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An opportunity to be a cultural diplomat

Staff writer

Cultural diplomacy grants recognise the capacity of the arts to showcase the complexities and riches of Australia.
An opportunity to be a cultural diplomat

 Image: Chi Udaka via Synergy and Taikoz and Lingalayum 

When Synergy and Taikoz performed their show Chi Udaka in India, it offered an image of Australia as a place where diverse cultural influences intertwine.

‘It was incredible. We took a show to a place that was very rich in cultural tradition, but [the show] was different because it was South Indian classical dance with Taiko [Japanese drumming],’ said General Manager Lee McIver.

‘It was something that was influenced by their culture but it was not of their culture and it could not have been created in Japan or in India. It could only have been created in Australia where we are so surrounded by these influences and we create with them. It’s a natural thing in Australia to create something out of those different influences.’

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Chi Udaka, which was created with Anandavalli, Artistic Director of Sydney-based Indian dance company Lingalayam, showcased Australia’s fusion culture in a way that made a big impact on one of the world’s fastest growing economies. The tour, funded by a Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) Grant, included a show in Vizag, Andhra Pradesh, a city of two million people that had never had a theatre performance of this scale. ‘It was a big moment for the city... It was of enormous value,’ said McIver.

Art can make emotional and human connections across cultures and languages, making it a powerful tool in the diplomatic kit bag. Understanding the impact of culture, the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) invests in artists like Synergy and Taikoz through the Australian Cultural Diplomacy Grants Program (ACDGP).

The 2017 round of the ACDGP is now open and the program is looking for initiatives that display Australia as an innovative, creative, diverse and tolerant nation that is an attractive place to live, work, study and invest. Applications need to meet the objectives of DFAT’s  Public Diplomacy Strategy, including the ACDGP objectives.

2017 Cultural Diplomacy Grants now open

A cultural diplomacy grant is an opportunity for artists to collaborate internationally, find new audiences and create work that draws on a range of cultural influences.

Synergy and Taikoz has received a second cultural diplomacy grant to tour their work Earth Cry to Korea. The collaboration with Korean percussionists Noreum Machi pushed the artists’ music vocabulary, even requiring them to create a new notation system so they could understand each other’s music.

An exchange that goes deeper

Another of last year’s cultural diplomacy grant recipients was Chamber Made Opera, which received a grant to perform its project Between 8 and 9 in Chengdu, China. The contemporary music collaboration with artists from the Sichuan Conservatory of Music is also being presented at Melbourne Recital Centre and Castlemaine State Festival as part of Asia TOPA.

The project was originally entitled Teahouse Sanctuary and the changing name reflects the developing understanding which the project enabled, explained Creative Director & CEO Tim Stitz.

‘Chengdu is quite far from Beijing and there’s this stereotype of people sitting around all day in teahouses playing mah-jong and drinking tea, like we think of Queensland. We’ve been able to develop a different perception working with four young Chinese artists.’

Stitz said the cultural diplomacy grant had enabled Chamber Made to extend the collaboration by performing for audiences on both sides of the cultural exchange. 

‘It’s all about reciprocity. Sometimes cultural tourism can be quite superficial and stereotyped, just bringing in work and touring, but this kind of exchange goes much deeper.’

The work draws on a combination of Chinese traditional music and contemporary Australian composition. ‘It’s not just a mash-up; it’s something tremendously new which is possible because of an exchange that is more nuanced and complex.

‘China certainly has been a focus for the Australian Government in terms of trade and geopolitical issues and I don’t think you can undervalue the contribution that cultural exchange makes to that. It is long term and very rich. It allows artists and audiences to become involved in a more complex dialogue.’

The 2017 round of the Australian Cultural Diplomacy Grants Program (ACDGP) is open for application, closing 2pm 12 April 2017.  Further information is available from the ACDGP Guidelines. Applications should be made online via SmartyGrants.

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