By Keith Dinnie, Founder, Brand Horizons.
Fine art can play an important role in a country’s public diplomacy strategy. Fine art represents a wonderful opportunity to build bridges between countries, transcending political differences through the celebration of art that crosses borders and enthuses audiences regardless of nationality. The promotion of fine art by individual countries constitutes one element in the broad concept of cultural diplomacy, which also encompasses literature, music, sport, and other cultural expressions.
Some diplomats are highly attuned to the importance of fine art. For example, former US Ambassador to the Netherlands, Professor Cynthia P. Schneider, served as an exhibition curator at Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts before her diplomatic career brought her to The Hague in 1998.
The Venice Biennale International Art Exhibition is a high profile fine arts event that attracted over 475,000 visitors in 2013, its most recent incarnation. Possibly realizing the public diplomacy opportunity to engage with such a large, receptive audience, ten countries participated for the first time in the 2013 Biennale, joining the seventy-eight countries already participating. Countries participating for the first time included Angola, Bahamas, Côte d’Ivoire, Kuwait, Maldives, and Paraguay. In her book ‘Seven Days in the Art World’ (published by Granta Books, 2008), Sarah Thornton devotes an entire chapter to the Venice Biennale, and features a brief interview with the head of visual arts at the British Council, who comments on how important it is to use art to promote Britain’s foreign policy objectives.
Here in the Netherlands, a key player in the interface between fine art and public diplomacy is Drs. Eva Maria Elisabeth Mennes Wuesten, Director of the Eva Art Production Foundation. Drs. Eva Maria Elisabeth Mennes Wuesten is an expat herself and knows the impact of promotion by art. Through organising and promoting artist visits and exhibitions in collaboration with the embassies of various countries in the Netherlands, Drs. Mennes has a deep understanding of the power of fine art in enhancing the reputation of countries.
In March this year, for example, Drs. Mennes’ organisation will be involved in bringing Guatemalan artist José Toledo to the park in front of Wassenaar’s townhall De Paauw at the start of a two-month exhibition of the artist’s work. Ambassadors from various countries will attend the opening ceremony. During the summer months Jose Toledo’s sculptures will be seen in the annual Sculpture Park at Duin & Kruidberg Estate at Santpoort Noord, just an hour’s drive from The Hague. In autumn the artist Juan Carlos Reyes from the Dominican Republic will have an exposition at the prestigious Kasteel de Wittenburg at Wassenaar, another Public Diplomacy project from the Dominican Embassy in The Hague.