Welcome to the twelfth edition of the Meridian Center for Cultural Diplomacy’s Soft Power: The Monthly Roundup, a feature that aims to explore unique cultural diplomacy initiatives from around the globe. With the temperatures peaking and summer in full swing, this post travels to nine cultural diplomacy events and celebrations that took place in the month of July:
Durban, South Africa: A Festival for the Ages
From July 16th-26th, the 36th Annual Durban International Film Festival was held in Durban, South Africa. Attracting film-lovers and industry professionals alike, the festival is one of the continent’s largest film events, showcasing both international masterpieces and the growing African film industry. This year, a program was initiated that sought to increase the foreign relations between South Africa and Brazil through Brazilian participation and focus at the DIFF. The festival held over 200 screenings across nine different venues, and its South African opener, Ayanda, was met with high praise. Aiming to resonate with the more local audience, Durban’s choices of films, as well as its new finance forms, have started an expansion of the South African film paradigm; just this past year, both The Avengers: Age of Ultron and Mad Max: Fury Road filmed in the area.
Vienna, Austria/Trieste, Italy: Schnitzel with a Strut
Starting in Vienna and venturing across six countries, the second annual European Peace Walk started July 27th and finishes at the end of August. The 24-day- trek originally began last year to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the beginning of World War I, but continues to exist in the spirit of both remembrance and diplomacy. Grattan Lynch, one of the founders of the EPW, got the idea after participating in the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage in Spain back in 2007. Lynch had “never seen Hungarians, French, Germans, and Americans all sitting at the same table eating, laughing, flirting, and enjoying life; 100 years ago [they] would have been killing each other.” Made up of participants from around the globe (many with familial ties to WWI), the walk allows participants to immerse themselves in culture by staying in hostels and dining on local cuisine at each stop. After visiting Vienna, Bratislava, Kőszeg, Varaždin, Ljubljana, and Lake Bled, the Peace Walkers will arrive at the Adriatic Sea in Trieste.
Singapore: Living Colorfully with ‘Live Art’
Since this April and continuing until the end of August, a metamorphosis has been occurring within the walls of the Ritz-Carlton Millenia Singapore hotel. Instead of remodeling its Greenhouse and Summer Pavilion in the common fashion, the five-star venue decided to implement a live art series that parallels the stages of progress in its refurbishment. Every month has featured a new artist interacting with and showcasing their work to guests. Ranging from Penang street artist Ernest Zacharevic to Yugoslavian-born Milica Bravacic-Milla, the event has brought Mondrian, Peranakan, Chinese, and Singaporean flare to an already internationally based hotel, and doesn’t plan on stopping there. The restaurant, located at a cultural crossroads, also plans to journey into new Asian culinary themes and architectural endeavors by NYC-based designer Tony Chi.
New York, New York: All the World’s A Stage
In early July, The Theatre Communications Group’s Global Connections program began sending its recipients abroad for international theatrical exchanges. TCC, the national organization of American theatre, implemented its Global Connections program by offering various grants to both U.S. non-profit theatre companies and various non-profit establishments around the world. Funded by the Andrew W. Mellon and Robert Sterling Clark Foundations, the grants help form professional relationships through the sharing of various art forms. One of the most interesting exchanges is between Chinese Theatre Works, a Long Island City-based company, and the Yangzhou Puppet Theatre in Yangzhou, China, one of China’s premier puppetry theatres. The companies were able to lay the groundwork for future collaborative projects while trading technical knowledge, skills, and advice. Other countries involved in these exchanges included Chile, Croatia, Ecuador, Greece, India, Japan, Kenya, Mexico, Spain, Sri Lanka, and Uganda.
San Diego, California: Culture in Comics
Starting July 9th, San Diego was flooded with a variety of caped-crusaders and their villainous counterparts for the 45th Annual International Comic Con. Founded in 1970 and featuring solely comic books and their characters, the event has since exploded into a spectacle that includes sci-fi TV series, feature films, and much more. With celebrity panels, previews of highly anticipated media releases, awards ceremonies, and an annual Masquerade costume contest, Comic Con has reached a global scale since its start; expos have since opened in Canada, India, Romania, Russia, the UAE, and the UK. The event in San Diego added anime showcase rooms and three rooms devoted solely to continuous anime screenings. A Japanese art form, anime, or “animated cartoons”, began through manga (the Japanese version of comic books) and has continued to gain traction internationally. With its exceptionally tailored forms, anime at the ICC is just one example of cultural overlap in mainstream culture.
Milan, Italy: Ciao Delizioso!
From the beginning of May and continuing through the end of October, Milan is hosting the Expo Milano 2015. Held every few years, the expo becomes a global showcase for more than 140 participating countries. This year’s theme, “Feeding the Planet: Energy for Life”, highlights new advancements for the agricultural industry and centers itself on the theme of food and culture. Expo 2015 gives everyone the opportunity to explore, taste the world’s best dishes (yum!), and discover the agricultural traditions of each country through demonstrations and exhibitions, including Scent of a Dream, which was highlighted in Soft Power’s May edition. In addition to the participating countries, the fair also partners with international organizations, and expects to welcome more than 20 million visitors to its 1.1-million square-meter showcase.
Havana, Cuba/Washington, D.C.: The Flag Also Rises
Meridian welcomed some new neighbors with the historic re-opening of the Cuban Embassy in Washington, D.C., on July 20th, symbolized by the raising of the Cuban flag. The U.S. Embassy was also re-opened in Havana on the same day, ending more than a half-century of estrangement between the two countries. Although there is a long journey ahead in securing diplomacy, the re-openings signal willingness to cooperate, and culture will play a large part in bridging the gap. For example, Ernest Hemingway, the famed American author who is beloved by Americans and Cubans alike, lived in Cuba briefly, where he worked on some his most famous masterpieces, including For Whom the Bell Tolls and The Old Man and the Sea. Finca Vigia, Hemingway’s Havana hideaway, is about to undergo a huge restoration in part due to an expected increase of American tourism in Cuba. Already, several cultural exchanges are in the works or have already happened, including the Minnesota Orchestra’s trip in May and culinary tours led by top Cuban American chefs.
São Paulo, Brazil: ‘Cubing’ on the Coast
From July 17th-20th, hundreds of ‘speedcubers’ congregated in São Paulo for the Rubik’s Cube World Championship. This was the first time the event was held in South America, and challengers from over 40 countries competed against one another in a wide array of categories. Surpassing standard 3×3 hands-on Rubik’s cube completions, the championship included one-handed, blindfolded, and even foot competitions. Feliks Zemdegs of Australia performed the fastest single solve of the standard Rubik’s Cube with a time of 5.60 seconds to remain the reigning champion for the second year running. One of the most interesting participants was the youngest competitor to date, four-year-old Yani Chan. Although she cannot yet speak clearly, she can solve a cube in about 30 seconds.
Africa: Girl Power Gathers STEAM
It’s no secret that there is a persistent gender imbalance in the professional fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, despite an increase in the number of women studying these subjects. Meridian is proud to partner in initiatives to bring women into leadership roles across sectors through its Women’s Council and through programs such as the U.S. State Department’s African Women’s Entrepreneurship Program (AWEP), which opened on July 19th for 39 women entrepreneurs from Africa, as well as the WiSci (Women in Science): Girls STEAM Camp, which seeks to teach young girls valuable skills in Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Design, and Math (STEAM) fields. The camp, which started on July 25th, brings together thirty American and ninety African high-school girls at a three-week camp in Rwanda. Follow both programs at #AWEP and #WiSci2015.