Arts and culture should be at the centre of Canadian diplomacy, says Senate committee

The federal government should invest more money and resources in promoting Canadian culture as a tool for diplomacy, the Senate foreign affairs committee says in the first comprehensive report examining the role of arts and culture in Canadian foreign policy in two decades.

Promoting Canadian culture can help Ottawa achieve foreign policy goals, report says

Conservative Senator Raynell Andreychuk, middle, pictured with Independent Senator Paul Massicotte, left, and Liberal Senator Dennis Dawson, right, at a press conference at the National Art Gallery in Ottawa on Tuesday, June 11, 2019. (CBC News)

The federal government should invest more money and resources in promoting Canadian culture as a tool for diplomacy, says a report released Tuesday by the Senate foreign affairs committee.

The report said "cultural diplomacy" — the exchange of ideas, art and culture across borders outside of official political channels — should take a central role in Canada's relations with other countries alongside traditional considerations, such as the economy and trade.

Cultural diplomacy deploys a number of activities — including study-abroad programs, museum collaborations and art installations in embassies — to help promote understanding between countries and their people.

It's an effective way to build relationships between nations that can help Canada achieve its foreign policy goals, the report said.

"Arts and culture can influence the perceptions, opinions and attitudes of people in other countries about Canada," said the committee chair, Conservative Sen. Raynell Andreychuk of Saskatchewan.

"Cultural diplomacy also works outside the boundaries of traditional diplomacy to reach different and even wider audiences."

Cultural diplomacy strategy

The report recommended that Global Affairs Canada spearhead a cultural diplomacy strategy focused on "projecting a modern image of Canada," identifying business opportunities for Canada's cultural and creative industries, and strengthening international collaboration with people and organizations in other countries.

The report says Canadian artists and cultural institutions have a special role to play. It cites author Margaret Atwood, the band Arcade Fire, the acrobatic company Cirque de Soleil and many others as examples of artists who contribute to Canada's international reputation and help to spread "Canadian values" abroad.

"Canadian artists and cultural organizations are already promoting Canada's profile in the international scene and they've been doing so for a long time," said Andreychuk.

The strategy should identify clear priorities and goals and provide adequate funding, the report said.

Outside official channels

The senators say they believe such a strategy would be an effective way to build relationships between countries and people, and to increase support for Canadian foreign policy goals.

"We heard from many witnesses about the power of arts and culture to send messages that mere words or traditional diplomatic endeavours cannot convey," said Independent Senator Paul Massicotte of Quebec.

"In order for our country and our values to be better understood by the world, we need to further rely on our arts and cultures as tools of international influence."


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