How Canada shines through its artists

While at Canadian Embassy in Hong-Kong, such was my surprise to discover the centerpiece of the meeting room is a work of Ione Thorkelsson, glass sculptor originally from Manitoba. My interlocutor, a Chinese, began the conversation by commenting on Ione’s work. It did not need more to make our business relationship go forward.

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Ione Thorkelsson (b. 1947) “Arboreal fragments” 2004, cast glass, tree sections, brass, lighting, various dimensions, HONG-KONG

I know that culture plays a vital role in the appreciation of our identity and acts as a fundamental characteristic of our nation in the international community. At that very precious moment, art was part of Canadian diplomacy.

The role of arts and culture in Canadian public diplomacy

The Institute for Cultural Diplomacy defines Cultural Diplomacy as a “course of actions, which are based on and utilize the exchange of ideas, values, traditions and other aspects of culture or identity, whether to strengthen relationships, enhance socio-cultural cooperation or promote national interests”.

In 1995, Canada in theWorld recognized Canadian values and culture as the ‘third pillar’ of foreign policy, equal to the first two pillars of economic growth and international peace and security. A most abrupt change was made in 2005 in the foreign policy review A Role of Pride and Influence in the World. Culture as a pillar of foreign policy was completely absent, and cultural relations were few throughout the document.

Yet, in foreign affairs, arts and culture continue to play a leading role in diplomatic strategies in most countries. We then get the opportunity to tell the world who we are and offer a positive image of our country.

“Cultural diplomacy is the use of creative expression and exchanges of ideas, information, and people to increase mutual understanding” stated Cynthia P. Schneider in Cultural Diplomacy: Hard to Define, but You’d Know It If You Saw It

Our artists stand abroad

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Carved glass wall by Marianne Nicolson (Kwakwa̱ka̱’wakw artist, Victoria) “A Precarious State” 2013, carved glass panels, 200 x 1201 cm, AMMAN

Borderless artists and high profile organizations shine and are worldly acclaimed in many capital and great cities. In 2015 it is hard to find regions on our cultural planet where you can not soak in works by our designers or our artists. Our country is undeniably a more fertile breeding ground for the arts.

“Culture is about our image, our values and our identity” says Program Manager and Curator for Visual Art Collection at Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development Canada (DFATD), Dan Sharp. “DFATD acquires original art works from living, emerging-to-mid-career artists from all regions of Canada to reflect our rich and diverse cultural and linguistic heritage.”

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Paintings by Janet Werner (b. 1959, Winnipeg). Left: Girl with Green Collar, 2002, oil on canvas, 208.8 x 173.2 cm; Right: Girl with Tongue Out/Sassy, 2002, oil on canvas, 208.8 x 173.2 cm, BERLIN

In 2015, there are approximately 4000 artists in the collection of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development, and 6200 works of art. On display abroad is 80% of the collection, in a total of 111 cities, including Embassies, Consulates and High Commission offices and Official Residences. Works of art are displayed in China, India, Russia, Germany, France, Italy, England, USA, Japan, Mexico or Brazil, as well as many others. These works are for display only in public or representational areas of chanceries or designated official residences to which they are assigned.

The country ‘s remarkable collection of artwork expresses the high level of Canada’s creativity both in the arts and in general. The artists whose works are displayed contribute to the high-level of exchanges conversation, on top of the great ideas shared between two countries.

Thanks to Dan Sharp for his inspiring work and to Rachael Maxell for her Paper The Place of Arts and Culture in Canadian Foreign Policy, Canadian Conference for the Arts, 2009
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Commentaires ( 3 )
  • JOHN HOBDAY says:

    Dear Louise; Thank you for this article. It is a wonderful reminder of the power of the arts and fine crafts to connect and build relationships both at home and abroad.

    I would like to think that after October 19th a new Federal Government will reinstate – and indeed enhance – all of the measures that are needed to demonstrate to the world the extraordinary wealth of creative talent that exists throughout Canada.

  • Lidia Varbanova says:

    Great blog! Thanks, Louise!
    Let’s not forget also that cultural diplomacy is critical to fostering peace and stability throughout the world. Artists, cultural practitioners and organizations have an important role to play nowadays to encourage intercultural dialogue between countries and nations, to encourage justice and equality, to participate in the protection of international human rights and so on…

    “Culture as a pillar in the foreign policy” is a great statement, which needs practical implementations, ongoing financial support and building up alliances between diverse stakeholders. It requires a well defined strategy and concrete actions for positioning culture in the foreign policy. Why don’t we have a “Canadian” version of the British Council, Goethe Institute, or Pro Helvetia, or another long-term commitment to the practical dimensions of the Canadian cultural diplomacy?! We also need to foster research about the outcomes of Canadian artists traveling abroad-what do they contribute to and how, what do they bring back, how do they help the development of the societies in transition, how to improve their international experiences, and so on…

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