Creative cultural diversity

Cultural diversity is an extremely broad concept. It can be applied from the global level (the richness of the world in different cultures) down to the diversity of workplace teams in cultural terms. The concept is associated with the diversity of cultural expressions and the notion of a higher potential of creativity and innovation, the so called “diversity advantage” (Zachary 2003; Wood & Landry 2008). For example, teams of people from different cultural backgrounds are understood to come up with better products or solutions for social issues (Page 2007); and “intercultural individuals” (Bloomfield 2006) will be more successful at what they do, because they have crossed cultural boundaries and are able to absorb aspects of other cultures, which provides them with new ways of seeing, thinking and creating.

Cultural diversity - global and European perspectives

In 1996, the World Commission for Culture and Development published their report “Our Creative Diversity” which pointed out the important role of culture for development on the global as well as local levels. The key idea is summarised in the two opening sentences of the executive summary of the report: “Development divorced from its human or cultural context is growth without a soul. Economic development in its full flowering is part of a people’s culture.” Throughout the report the Commission emphasised the constitutive and creative role of culture and cultural diversity for societal development.

However, around the same time sociologists and political scientists observed an increasing worldwide “clash of cultures” in the post-Cold War world. This was understood to be brought about by the process of globalization, with a particularly strong role of media and telecommunications that bridge the local and global (Barber 1996; Jameson and Miyoshi 1998; Inda & Rosaldo 2002).

But different cultures should embrace the clash and struggle for mutual understanding, respect and appreciation of each others’ culture. The UNESCO “Universal Declaration on Cultural Diversity” (2001) recognises cultural diversity as a “common heritage of mankind” and considers its preservation as a concrete and ethical imperative, inseparable from respect for human dignity. The Declaration was reinforced by the “Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions” (UNESCO 2005) which emphasises cultural diversity and dialogue among cultures as major cornerstones for a global order based on peace, mutual understanding and respect for shared values.

A noteworthy related publication is “Mapping Cultural Diversity” (German Commission for UNESCO and Asia-Europe Foundation 2010) that includes examples of 39 cultural diversity projects – with contributions of members of the U40 Network for “Cultural Diversity 2030” (a group of over 60 cultural policy experts under 40 years of age).

In Europe, the Council of Europe’ Culture Committee took up the themes of the “Our Creative Diversity” report with “In from the Margins” (1997), a report that emphasised the need to bring cultural policy in from the margins of governance. A programme of “transversal studies” of cultural policies was launched of which the first major report “Differing Diversities: Cultural Policy and Cultural Diversity” (Bennett 2001) explored the relations between cultural policy and cultural diversity in an international and comparative study.

“Differing diversities” were investigated in further reports, for example about Eastern European perspectives (Ellmeier & Rásky 2006). A study for the European Commission analysed how national governments across Europe actually addressed intercultural dialogue through dedicated policies (e.g. in education, culture and youth programmes), the rationales of such policies, the main actors, etc. (ERICarts 2008).

The European Commission’s work in this field culminated in the “European Agenda for Culture in a Globalizing World” (2007), which identified the promotion of intercultural dialogue as a tool for the governance of cultural diversity within European societies, trans-nationally across European countries and internationally with other world regions. Support for the agenda was provided through the Culture Programme 2007-2013 and objectives that were included in other funding programmes.

Furthermore, a working group of experts appointed by EU Member States was formed to identify and exchange good practices in creating spaces in public arts and cultural institutions to facilitate exchanges among cultures and between social groups. A recent report of the group analyses examples of policies and practices of institutions that address and cater for a more diverse audience through their programmes; key challenges and success factors are highlighted (Working Group of EU Member States’ Experts on Cultural Diversity and Intercultural Dialogue (2014)

Recently the theme of intercultural dialogue has been taken up in Creative Europe, the European Commission’s framework programme for support to the culture and media sectors (which integrates the previous Culture and MEDIA programmes). The new programme offers scope for activities within the EU and beyond aimed at promoting intercultural dialogue (e.g. in cross-border networks or platforms or transnational policy cooperation).


The intercultural creative city

It is mainly cities where people from different cultural backgrounds live and get in contact, hence, cities are a major focus of creative cultural diversity policies. The concept of the “creative city”, promoted by Charles Landry / Comedia (2000) and many followers, acknowledges the role of cultural diversity for flourishing cities. This role was promoted not under the discarded label of “multicultural” cities – in which the different cultural communities tend to stay among themselves, but “intercultural” strategies of city development through mixing cultures (cf. Meer & Modood 2011). The lead project by Comedia and Rowntree Foundation in the UK was “The Intercultural City – Making the most of Diversity” (Bloomfield & Bianchini 2004; Wood & Landry 2007; a good introduction is given in Wood 2011).

In 2008, the Council of Europe and European Commission launched the Intercultural Cities programme. Cities throughout Europe were encouraged to design and implement policies that foster community cohesion and turn cultural diversity into a factor of development rather than a threat. This required mobilizing organisations and people across the board – politicians, civil servants, business and professional people, citizen groups, media – towards a common goal: creating an inclusive city that is proud of and strengthened by its diversity. It also necessitated addressing the root causes of inequality, discrimination and lack of social cohesion. The guide “The Intercultural City Step by Step” summarises the experiences in practical recommendations (Council of Europe 2013; the Council’s website provides a lot of additional material).

The cultural diversity agenda of cities and regions has been linked up with the interest of policy makers in the cultural and creative industries as a motor of economic development and job creation. For example, inner-urban multi-ethnic areas that were subject to neglect and economic decline became the focus of regeneration and place-making strategies such as cultural quarters and support for the development of cultural and creative entrepreneurship and business development.

This was part of a shift from a “deficit funding” to an investment approach to culture and the arts, which included the goal to turn cultural diversity into a productive resource, i.e. “productive diversity”. According to Colin Mercer, the shift was motivated by an increasing base of evidence “that cultural diversity – of people, of skills and practices, of products, of markets and tastes – is good for innovation and building the capacity for sustainability in a creative knowledge economy and is also good for the texture and quality of amenity and interaction of urban areas especially” (Mercer 2006, 76).

Cultural diversity thus became understood as a potential factor of the creativity of cities (if nourished and supported properly) as well as subsumed under the supportive social milieu required by cultural and creative industries. According to Richard Florida, the “creative class” values diversity, based on a professional orientation and lifestyle that not only tolerates cultural diversity but seeks to benefit from cultural inspiration and enrichment (Florida 2002). City officials therefore were advised to promote the development of creative businesses (e.g. affordable offices, business consulting, etc.) as well as support a lively artistic scene and stimulating cultural environment of galleries, music clubs, festivals, etc. They were also advised to maintain, highlight and further develop local strengths in specific domains of culture. Cities that participate in UNESCO’s Creative Cities Network provide examples of how such strengths can be maintained and promoted. The programme invites participation in several fields of excellence, literature, music, film, media arts, design, craft and folk art, and gastronomy.


Communication of diversity in cultural heritage

In modern societies cultural diversity is the result of historical and current migration into and across different states as well as ethnic and cultural diversity that has subsisted within different polities over time. Traditional cultural policies, which in many countries are still guided by national frameworks, have impeded or at least not promoted the development of a cultural heritage sector that reflects the social realities of culturally diverse societies. Some exceptions are immigrant countries that are proud of their cultural diversity and where governments have called upon cultural heritage institutions to promote mutual understanding among different cultural groups and, thereby, support social equality and cohesion.

The history of cultural heritage institutions is closely tied to the development of the nation state for which they provided a record and integrative narrative of cultural origin, homogeneity and achievement, which included culture, science, industry and colonial expansion. The prime examples are national museums. How they emerged, displayed cultural heritage in a national framework, and served identity politics has been studied extensively in the Making National Museums (NaMu) and follow-up European National Museums (EuNaMus) projects.

In the study “Sharing Diversity: National Approaches to Intercultural Dialogue in Europe” (ERICarts 2008), Simona Bodo investigated current approaches of museums to multi-cultural communities such as compensatory or celebratory events and exhibitions or promotion of cultural self-awareness in migrant communities. While the progress in museums’ cultural diversity oriented practices is encouraging, Bodo notes that there are still many shortcomings, as museums often:

  • have a static, essentialist notion of heritage, which is primarily seen as a “received patrimony” to safeguard and transmit rather than an interactive process;
  • keep “majority” and “minority” cultures apart, and often treat the latter as traditional, unchanging and “exotic”, thereby reinforcing stereotypes and cultural essentialism;
  • target communities exclusively in relation to their own cultures and content, rather than promote cross-cultural interaction among audiences;
  • embrace the rhetoric of “diversity as a richness”, rather than addressing tensions and frictions, which may be dealt with in order to change attitudes and behaviours.

The EU-funded project “Museums as Places for Intercultural Dialogue – MAPforID” (2007-2009) has run a number of intercultural educational experiments in European countries and published a collection of inspiring examples of museums’ promotion of intercultural dialogue (Bodo, Gibbs & Sani 2009; see also Bodo 2013a/b). The examples make clear that museums can achieve a lot if they include appropriate activities in the social work they are doing for culturally diverse communities (cf. Silverman 2010).

However, many cultural heritage institutions that are called upon to serve as a force for social inclusion in multi-cultural societies still will have to get clear about what the notion of reflecting and respecting cultural diversity means in practice. In the modern society this can no longer be the longstanding practice of museums and galleries to present cultural diversity through selected “traditional” or “ethnic” artifacts. Rather attention needs to be given to the creativity and change within “minority cultures”, how they (re-)interpret their heritage, maintain it as lived heritage, and use it for novel cultural and artistic expressions.

The presence of different ethnic and cultural groups within a society poses the question of how their history, heritage and current cultural expressions can be represented in appropriate ways by cultural heritage institutions. Clearly this requires a very conscious interpretation and communication of cultural values which should involve members of the respective community. Therefore the institutions must accept them as experts for their own culture and acknowledge different, e.g. non-Western perspectives, life experiences and narratives. The institutions need to become community museums or galleries that actively work with different communities, reflect community movements, and use collections to encourage people to present and learn about their own histories, and to understand other people’s (cf. Crooke 2008; Golding & Modest 2013; Heumann Gurian 2006; Watson 2007).

The basics of such work are recognized in the ICOM “Cultural Diversity Charter (Shanghai, 10 November 2010) under principle 2: Participatory Democracy, that that requests museums: “To promote enabling and empowering frameworks for active inputs from all stakeholders, community groups, cultural institutions and official agencies through appropriate processes of consultation, negotiation and participation, ensuring the ownership of the processes as the defining element.”

With regard to cultural heritage sites the ICOMOS “Charter for the Interpretation and Presentation of Cultural Heritage Sites” (Québec, 4 October 2008), in particular, Principle 3: “Context and Setting”, emphasises that the interpretation and presentation should “take into account all groups that have contributed to the historical and cultural significance of the site”, and Principle 6: “Inclusiveness”, that it “must be the result of meaningful collaboration between heritage professionals, host and associated communities, and other stakeholders”.

Recommendations for cultural heritage institutions

Based on the experiences and suggestions of projects and experts in this field (e.g. Bodo et al. 2009; Crooke 2008; Engage 2004; Golding & Modest 2013; Simon 2010; V&A Museum / Khan 2002), the following recommendations can be summarised:

  • Reflect the institution’s role in a culturally diverse society and consider how it can support local cultural diversity policies;
  • Rethink core functions of the institution such as collecting, interpreting and exhibiting from an intercultural perspective;
  • Ensure long-term commitment of the institution for working with diverse communities, including diversity of staff and training in intercultural issues in order to avail of required competencies;
  • Establish a regular collaboration with community associations and centres; motivating members of ethnic minorities and migrants may require buy-in of leading members of such social groups;
  • Offer internships for talented young people who can serve as “voices” of their communities and become role models of intercultural creativity;
  • Identify actual needs and interests of the different communities, e.g. through an advisory panel and regular consultation with members of local groups;
  • Consider differences in gender roles and behaviours of members of ethnic minorities and migrant communities that may determine levels of participation and learning styles;
  • Promote intercultural dialogue, i.e. contact and interaction between different cultural groups, not compensatory activities exclusively addressed to specific communities;
  • Develop intercultural projects that enable participants to relate to each other, be open for different points of view, and develop mutual understanding;
  • Recognise that an intercultural topic and content alone does not guarantee successful encounters, also the methods of discussion and presentation must be open and encourage active engagement;
  • Develop participatory projects in which everyone has the opportunity for self-representation, story-telling and collaborative meaning-making;
  • Accept community members as experts for their own culture and acknowledge different, e.g. non-Western perspectives and narratives;
  • Share responsibility for activities and ensure outcomes that speak the language of the respective communities, not of the institution or academic discourse (e.g. dialogical, multi-vocal exhibitions);
  • Involve other organisations, e.g. municipality departments, schools and youth centres, cultural and creative businesses, media in order to broaden outreach and impact.