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Monday, 14 March 2011 15:55

Interview with Mark C. Donfried

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At the end of the academy "The Language of Arts and Music", held at the Institute for Cultural Diplomacy in Berlin from 14th till 20th of February 2011, E&M managed to get an few precious minutes with ICD founder and organiser Mark C. Donfried for an interview. Donfried's speaking pace is breathtaking, and throughout the conversation with E&M it becomes understandable why: the smart-looking, passionate cultural diplomat is under constant pressure from conference attendees, speakers, and VIPs for whom he has to politely interrupt the interview more than once.

E&M: Mr. Donfried, you originally come from America. Why did the ICD choose to be based in Berlin? 

MD: I think there are three reasons to answer your question. The first reason is history: Berlin has been a divided city and is now transformed into a bridge city, between east and west, and then you have the Turkish Diaspora… The dramatic and in many ways negative history Berlin has lived through has proved to be positive nowadays.

Tuesday, 22 February 2011 11:37

Global music - An interview with Per Ekedahl

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Jeunesses Musicales International (JMI) is the world's largest music NGO. Founded in Brussels in 1946, it has member organisations in 45 countries of the world and aims to use "the power of music to bridge social, geographical, racial and economic divides and create a platform for intercultural dialogue". Apart from its flagships World Youth Orchestra and World Youth Choir, it runs projects such as Ethno, a global summer camp for folk music taking place in various European countries and even Uganda. JMI President Per Ekedahl has just presented his organisation at the ICD.

ICD: Mr. Ekedahl, how does music foster understanding and peace?

PE: I'm sorry that one of the problems of our organisation is that we are bad at proving what we achieve. After 15 years of funding the Swedish Ethno camps, the Swedish Institute all of a sudden asked us, so, what did you achieve? And I bit my lip and thought: oops...

I personally am totally convinced. Just to give you an example: there was a photo session with Ethno Sweden participants from all over the world, and the photographers wanted to take a picture with all of them waving their national flags. And many refused. They did not want to represent their countries, they felt they had come for the music. In the end there were about 85 musicians and 15 flags on the photo. It is crucial not to impose a diplomatic mission on the musicians.

Sunday, 20 February 2011 09:30

Musica franca?

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„The Role of Music in Building the EU“ is a title that promises a lot.

Erna Hennicot-Schoepges’ lecture „The language of art and music“ doesn’t keep it. In fact the 69 year old pianist, educated in Brussels, Paris, Salzburg and Luxembourg, knows both sides: from 1999–2004 she was minister of culture, higher education, research and public works in Luxembourg, and then worked as a member of the European Parliament (2004-9). But in her speech the good and noble ideals suffer from insufficient and biased argumentation.

Yes! – music is a wonderful thing. Yes! - there is scientific proof that music, more directly than other forms of arts or communication, affects the brain’s emotional centre. Yes! - there have been studies in Berlin elementary schools suggesting a positive correlation between instrumental music education, intelligence and social competence. And of course one cannot appreciate enough a highly decorated (retired) politician vouching not only for better music education in general, but also for the delicate imparting of contemporary classical music. But does that really suffice to emphatically declare music is a language that all mankind understands, all mankind is unified by and that it is the language that a multilingual and fragmented EU can be built on?

Wednesday, 16 February 2011 16:20

Karl-Erik Norrman and the European project

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From 14th till 20th of February E&M author Christian Diemer will be one of about 60 selected international participants attending the academy "Arts as Cultural Diplomacy" at the Institute for Cultural Diplomacy (ICD) in Berlin.

The ICD is a cool thing. Mark C. Donfried, its founder and director, is a cool guy. The participants, having travelled to Berlin from all over the world (including Nigeria, Mexico and Australia), must be a cool group. But is Karl-Erik Norrman a cool guy as well? The Swedish ex-ambassador to Spain is the second speaker at the prestigious gathering's opening ceremony.

Talking about Sweden, he is reserved and a bit ignorant. The Swedish myths: the bizarre notion of Bergmanesque melancholy, ABBA, H&M, and IKEA. The Swedish facts: a rich country with a formidable social welfare system. A country that has lived 500 years of history without occupation (though occupying others) and 200 years without war. Why would such a country need cultural diplomacy to sell itself to the rest of the world? Sweden sells just as it is!

Talking about Europe, Mr. Norrman becomes more ambitious. In response to the criticism that Europe is merely an economic and political project run by technocrats and bureaucrats in Brussels, the retired ambassador established the European Cultural Parliament. Following the message of the late violinist Sir Yehudi Menuhin that "the artists need a parliament", by now 160 musicians, painters, philosophers, sculptors etc from over 43 (!) European countries are giving their input on what Europe could become beyond politics and economy. Members are eligible from countries such as Azerbaijan or Iceland. "It almost breaks my heart to say that Canada is not a European country, when we have so much in common with them as well!"

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