"I am a bit surprised about the title of the group discussion on cultural dialogue: Sounds Chinese to me. It confirms yet again the stereotype of the Chinese language and culture as being elusive and strange, and that certainly does not help to overcome cultural differences", says Sharon Fernandez. Fernandez is a consultant with the Canadian Creative Policy Consulting and is intervening in one of the panel discussions at the IETM (International Network for Contemporary Performing Arts) conference Misunderstanding, held in Zurich in November 2008. Eva Lüdi Kong, cultural manager and intermediary between Europe and China, chimes in. "Of course it all depends on which side of the 'elusive' you are on. A Chinese artist told me that he had seen a man in London monotonously strumming a Chinese one-string instrument. He asked him why he was playing it that way, and the man replied that he was earning money by doing so and that it sounded Chinese to him."
The tone is set: cultural differences are a matter of perspective and personal interest. Lüdi Kong emphasises that personal contact between people from different cultures is the building block of mutual understanding. "Cultural dialogue is a matter of continuous negotiation. Personal exchanges are much more inspiring and in-depth in that respect than organising the regular blockbuster expositions and performances about ‘exotic’ cultures that primarily look only on the outside."
This premise was explored more deeply during the Limits of Intercultural Dialogue workshop. Now that the number of non-Western IETM members is steadily growing, a deeper introduction into the work of the other members is increasingly important. This could mean that communication via the Internet or networking during conferences will no longer suffice. IETM members should establish exchange programmes in which the members can visit one another for longer periods and learn to understand more of one another’s work methods and cultural context.
Who will foot the bill? The conclusion drawn by this conference organised under the umbrella of the European Year of Intercultural Dialogue is simple: politicians must invest more in cultural exchanges; the artists will do the rest.