Skip main navigation

Grasping the role of private actors in international cultural relations

This article reviews different ways in which the private sector can be involved in cultural diplomacy.

Is cultural diplomacy undergoing a process of privatisation?

There are two ways to address this question. One looks at the international actions of private actors. The other analyses how approaches of the private sector are applied to cultural diplomacy. In this step, we focus on the first dimension, by pointing out three types of private actors involved in cultural diplomacy: foundations, corporations, and creative businesses.

Private foundations

Private foundations can contribute to international cultural relations by operating cultural or educational institutions like museums and universities. They can also provide financial support to international projects and cultural exchanges. For foundations to be credible, there should be no direct links between the private interests and the cultural actions. This does not exclude indirect benefits, in terms of image, networks, or tax breaks.

An example is the Getty Trust, an art institution founded in 1953 by J. Paul Getty, who built his fortune in the oil industry. The trust is based in Los Angeles and has an endowment of nearly 7 billion dollars. It comprises a museum, two institutes and the Getty Foundation, which allocates grants to spread the understanding of the visual arts and develops international actions. For example, in 1999 the Foundation provided the National Gallery in Prague with US$180 000 to digitize its collections. In 2005, US$400 000 were attributed to the documentation and preservation of Latin American art.

Such actions are usually conducted independently from the state. But we can point out some cases in which foundations complement the actions of state actors. It has been the case, for example, of the Foundation for Culture and Art of Istanbul (IKSV), founded in 1973 by a wealthy Turkish family, the Eczacıbaşı, that had built its fortune on the Pharmaceutical business. The Foundation manages a number of international artistic events in Istanbul, such as the art biennial or the jazz festival, and is also in charge of cultural diplomacy activities that could have been conducted by the Turkish state. In 2009, IKSV organised the Season of Turkey in France, collaborating with various cultural institutions to promote Turkish culture in the country. It supports also the participation of Turkey at the Venice Biennale.

Corporate cultural diplomacy

Companies can also become actors of cultural diplomacy in order to diffuse their corporate values and target influential individuals in foreign countries. This is the case of the BMW group, which operates sales in more than 140 countries, and develops cultural activities in all continents. For instance, the Group is present in Asia, with the Wim Wenders photo exhibition in Beijing and the Shanghai Europe Day Open Concert, in the Middle East, where it supports the Festival of Jazz of Beirut (Lebanon), as well as in Latin America where it organises art exhibitions in Buenos Aires and Havana. BMW sponsors many different art projects across the USA and in European countries, such as artistic awards, festivals, theatres and museums. This type of international cooperation is part of the branding and communication strategy of the group.

Creative businesses

Companies operating in the field of cultural industries are particularly concerned with cultural diplomacy, as this constitutes their daily business. They have to adjust to different cultural contexts and navigate through a variety of cultural references to construct their own narratives. As a result, they have advanced knowledge that can benefit the practice of cultural diplomacy. We can think of the case of star architects, like Zaha Hadid or Jean Nouvel, who have built monuments around the world, collaborating each time with local stakeholders. We can also think of art dealers. Take teh example of Larry Gagosian who started his gallery in Los Angeles in 1980 and now owns a network with sixteen spaces – in London, Paris, Rome, Athens, Geneva, and Hong Kong – and promotes the work of American artists, such as Andy Warhol or Richard Serra, but also of artists from other countries, like the Japanese Takashi Murakami, and the German Anselm Kiefer.

Share your thoughts:

Do you think private actors are more efficient and legitimate to conduct international cultural relations?

© European University Institute
This article is from the free online

Cultural Diplomacy

Created by
FutureLearn - Learning For Life

Reach your personal and professional goals

Unlock access to hundreds of expert online courses and degrees from top universities and educators to gain accredited qualifications and professional CV-building certificates.

Join over 18 million learners to launch, switch or build upon your career, all at your own pace, across a wide range of topic areas.

Start Learning now