Beijing and Perth orchestras put Corporate Cultural Diplomacy into action.


By Grant Hall.  Founder of League Cultural Diplomacy

No sooner had the ink dried on my Orchestras and Cultural Diplomacy post, a cultural engagement program between the Beijing-based China Philharmonic Orchestra (CPO) and the Perth-based West Australia Symphony Orchestra (WASO) was announced.

When I lived in Perth I often attended and enjoyed WASO performances.  The Perth Concert Hall is as ugly as sin but has a wonderful sound when the orchestra’s in the house.

The West Australian newspaper reports:

‘Next year, the WA Symphony Orchestra will tour to China as part of a cultural exchange program with the Beijing-based China Philharmonic Orchestra’.

‘The Chinese orchestra will visit Perth for a combined performance with the WASO within the next few years’.

‘Under the program involving the Australia China Business Council (WA), the two orchestras will swap musicians and expertise, perform in schools and hospitals and run classes at the University of WA and the Beijing Conservatory of Music’.

This program is a great example of the ways that orchestras can be used for Corporate Cultural Diplomacy (CCD) outlined in Orchestras and Cultural Diplomacy and  qualifies as a CCD activity because it meets the MAGIC 5 Ingredients that make up a CCD initiative.

Not surprisingly, a driving force behind the endeavour is arts champion Janet Holmes à Court, a prominent West Australian business-woman who has long espoused the value of cultural engagement and who is also the Chair of the WASO.

In Orchestras and Cultural Diplomacy I wrote about how orchestral tours often missed opportunities to build people-to-people and inter-cultural links, but this program puts cultural engagement at its heart.

The community interaction would be one of the program’s most important elements, Mrs. Holmes a Court said.

“This will touch many more lives than just those who attend the concerts in Beijing and Perth, and foster a greater understanding of each other’s culture, which will form the glue that binds our two economically dependent countries into the future,” she said, “It is one way we can learn about other cultures

The orchestra last toured to China in 2006, when it visited five cities.

“The difference this time is that it is not a fly-in, fly-out situation,” Mrs. Holmes a Court said. “It is fly-in, stay for a while, have our senior musicians linked to musicians from China, do master-classes, work together and perform together. It is a long-term association and that makes it much more interesting, much more important and we will learn a lot more.”

Whilst there is a cultural engagement focus the program is being driven with trade objectives in mind.

The project was launched at the Australia China Business Council (WA)’s Chinese New Year Dinner at Crown Perth.

Council president Adam Handley said the program took the level of engagement between China and Australia to a new level.

CPO president Li Nan said greater cultural understanding must grow in tandem with increased economic ties between the two countries.

“As the economic relationship between China and Australia, particularly Western Australia grows to ever greater levels it is most important that cultural understanding grows strongly as well.” Said Mr. Li.

An impressive feature of the CPO/WASO program is that it is reciprocal in nature, with exchange visits to both countries.  Reciprocity is an important aspect of doing business in China and the project has the signs of a genuine partnership.  With performances in schools and hospitals, it’s great that the program has a strategy in place to ensure that it’s not only the elite that get to participate and enjoy the music making. Hopefully, the concerts will have some reasonably priced seats and a strategy in place to ensure a diverse audience.

As the West Australian article points out, there are a handful of other similar cultural engagement activities occurring that involve Western Australian arts organisations working with counterparts in Asian countries, citing

‘A deal between Black Swan State Theatre and the National Theatre of China to share artistic staff and collaborate on new productions, starting with Bertolt Brecht’s The Caucasian Chalk Circle next year’.

This is all good news for Western Australia and Perth, which is moving towards becoming the cultural diplomacy capital of Australia.  And why wouldn’t it be?  As I wrote in a previous post about my time living in WAPerth is ‘closer to Asia than parts of Australia’ and ‘has become a modern, clean and vibrant city engaged with the world outside its borders’. Perhaps more than elsewhere, WA has leading business people who understand and value the arts and implement culture into their company’s corporate strategies; I’m thinking of people like Holmes à Court and Sam Walsh (CEO, Rio Tinto). Discussions about cultural diplomacy are becoming frequent in Perth, as The West Australian article highlights:

Last month, visiting US expert Professor Cynthia Schneider said arts and creativity were under-exploited WA resources that could help boost trade, diplomacy and raise export horizons after the mining boom.

The “soft power” of cultural diplomacy, tours, artist exchanges and international collaborations could deepen trust and open doors for trade, Professor Schneider told a seminar of business, arts and government leaders.

The CPO/WASO project will benefit WA’s traditional export industries and should provide opportunities for trade delegation visits to occur in conjunction with the concerts.  But as the price of commodities continues to fall and Australia’s trade deficit increases, it’s clear that Australia, and particularly Western Australia which has long relied on commodities for growth, needs to diversify what it sells to the world.  Australian cultural products are export-ready goods being wasted if they are sitting solely on Australian shelves, performing only on Aussie stages or being available almost exclusively to our ‘traditional’ European and North American trading partners; demand is high in the Asian market for cultural goods and the market is cherry ripe for picking.

Western Australia has a particularly strong arts scene which includes many of Australia’s foremost Indigenous artists.  Many of the best cultural products coming out of Australia in recent times have come from the West, and it would be great to see WA lead the way in making Aussie culture more visible and available in Asia, in the same way it has long led Australia in the export of minerals.  As you will read in a soon-to-be-released post, many of the barriers that prevented Australian cultural exports reaching Asia are rapidly coming down.  The Asian Century is making for exciting times.

Well played, CPO and WASO

Bravo! Encore!

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Photo credit listed on the next page.

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