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Building cultural

understanding
through cultural
exchange

Rohini Dandavate

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Building Cultural Understanding Through Cultural Exchange

Rohini Dandavate, Ph.D.

Abstract
This research study is an extension of my master's research, in which I
analysed the impact of the Fulbright experience on the life, work and network of
artists who participated in the Fulbright exchange program.
My doctoral research is aimed towards understanding the role of artists in
building "Social Capital" across global communities. As it is difficult to measure
and demonstrate the impact and value of exchanges or of cultural diplomacy in a
short time, this study focuses on observing, analysing, and understanding the
effects of artistic exchange by measuring the social capital built in global
communities. Through this research I propose that:
• Changes that occur in people on personal/individual levels in the global
communities due to artistic exchanges facilitate public diplomacy at the
micro level and international relations at the macro level.
The assumption is that when individuals who have influence over larger
population change, their experience permeates to a wider population, thereby
creating a more positive psychological environment for international relations.
For the purpose of this research study parallels were drawn between the
profiles of exchange artists, as identified from my master's degree research and
'global citizens' as defined by William Hitt, (1998). Robert Putnam's concept of
social capital was used to analyse how exchange artists, as global citizens,
contribute in building mutual trust, reciprocity and networks within global
communities.
The International Exchange Programs of the Ohio Arts Council, executed
during the years 1998 to 2004, were studied by analysing:
• The impact of cultural exchange on participating artists and arts
educators
• The impact of cultural exchange on the officials of Ohio Arts Council
and the collaborating organizations who coordinate and execute the
exchange program in participating countries
• The impact of cultural exchanges on audience members in the U.S.
The instruments of data collection included: open ended in person interviews
and online surveys with the various stakeholders of the cultural exchange
programs.

By measuring the social capital built by artists through the exchange program,
this study aims to articulate the role of artists in building bridges of understanding
across cultures and creating networks of global individuals and institutions, which
can facilitate international cooperation and peace.

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Keywords
Globalisation, Social Capital, Cultural Exchange, Cultural Understanding,
Cultural Diplomacy, Global Citizens, Diversity, Cultural Conflicts.

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Globalisation has changed the political, economic and cultural atmosphere of the
world. It has become the most debated topic in present times because economic
and technological developments have led to new opportunities and unforeseen
threats. While some scholars vehemently claim that globalisation is profitable for
all nations, others view that globalisation has been profitable to developed
countries only. Supporters of globalisation argue countries that have successfully
integrated into the global trading system enjoy faster growth due to:

• The integration of global ideas and skills


• Easier access to capital and technology resulting in higher productivity
and improved living standards,
• Glocalism, where global norms or practices get interpreted differently
according to local tradition and
• Globalism

The anti globalisation groups argue and uphold that globalisation has led to:

• Endorsement of a consumerist culture by multinational industries and


corporations which standardize products through global marketing
campaigns
• Closing down of indigenous industries and an increase in
homogenisation
• Increasing unemployment in developing countries
• Rising disparity between the rich and the poor
• Escalating establishment of Americanisation
• Excessive nationalism and increasingly frequent cultural conflicts.

The question that arises from this scenario of conflicting views is “Does
globalisation diminish cultural diversity?” Review of literature, on the one hand,
indicates that globalisation fosters diversity while, on the other hand presenting a
scenario undermining diversity. Instead of aligning oneself for or against the
argument over globalisation in this context it may be worthwhile to focus on the
real cultural changes that are taking place due to globalisation and to look for
solutions for overcoming emerging problems of rising nationalism and cultural
conflicts. It would be fitting to say that the solution lies in nurturing cultural
understanding amongst people of the world.
There is an urgent need to help people connect with each other and cultivate
global citizenship. Global citizens (Hitt, 1998) or cosmopolitan citizens (Norris,
2000), by virtue of their sense of belonging to a global village, will contribute to
creating social capital (e.g. trust, friendship and networks) in emerging
intercultural and international communities. In other words, it is imperative for
nations to focus on managing diversity through programs and policies, that will
help people in the present global world maintain their identity, encourage self-
expression and build respect for people of the world.

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Historically exchanges were an important part of cultural diplomacy. Other
cultural diplomacy tactics included language institutions, churches, libraries, radio
services and cultural and educational exchange programs. Early on the Germans,
French and the English in history recognized the importance of language in
building cultural ties and they established language schools in different parts of
the world. Language was a tool for sharing and communicating thoughts and
ideas, thereby facilitating friendships between people. As Edward Sapir, the
linguist, states “language is not only a vehicle for the expression of thoughts,
perceptions, sentiments, and values characteristic of a community; it also
represents a fundamental expression of social identity” (1999, p 1). Linguistic
knowledge facilitates expression of peoples’ “positive distinctiveness” and helps
them to define who they are in terms of “we” rather than “I”(Turner and Tajfel,
1986). So establishing language schools, on one level facilitated education but on
a different level also fostered building relationships and information exchange
amongst the local population. Similarly churches played a role in propagating
Christian beliefs while libraries and radio services served as resource centres for
information dissemination and exchange.
The other effective tool for building mutual understanding amongst people
were educational and cultural exchange programs because it provided the
opportunity for dialogue, discourse and interaction. Since the focus of this study is
on understanding the impact of cultural exchange this paper will not include
discussion on educational exchanges. Cultural exchange involves “activities in
which two or more people communicate through cultural expression or
conversation” (Williams, 1996, P.10). Exchange between two countries occurs
amongst professional and amateur artists in a formal or informal, commercial or
non-profit setting and involves exchange of artistic work from any art discipline.
The settings for exchange were in schools, places of worships, community
centres, galleries, museums, universities, performing venues, embassies,
conferences, voluntary organizations, and local government offices. Sharing and
communicating about one’s own culture and values, mobilizing interaction and
dialogue, offering information and entertainment and building mutual
understanding and long term relationship between individuals and organizations
were the functions of cultural exchange programs.
My masters and doctoral research studies were aimed towards understanding
how cultural exchange programs could be effective in building intercultural
understanding both domestically and internationally.
My master’s research focused on understanding the impact of the Fulbright
experience on the life, work and network of artists. It was conducted with artists
from the U.S. who visited another country under the Fulbright Exchange Program.
From a group of seven artists who participated in the study, two participants were
from the disciplines of dance and theatre and three from music. Six artists from
this group received their Fulbright scholarship in the years 1998-99 and one of
them in the year 1994. The countries visited were Finland, Ghana, Germany,
Lithuania, Hong Kong and Taiwan. A survey, a collage kit with 116 pre-selected
words and 60 pre-selected images on self adhesive stickers and a psychometric

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rating scale was used to help the participants document the changes they
experienced in themselves, their work and their network of friends, as a result of
the Fulbright experience.
The graph given below illustrates the findings of this study. It was observed
that the Fulbright experience allowed participants to have a greater appreciation of
their own country, to reflect on themselves and to learn more about their hidden
skills and capabilities. While living in the host country they were also able to
experience, understand and learn more about the host country. These led them to
change their attitude, and become more accepting of the host country.

Figure 1: How did things change as a result of my Fulbright Experience?

The findings of this research revealed that the Fulbright experience helped
participants develop a mindset of greater empathy and respect for cultural
diversity of the world.
Changes in Fulbright participants brought them closer to the profile of William
Hitt’s global citizen. Hitt (1998), describes a global citizen as a “cosmopolitan
patriot” who has or develops the following:

• Sense of oneness- with the human family which includes people of all
nationalities, all races, and all religions
• Systems thinking- which helps in developing a comprehensive view of
world affairs
• Personal mastery – which aids in learning about the world
• Mental models- which help develop respect for human diversity
• Dialogue to find common ground with persons of diverse backgrounds
and orientations
• Shared vision-to help build a world that is characterized by unity in
diversity (p.16)

The following diagram illustrates the internal disposition of a global citizen as


defined by William Hitt (1998).

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Figure 2: Disposition of global citizen

Participation in the Fulbright experience altered participants (artists)


perspective of life and world. The experience transformed them into empathizers
of other cultures rather than promoters of their own. The table below indicates the
attributes that are common between global citizen and a Fulbright exchange artist.

Hitts’ Global Citizen Fulbright Exchange Artist

Viewing earth from above Increased awareness and sensitivity


towards world

Learning about the world Understand cultural similarities


&differences

Respecting diversity Develop greater tolerance for cultural


differences

Finding Common Ground Found common ground for working


together

Achieving Unity in Diversity Developed feeling of connection to


wider world
Enhanced comfort with a culturally
diverse network of people.

The Fulbright Program provided the artists opportunities to widen their view of
the world as well as experience, understand and respect diversity while finding a
common ground to achieve a shared goal. The exchange experience helped the
artists increase self-understanding.
The limitations of this study were that the participants were all American
artists and were also few in numbers. Therefore this study was extended to my
doctoral research which focused on observing, analysing, and understanding how
art and artistic expression facilitated in building social capital (e.g. mutual trust,
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reciprocity and networks) across nations. The International Exchange Programs of
the Ohio Arts Council, executed during the years 1998 to 2004, were studied by
analysing:

• The impact of cultural exchange on participating artists and arts


educators
• The impact of cultural exchange on the officials of Ohio Arts Council
and the collaborating organizations who coordinate and execute the
exchange program in participating countries

The 40 research participants comprised of 8 U.S. artists, 8 U.S. art educators, 6


Ohio Arts Council officials based in the Columbus office, 3 OAC representatives
from participating countries, 4 officials of collaborating institutions in U.S., 8
officials/curators of collaborating institutions in participating countries and 3
audience members who frequently visited exhibitions of artists from other
countries in the Riffe Gallery in Columbus, Ohio. The countries visited by the
cultural exchange participants were Chile, Cuba, Czech Republic, India and
Argentina.
For the purpose of this research, parallels were drawn between the attributes of
global citizens (as defined by William Hitt, 1998) and exchange artists (findings
of my master’s research). Robert Putnam’s measures of Social Capital (p.27) were
used to measure the impact of cultural exchange on artists, officials and members
of the audience. A survey in the form of a scrapbook, with 21 questions focusing
on understanding the exchange experience on artists, administrators, art educators
and audience members was used. The questions focused on ascertaining:
• How exposure to the arts of a different culture or country influenced them
and what were the changes that occurred within them and around them as
a result of that experience
• The changes that they observed around them in the people and
organizations they were associated with, during this experience
• The challenges faced in understanding, accessing, promoting,
collaborating or communicating about the art form of another culture or
country.
• How they wished to improve their experience of understanding, accessing,
promoting, collaborating or communicating about the art form from
another culture or country.

In addition to the above questions the group of administrators in the sample


group were also asked to respond to the following:
• What purpose or goals does “organizing art events from another culture/
country” serve?
• How do you determine if the purpose or goals have been served?
• What activities have helped you make an art event from a different culture/
country more effective?

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• What follow up activities have helped you consolidate the gains of
organizing an art event from another culture/ country?
The responses of all the 40 participants were entered into Excel spreadsheets
and the range of answers were collated and summarized. The diagram given
below illustrates the summary of the changes reported by the participants.

Figure 3: Diagram summarizing the impact of the exchange programs as


expressed by the artists and the administrators.

The spiral form in this diagram was selected to symbolize the overall impact of
the exchange experience as expressed by the artists, art educators and the art
administrators. The participants indicated that the exchange experience enhanced
their ability and desire to step out of a familiar environment and explore an ever-
expanding space of unfamiliar and diverse cultural experiences, without the fear
of compromising their sense of identity, security and comfort.
The new space discovered by the participants affords people experiences that
are diverse (i.e., being inspired by the richness of diversity), expansive (i.e.,
continually expanding the boundaries of their imagination and opportunities),
collaborative (i.e., creating more opportunities for working together), long lasting
(i.e., creating relationships that last longer), enduring (i.e., managing relationships
in a manner that can better endure the challenges of cultural differences), positive
(i.e., discovering unity or harmony in diversity or discord), universal (i.e., being
able to notice, appreciate and respect similarities between people and cultures)
and unbiased (i.e., being able to see beyond stereotypes).

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The artists and the art administrators expressed similar views when they
articulated the benefits they derived from working (i.e., making, experiencing or
organizing art) with people of diverse cultures in the new space.
The exchange programs led to lifelong friendships and enhanced mutual
respect. It made the participants of the exchange program (the artists, the art
administrators and the audience) more curious and eager to explore and embrace
diversity. Exposure to diverse cultures inevitably led to reflection (about their
own cultures) and comparison (between the two cultures) resulting in enhanced
sense of identity (connection to one’s own culture) and humanity (association
with the concept of a global village). Most of the participants of my study,
especially the art administrators, emphasized the fact that as a result of the
exchange experience they had developed greater tolerance to people, institutions
and procedures that were different from their own. Most participants said they
experienced a sense of freedom due to the mutually enjoyable experience of
exploring the world beyond their own.
These findings provide indicators of how cultural exchanges initiate change in
the people involved directly and indirectly. Senator Fulbright, while introducing
the Fulbright Exchange Program stated that this program would “breakdown the
barriers of ignorance, nationalism, and xenophobia”. He was convinced that “from
this experience would come educators and political figures determined to forge a
world in which individuals, corporations and nations could live out lives of
enlightened self interest.” Fulbright Alumni include Nobel and Pulitzer Prize
winners, governors and senators, ambassadors and artists, prime ministers and
heads of state, professors and scientists, Supreme Court Justices, and CEOs.
While it is very important to pursue programs such as Fulbright program that
help cultivate a global perspective amongst people of influence, it is also
important to extend the exchange experience to the common people through
activities such as sharing of the arts. The seeds of cultural discord germinate at the
level of general public. Only after the discord spreads to a wider community, that
it grows into a cultural conflict between communities or countries. It is therefore
important to create opportunities for general public to derive a sense of
connection to humanity, so that cultural discord at individual level does not grow
into a conflict. Exchange of artists will help create such opportunities. The arts
have a very strong potential to evoke cognitive and emotional response in human
experience, and lead to an implicit exchange of meanings between those who
share the art experience. Art facilitates understanding by touching the soul
through a multi-sensory and multi-dimensional experience. Creative expressions
overcome language barriers and regional differences and can be an effective
medium to build cultural understanding amongst people
In conclusion, I would like to propose that the initial exploration of literature
and the primary research with exchange artists, arts educators and art
administrators provides prima facie evidence to pursue my hypothesis that
cultural exchanges contribute to cultivating global citizenship. In our global
village, learning to appreciate differences through expression and experience of
culture has become necessary for peaceful coexistence. Though the contribution

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of artists in building international relationships is not something that can be
measured in a short time nor are the results quantifiable, the effect of their work
can be observed or felt only over time. Artists can be effective ambassadors of
their culture and they, through their art works, can contribute to containing strife
and to fostering cultural understanding amongst people. I would like to conclude
by quoting Samuel Huntington (1997):
With the diminishing role of ideology as a driving force in global politics,
American policy makers have the opportunity to harness the awesome powers of
imagination and apply the quintessential qualities of the artists- creativity and
innovation- to the practice of their craft.

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