We know these values. We are all visitors to the same echo chamber. The challenge is now upon us to reinvigorate, re-imagine, re-define Nye’s tenets and methods of soft diplomacy through cultural dialogue – not simply because we need to address the new order in relevant ways, but primarily because the issues of our times are compromising the essential qualities of our daily bread, our daily conversations, our daily lives. We need to refine soft diplomacy through cultural measures that convert.
As a cultural diplomat and curator who has worked with governments across the globe in the mission of creating platforms of shared understanding and connections through music and song, I have received many gracious post-performance handshakes in appreciation of my singing the Chinese National Anthem in the mother tongue, or commissioning a performance that brings together an indigenous Australian didgeridoo artist with a Korean Pansori singer. But what happens next?
I remind myself that my act of cultural diplomacy has created (perhaps) a symbol of harmony, offered a transaction of appreciation, broken down a wall, or fashioned a metaphor.
I consider the notion of the symbol, and investigate what my artistic gesture has generated. I contemplate what philosopher Joseph Campbell proposes: “that a symbol is an energy evoking and directing agent.” My artistic self concurs with Campbell when he says “that all the great and little symbolical systems of the past functioned simultaneously on three levels: the corporeal of waking consciousness, the spiritual of dream, and the ineffable of the absolutely unknowable.”
And then my practical side speaks to my dreaming self, asking whether the ineffable and the unknowable results of symbolism can convert to change. Can the act of soft diplomacy through cultural practice impact policy, or affect the constituency of daily life? What are the ripples and resonances of my symbolic offering?
I take my lead from projects that bear testimony to affecting change. I am aware that at this critical juncture we are constantly distracted by reportage of the aberrant political times, and that the global table of issues appear to recess to the further horizons. The world currently has 25 million refugees. In a single minute, 24 people are displaced from their homes. In the same minute, a woman is murdered in the name of “honor killings,” just one among the thousand women killed every year. Such concerns flood my ability to contribute effectively.
So, in hopes of recalibrating our communal thinking, I offer 10 new precepts of soft diplomacy:
> Thou shalt be diligent to one’s craft, and dedicate oneself to the toil of your daily practice, so that your message is articulated in its most glorious setting.
> Thou shalt consider the way that your act of cultural diplomacy reflects the political and cultural factors that shape individual and collective subjectivities.
> Thou shalt illustrate your work beyond conventional, temporal, cultural, and geographic boundaries, so that its resonance speaks to the future.
> Thou shalt be diligent to a specific cause of interest and activation, and take inspiration from those who have gone before you.
> Thou shalt consider the setting of your artistic expression, so that the message might achieve fresh echoes in new communities and discoveries.
> Thou shalt not work alone, but instead collaborate in your artistic expression with agencies and institutions, which are change agents, platforms of engagement, and spearheads of policy change.
> Thou shalt understand that resonances of your quiet act will ripple long after you have expressed it.
> Thou shalt create arts for arts’ sake, understanding that an offer of beauty in its myriad form inspires balance, fairness, connection, and reflection.
> Thou shalt offer the message that art is politics.
> Thou shalt savor humor and grace, humility and hospitality in your message.
As an opera singer, writer, cultural commentator and curator Xenia Hanusiak contributes to the stage, the page, and the intervals in between. She holds a PhD in Literature and several degrees in classical music. Her works for the stage include the play Ward B, Un_labelled (Boosey & Hawkes/Young Peoples’ Chorus of New York City); the libretto A thousand doors, a thousand windows (Melbourne International Arts Festival, Singapore Arts Festival, Venice Biennale); Earth Songs (Homart Korean Theatre); and the dramatic monologue The MsTaken Identity (Adelaide Festival of Arts/Australian String Quartet). www.xeniahanusiak.com