to stimulate talent and to enrich cultures; to develop peaceful relations and friendship among the peoples and bring about a better understanding of each other’s way of life; to enable, everyone to have access to knowledge, to enjoy the arts and literature of all peoples, to share in advances made in science in all parts of the world and in the resulting benefits, and to contribute to the enrichment of cultural life; to raise the level of the spiritual and material life of man in all parts of the world”. Progressively, cultural cooperation has been tied to development goals, with an emphasis on technical assistance, education, and access to culture.

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Cultural Diplomacy

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