Why is cultural diplomacy important? Some conclusions from the Season of Culture Ukraine – Great Britain

Why is cultural diplomacy important?  Some conclusions from the Season of Culture Ukraine – Great Britain


A few days ago, the Season of Culture Ukraine – Great Britain, organized by the Ukrainian Institute and the British Council, is coming to an end. The big festival, which lasted more than a year, was conceived in 2019 in honor of the 30th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries. But it became, in the end, a manifestation of the United Kingdom’s powerful solidarity with Ukraine after the full-scale invasion of Russia. Cultural cooperation between the two countries previously took place mainly thanks to the work of the British Council in Ukraine and was focused primarily on the presentation of British culture here. In the United Kingdom, Ukrainian culture was not presented systematically and clearly, so the only constant association with Ukraine, according to the 2021 perception study, was corruption. Among the cultural phenomena, the British at that time only knew about our success at Eurovision. As it turned out, this association had unexpected confirmations for cooperation this year as well. The cultural field in Britain is extremely active and highly competitive. Culture is a priority for the British and this is evident at all levels: developed infrastructure, financial support, high-quality art education, dozens of festivals. Even a small British town with a few thousand people has a theater and a cinema, a choir, a cool museum, a gallery, heritage objects in active use (from ancient castles to sightseeing steam trains “like in Harry Potter”). Big cities and especially the capital are saturated with cultural programs every day. Here, all cultures of the world compete for the viewer’s attention. It is very easy for someone new and unknown to get lost in this field. Such were our cautions when planning the Season, because we needed to compete for the attention of one of the most demanding audiences, for whom Ukrainian culture was a complete blind spot. Therefore, weighing their own resources and aiming to establish long-term partnerships, the Ukrainian Institute and the British Council planned several dozen projects and programs aimed at integrating Ukrainian art into existing venues – festivals and institutions that had their own audience and helped with production and promotion. The announcement of the Season program was planned for the beginning of March 2022. Let the Body Speak performance. Photo: British Council Ukraine The Russian invasion of Ukraine forced the postponement of the official start of the Season to June, but even the main theme did not have to be changed: “Future Reimagined” was well suited to the spirit of solidarity that the British showed in relation to the brave people that they so they didn’t know much, but they were undeniably fascinated. The first major solidarity event took place in London back in March, less than a month after the start of the invasion in one of the central cultural locations of the city – the Southbank Centre. And although the tickets were sold out in a matter of hours, neither before nor after this event, there were no more Ukrainian programs here. Although several Ukrainian composers (in particular, Alla Poleva, Valentin Sylvestrov), performers and Oksana Lyniv appeared in the program this year. In fact, all Ukrainian programs at festivals in Britain, planned until February 2022, took place in full or to a greater extent. At the same time, there were many new projects that arose spontaneously at the initiative of British institutions. Any doors were opened for Ukrainians and any initiatives were supported. In the first months after the invasion, virtually every cultural institution wanted to do something for Ukraine, and requests flowed in. Last but not least, it was also an opportunity to fill the “windows” created as a result of the termination of cooperation with the Russians. Against the background of the fairly unambiguous position of British institutions, the Victoria and Albert Museum stood out negatively, in which the exhibition “Faberge in London: from romance to revolution” was exhibited until May 8, 2022. It showed objects borrowed from the Hermitage, the Kremlin, several sanctioned Russian oligarchs, and from Putin’s personal collection, as evidenced by the egg’s signature. Due to numerous complaints from visitors, the label was replaced, removing the mention of the Russian dictator, but nothing forced the cancellation of the exhibition earlier and did not prevent the objects from being returned after its closure. Over the course of the year, a tenth of the negative feedback from visitors to the Victoria and Albert Museum concerned issues surrounding Ukrainian and Russian heritage. This is the largest concentration of requests regarding a certain country. What prompted the Museum to agree to work in the direction of decolonization of Russian and Ukrainian heritage in its collection, as well as to start changing the captions to the objects, removing errors in transliteration, specifying countries and correcting the imperial language. Usually, such processes in the museum last for years. “Crimea, 5 in the morning”. Photo: British Council Ukraine The events of the Season stretched for more than a year and covered all the countries of the United Kingdom – England, Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland. All genres were represented – cinema, theater, music, literature, visual arts. The formats were dominated by public events (film screenings, concerts, readings, discussions, performances, art in public space), but there were also workshops, residencies, networking and a summer school for translators. All efforts were aimed at establishing as many partnerships and connections between the cultural communities of both countries as possible, as well as at enabling long-term and sustainable cooperation. The most spectacular project of the Season is the presentation of the multimedia projection “Discover Ukraine: Bits Destoryed”, which took place at the festival in Greenwich in August 2022. The project was commissioned by the Ukrainian Institute in 2019 and presented for the first time in Vienna as part of the Ukraine-Austria Year of Culture. It is based on Yevhen Nikiforov’s photographs of Ukrainian mosaics from the Soviet era, brought to life by Tais Poda’s Rock’n’Light studio with musical accompaniment by the Ptakh Jung duo. A short video was specially created for the London screening, in which it was explained to the audience that a quarter of the mosaics used in the projection were destroyed due to the Russian war in Ukraine, and this is only part of our lost cultural heritage. The project gathered a record number of viewers and world press (more than 150 publications in 20 countries). This success prompted the organizers to come up with a new idea, and in a few months the British premiere of a new large-scale multimedia projection based on the material of Ukrainian culture will take place. Discover Ukraine: Bits Destroyed. Photo: British Council Ukraine This premiere will take place in Liverpool and will be part of the autumn festival of Ukrainian culture, born from the EuroFestival around Eurovision. Liverpool not only hosted a song contest on behalf of Ukraine this year, but also dedicated a large program of events to Ukrainian culture. Despite tight deadlines and limited resources, Liverpool City Council in partnership with the British Council and the Ukrainian Institute selected 24 projects from over 600 applications. Large-scale exhibition of Ukrainian photography HOME, new multimedia installation by Kateryna Buchatska “From Raisin to Liverpool”, work and performance of Alytyna Kahidze, world premiere of Jamala’s new album “Qirim”, theater premieres, yellow-blue submarine parade, a number of interventions in urban space, from a mural to a sandbag monument – just a few examples. Importantly, some of the partnerships were a result of previous residencies of Ukrainian artists and curators to Liverpool that had taken place several years before. Thanks to these developed partnerships, it was possible to create new projects quickly and efficiently. Read also: Imagine that you are in Odessa. How Liverpool hosts Eurovision on behalf of Ukraine There were so many interesting ideas than resources, and the interest in Ukrainian culture was so sincere that it turned out to be impossible to satisfy it in one month. Therefore, as a result of the effect of an overflowing bowl, a second festival has grown from one festival, planned for autumn, the program of which is close to the first in terms of scale. Ukrainian art will return to Liverpool, Sheffield, Huddersfield, Belfast, Manchester, Edinburgh, Brighton and London again. Ukrainian curators are already starting to work in local galleries, Ukrainian designers are successfully sold on the local market, and Ukrainian authors are being published more and more often. The play “Cassandra”. Photo: British Council Ukraine Cultural diplomacy is a long game. Only during the Eurovision Song Contest can you reach an audience of millions in a few hours, the rest of the genres need time to create, promote and reach the audience. If we want Ukrainian culture to become recognized and appreciated by the world, we must be patient and ready to invest. I will give another example of the Season project. In the spring, screenings of the play “Cassandra” based on Lesya Ukrainka’s play took place. The new English translation of Nina Murray’s drama was directed by British director Helen Eastman. One of the screenings in Oxford was accompanied by a discussion with the participation of Professor Edith Hall, who is one of the world’s greatest researchers of ancient drama and its reinterpretation in world culture. The professor admitted that she recently learned that a hundred years ago, a little-known author from Eastern Europe deeply rethought classical theater and wrote brilliant works from a feminist, anti-imperial, anti-colonial (absolutely modern) point of view. “This should enter the world theatrical canon,” she summed up without appeal and did not stop there. In her new book about the image of Troy in world culture, Hall decided to add a chapter about Lesya Ukrainka. It is a pity that there is a lack of up-to-date translations of Lesya Ukrainka’s works in English. Read also: “Electronic music is the music of resistance”: Kyiv raves ignited Liverpool Tetyana Filevska, creative director of the Ukrainian Institute specially for UP.Zhyttia.


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