“I’m arguing right now that it’s really important for the government, Global Affairs, to ingrain the role of the cultural crown corporations in the governance of cultural diplomacy,” Brault said in an interview. “That’s my message.”
Moderated by Sarah Millroy, the panel also featured National Arts Centre chief executive Christopher Deacon and National Gallery of Canada director and CEO Sasha Suda.
Brault said the country has been lacking a formal strategy for cultural diplomacy since the Harper years, while the appetite for Canadian culture abroad has increased. But if the selection of art is left up to individual diplomats, he noted, it might not tell a complete story.
“We need the diplomat to see cultural diplomacy not as another way to tell a nice and beautiful story about the country but to bring meaning through the art,” said Brault, observing that artists frequently deal with challenging social issues in their work. Contemporary Indigenous artists in particular tend not to “sugar coat” the issues, he added.
Suda gave the example of the “innovative, socially engaged and thought-provoking work” of Vancouver artist Stan Douglas, who was recently selected by a National Gallery-led jury of experts to represent Canada at the 2021 Venice Biennale, considered the Olympics of the contemporary art world.
“I think we can all agree that Stan is already leading a global conversation with his work,” Suda said. “The world is watching as Stan does his thing.”
Another demonstration of the ability of art to address social issues was the NAC Orchestra’s multimedia production, Life Reflected, presented in France and Sweden during last year’s 2019 European tour. The four-part piece deals with issues such as the loss of Indigenous languages and the danger of cyberbullying.
Brault said the Canada Council is working with Global Affairs to program Canadian cultural activities at this year’s Frankfurt Book Fair, one of the world’s largest arts industry gatherings, where Canada is the guest of honour.
“We do the work now,” Brault said. “What we hope for is a formal framework. That it will not happen just because of individual good will but because it is understood that the Crown corporations like the Canada Council have the knowledge and expertise to make sure the artists presented reflect Canada and its diversity.”
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