5 months ago
Exploring Cultural Interests and Values
The Director of the Institute for International Cultural Relations, Professor JP Singh, introduces this blog and the posts you will be able to follow over the next week.
The political tumults of 2016 – especially the Brexit vote in the United Kingdom and the election of Donald Trump in the United States – have unhinged cultural assumptions about the world getting closer and the functioning of democracy. The rise of political populism and the role of cultural anxieties in Western democracies, but also in places such as India and Turkey, entails a deeper examination of the formation of political, social, and economic values and interests. Equally the events of 2016 call into question the extent to which different types of values are shared across borders ranging geographically from local neighbourhoods to national and regional markers, or across racial and other identities in cultural terms.
What happened to the idea of universal and shared values of humankind? How can arts facilitate our understanding about each other? The Global Cultural Fellows programme at the Institute for International Cultural Relations bring together 33 Fellows from across the world to discuss these questions. Their contributions to the special issue of our Institute’s journal Art and International Affairs is a catalogue that starts these cultural conversations and proposes no singular answer to the questions. The essays utilize the arts to motivate a broader conversation about cultural interests and values. They call upon the arts for the important function they have always played throughout history, namely as interpreters of our lives.
The 70th anniversary of the birth of the festival city of Edinburgh offers an important opportunity in 2017 to explore the values that created one of the largest annual cultural interactions in human history. From its beginning, the different aspects of the Edinburgh festivals have accommodated conflicting tenets between elitist and hierarchical values and organic and participatory visions. Rudolf Bing, an Austrian refugee, created the Edinburgh International Festival in 1947. This evolved into the Edinburgh festivals celebrating their 70th anniversary in 2017. The Edinburgh International Festival represented a hierarchical notion of culture and, in the words of historian Angela Bartie later in this issue, “the pinnacle of cultural production.” The Edinburgh Fringe started as a counter-response this hierarchical vision, and today represents the biggest arts festival in the world.
The global ideas that informed the creation of the festival resulted from the vision of a few individuals and were fostered through a network of global and national institutions. Broadly, they reflected the values of the Enlightenment Project with an optimistic view of learning from human interactions. Seventy years after the launch of the festivals, we ask ourselves how far we have come in terms of tolerance, understanding, respect, and the spirit of universalism.
The blog entries that follow reflect the inaugural programme of the Global Cultural Fellows launched through the Institute for International Cultural Relations at the University of Edinburgh. During the 2017-18 academic year, our Fellows will explore 'cultural interests and values', including 8 days of intensive activities 11-18 August 2017 during the world-famous Edinburgh festivals. The Fellows will attend pre-selected events at the festivals, as well as structured deliberations at the University of Edinburgh. Their cultural conversations, rooted in participatory research techniques, will explore the creation, contestation, and choices around our cultural interests and values.
To explore cultural interests and values, we have divided the 2017-18 programme for the Global Cultural Fellows into 7 subthemes: Highs & Lows, Voice, Witness, Empathy, Anger & Anxiety, Culture Wars, and Global Values. A sub-group of our fellows examines each of these themes in each day’s blog entries to follow on each of these themes – one per day.
This GCF Programme explores the cultural interests and values that resulted from the idea of 1947 festivals from both hierarchical and participatory perspectives. The themes in the blog entries to follow move from the micro/individual levels to the macro/global levels. We begin with what constitutes high and low art and how taste is internalized among individuals. Then we move to how artists find a creative voice to represent their world. The third and fourth themes deal with the role of art in witnessing human history, especially its evils, and the extent to which artistic empathy carries over into our everyday life and politics. Next, we move to societal and global levels to examine how and why culture wars take place, and discuss the state of global values.
We cannot assert that the Global Cultural Fellows comprehensively represent all voices from around the world. However, they do represent important geographic, demographic, and intellectual diversities. These 33 individuals, appointed from all regions of the world, including cultural activists, artists and performers, and entrepreneurs, and they are well-connected with many communities. The group of Fellows includes 4 practitioners from Scotland and 3 from Syria. After their week-long immersion exploring cultural interests and values, the 33 Fellows will undertake projects upon returning to their home organizations and institutions over the course of their year-long appointment.
Please join us in these conversation in the days to follow. We look forward to hearing from you.