Kolokytha, Olga: Citizens at the centre: participatory models of cultural diplomacy in urban frameworks

This paper discusses a bottom-up paradigm of cultural diplomacy that originates from participation and inclusiveness, using the case of Dance Days Chania, a contemporary dance festival in a small regional city. The paper is based on empirical in-situ research on the Festival and shows in what way it has mobilized civil society and how it has created a platform for cultural co-operation and inclusiveness through contemporary dance, that serves as a tool for cultural diplomacy. The paper showcases an example of cultural diplomacy that originates from civil society and places citizens at the centre, and demonstrates how could local authorities use such initiatives to exercise cultural diplomacy and strengthen cities’ profile in cases where there is none, or there is weak, State engagement.

Research findings demonstrate there is a high level of engagement within the festival between artists, audience and citizens, and exchange of these roles through participation in performances, workshops, site-specific projects and free events in the city. Cultural diplomacy is exercised through experience of culture rather than a projection of national history or heritage, with citizens being at the centre of and actively contributing in this process through various acts of participation- as artists, audience, students or volunteers. The festival attributes a paramount role to the civil society and makes it generator of soft power through a. providing a space for citizens’ inclusion and involvement; b. interaction and exchange between the local and international community and c. enhancing citizenship and contributing to a sense of belonging to the community through its various events.

There is a different, organically developed paradigm of cultural diplomacy exercised in this case which extends beyond the role of the State and is based on a model that uses creative expression, participation and inclusiveness, builds relations with people and involves the local community as actors of cultural diplomacy.