Themes: Our Creativy Diversity
A new global ethics
A commitment to pluralism
Challenges of a media-rich world
recasting cultural policies
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Opening Address
Aad Nuis, Secretary of State for Education, Culture and Science, The Netherlands. 

Ladies and Gentlemen,

On behalf of my colleague Jan Pronk, Minister for Development Cooperation and myself I would like to extend a warm welcome to you all. Not only to you, the audience, but in particular to those who will be addressing us and taking part in the discussions.

There is one person in particular here today with expert knowledge about the work of the World Commission on Culture and Development: Lourdes Arizpe. She actually took part in the Commission, so she will be able to provide a glimpse behind the scenes and perhaps offer some insights about what they left out in the written report. As UNESCO's Assistant Director General for Culture she is now closely involved in the international as well as the national follow-up of the report. Her presence here gives the Dutch conference a broader base.


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General Introduction
Summary
Opening Address by Aad Nuis
Speech by  Lourdes Arizpe
Paneldiscussion
A new global ethics
pijltje.gif (179 bytes) A commitment to pluralism
pijltje.gif (179 bytes) Challenges of a media-rich world
Concluding Address
speakers

The acknowledgments in the report's conclusion show that many of the speakers invited here were consulted as experts on the various discussions of the Commission. Whether or not this means they agree with the report's findings we will, I assume, find out during the course of the conference.

From the start of the World Commission on Culture and Development the Netherlands has always emphasized that the Commission's work should lead to a report aimed not just at the international community, but at the national level too. Which is why Mr Pronk and I consider it our duty to call the attention of Dutch representatives of the world of art, culture, science and the media to the report and to involve you all in the debate about its implications for this country. The conference, we hope, will reveal the power of culture in more than just words and discussions.

I would like to continue by linking the report of the World Commission on Culture and Development to the Dutch situation, to create, as it were, a receptive base for the lectures you will be hearing in the next few days, and to help stimulate the coming discussions.

Twenty or thirty years ago it would have been difficult to apply a report like that produced by the World Commission on Culture and Development to the Dutch situation. Foreign cultures were an insignificant factor in most people's lives. You heard or read about them in magazines or newsreels; television was as still in its infancy. Looking back I was fortunate enough to spend a long period in the late 1950s in Jamaica, where I was immersed in a culture in full growth. There I heard and witnessed the emergence of reggae. In those days, for most people in the Netherlands, participating in culture meant reading a good book and visiting, suitably dressed, a museum or a theatre. Of course, then as now, there were jazz lovers and world music fans - it was called folk music then; and there were young artists looking eagerly to the outside world. There was Cobra, experiments in poetry and music, but it was a small and poorly appreciated group.

Today things are different. A wide variety of cultures have left their mark on society. The Moroccan butcher, the Ethiopian restaurant, Turkish cabaret, Surinam steel bands. As I wrote in the policy document on culture recently presented to Parliament: in only a short space of time, the Netherlands has become a colourful country. In that sense culture in Holland, more than ever before, mirrors the world. And this applies equally to the problems and questions that the diversity of cultures raises. With your permission I would like to quote from my own report, the cultural policy document.

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In multicultural societies (and most societies today are multicultural) the easing of internal social and cultural conflicts depends, in the long run, on an expanding economic base, with rising employment and improved living standards. Yet it is also true that the process of economic development itself can create or exacerbate social and cultural conflicts.

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Report 'Our Creative Diversity'


'With the adaptability that has always been a striking character trait of our culture, the unfamiliar almost imperceptibly becomes integrated with everything that we have gradually come to regard as normal. Further research into the major policy questions in the area of social cohesion is vitally important to cultural policy, just as it is to other areas of policy. It is necessary to ensure that sufficient attention is also paid to the cultural dimension of the issue.'

Had I told you this was a quote from the Commission's report you would probably have believed me. The Commission's statements and conclusions regarding the global situation with regard to culture reveal a similarity to the position in Dutch cultural policy:

'Pluralism is not an aim in itself. Acknowledging differences is above all a precondition for dialogue and from there for the achievement of a wider unity among different people. Despite the problems we face an unavoidable duty: ways must be found to combine a new form of pluralism with general citizenship.'

So the problem here is how to ensure that cultural variety and cultural differences do not degenerate into fragmentation, social and cultural isolation and social conflict.

In the report there is a note of caution regarding cultural pluralism; it favours consensus and a sense of community. This leads the Commission to argue for a new global ethics. By developing and employing global values a common denominator may be found acceptable to all. Global values implies human rights, democracy, protection of minorities and the peaceful resolution of conflicts. Without respect for generally accepted values a real cultural dialogue is impossible. I attach great importance to the Commission's conclusions on this point. Unfortunately, they are not undisputed. Certainly, one has to be realistic and I understand universally acceptable and applicable standards and values must be limited in volume and scope. Nevertheless, some principles are indisputable. It worries me that in discussions about the World Committee's report in UN circles as well as at UNESCO the point about global ethics in particular leads to so much resistance. I see it as an important task for UNESCO's Director General to challenge the report's critics on this point. Forces in the international community attempting to undermine fundamental principles such as democracy and human rights should find UNESCO's doors closed to them.

The problem of combining cultural diversity with a sense of unity between people is also central to the cultural policy document. With a view to conditions in this country I attempted to find ways to achieve common ground for the various cultures, to allow a multicultural society to grow into an intercultural one. In other words, a society in which different cultures do not exist in isolation alongside each other, but enter into a dialogue and enrich one another.

A crucial role in this process is played by education. Certainly, in the big cities, where a large proportion of pupils are of foreign extraction, the school is the place where different cultures come together and where a sense of self esteem is fostered alongside understanding and tolerance of other cultures. The Commission is of the same opinion. I quote:

'...education should foster respect for cultural pluralism and tolerance, founded not just on passive acceptance of the rights of other cultural groups - including minorities - but also on active and empathetic knowledge of those cultures, resulting in mutual respect and understanding.'

In this light it is alarming to read in the 1996 Report on Society and Culture that segregation in education has in fact increased in the 1990s. Dutch children and children of non-Dutch extraction are increasingly divided between different schools. Of course we should not make the mistake of grouping all the non-Dutch children under the same header. There is a vast cultural diversity within that category. Nevertheless, in an increasing number of schools one segment of the population is conspicuously absent: children whose grandparents were born in the Dutch delta. This segregation, partly resulting from the uneven spread of non-Dutch and Dutch-born children in various towns and urban districts, in its turn encourages social segregation. And that while education is supposed to be where the foundation for our intercultural society is laid.

Not only schools, but cultural institutions should also arouse interest in other cultures. They play an important part in stimulating an intercultural society. In this respect I disagree with the Commission's opinion, which inclines to be too conciliatory towards what is somewhat tendentiously called 'professional culture'.

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Curiosity about other cultures is therefore not recent, no more than the practice of adapting and borrowing. This has always been the essence of art.

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Josette Féral


'Humanity has applied its imagination far more successfully in the field of art, science and technology than in social research and innovation.'

the Commission notes and thereby throws what is perhaps a reproach to the arts.

'Cultural policies are often limited to the field of art, exclusively highlighting artistic and institutional levels of excellence. This leads to a kind of policy-handicap, unintentionally deflecting the debate from support for diversity, choice and commitment to vague discussions about 'Art with a capital A' versus folk art, professionalism versus amateurism and the question of whether or not applied arts, folk art and other popular forms of art should qualify for financial support.'

I prefer a more balanced view. Individual artists but also institutions such as museums and libraries - and not forgetting radio and television - have their own place in our society. In my opinion it is unwise to contrast 'haut culture' with the rest of cultural life in that way. Without amateurs, the cultural climate is arid; but the same can be said of cultural life without the brilliant heights of individual talent. Let alone the enormous social influence of the arts! Without doubt Porgy and Bess in the Metropolitan Opera House in New York was highly significant for the social acceptance and self-esteem of the black population in the United States. My old friend Rex Nettleford, professor at – where else – Kingston University in Jamaica, once noted that:

'Today the arts in the Americas are beginning to find their central place in the definition of self and society. The citizens of the United States are arguably held together less by the proven might of their nation's fire-power and more by their country's great achievements in the cinema, jazz and [...] vibrant language and literature [...] Here is an example of what happens when diverse cultures are allowed to interact dynamically.'

A similar influence on social cohesion emanates from amateur art. The unpaid museum attendant, actor and painter all contribute to a social climate which harbours culture not just as a natural, but also as an indispensable part of everyday life. Only in this kind of climate can professional culture really thrive.

For a long time, in the Netherlands we were at a loss to know how to deal with other cultures. Traditional ideas about good and bad were under attack. I think it is important not to exclude migrant and other cultures from the cultural discourse. In the past this happened when, for example, other standards were applied to manifestations of these cultures. This encourages isolation. To emphasize that the various cultures are part of Dutch cultural life the authorities now focus on events spawned by merging cultures and organized through existing institutions, be it museums, the media or theatre companies.

We have been on a short journey along some of the themes from the Commission's report. Sometimes it is better to travel than to arrive. When you travel you move and you are moved, hopefully even inspired.

To me, by definition, culture moves. It is the Power of Culture that evokes the human and spiritual movement so essential in an intercultural society. Surely Goethe was right when he wrote in his poem Nature and Art:

'Vainly minds bound by nothing strive for the heights of perfection.'

Or, in the words of the Dutch poet Dick Hillenius:

'A spider without a web is a hopeless wanderer.'

I wish you success in the coming days in finding and employing the centripetal force of the Power of Culture.


our creative diversity