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What is international cultural cooperation?

Cultural cooperation is a general term that can cover different types of interactions between states or state organisations.
© European University Institute

What is international 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:

1. Foster mobility

Help 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.

2. 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 practices as well as to encourage exchanges of ideas and innovation.

3. 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 institutions.

4. 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.

5. Support negotiations

For example – for what concerns international cultural trade barriers, such as film quotas, or the repatriation of artworks and artefacts.

Bilateral or multilateral

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

Bilateral cooperation serves to build trust and strengthen ties between countries and can favour agreements on many topics of negotiations.

Multilateral cooperation

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

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,
  • 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.

© European University Institute
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