Converging rivers: thought, expression and possible futures at the 8th World Summit

IFACCA - International Federation of Arts Councils and Culture Agencies,
26 March 2019, Australia

Image: Delegates at the Opening Ceremony of the 8th World Summit on Arts and Culture
Credit: Muhamad Asyraf Rezali

Earlier this month, we brought together more than 430 delegates from over 80 countries in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia to address the theme Mobile Minds: Culture, Knowledge and Change, at the 8th World Summit on Arts and Culture.

Throughout the Summit, an overarching analogy with our host city was evoked: of multiple rivers converging – of thought, truth, expression, and possible futures – accompanied by the muddy waters such convergence creates. For many, this muddiness was embraced as powerful evidence that positive change is already underway. 

The 8th World Summit on Arts and Culture was the first held in a predominantly Muslim nation, and the first held in Southeast Asia since the 2nd World Summit (Singapore, 2003). This backdrop provided a powerful setting for colleagues representing government, civil society and academia, as well as urban, Indigenous, and rural perspectives to engage in deep dialogue about transformational change. More specifically, the Summit brought us together to openly interrogate how we, the international arts and culture community, are faring in these complex times; who we represent; whose voices and visions are needed; and how we can begin to put ideas into motion to advance more resilient societies moving forward.

We are currently preparing a full Summit Report which will include a detailed synthesis of the conversations that took place, intended to maintain the momentum generated and open the conversation to those who were not able attend. In the meantime, we are pleased to share a few emerging insights, which shed new light onto the kinds of principles, practices, and partnerships that can best support the changes needed at individual, institutional, and societal levels.

The 8th World Summit Discussion Paper suggests that ‘linear mindsets – and the hierarchical systems and structures they give rise to – are not fit for purpose in a non-linear world.’ Over the course of the Summit, delegates substantiated this claim, recognising that in the world there exist diverse truths and ways of being, knowing, and acting, in concert with ourselves, each other, and the planet. However, many of the existing systems and structures intended to support such pluralism are rooted in narratives that seem binary and tend to privilege a narrower worldview. On Day One, panellists in the provocation session, Actors in Change, invited the global arts and culture community to overcome this tension, to cultivate radical openness (to others); curiosity (about other ways of knowing and working); honesty (about the extent to which we create benefits congruent with the things diverse peoples value, recognising that relevance is relative); and the humility necessary to view people – particularly those marginalised by existing systems – as essential partners in equitable change. Discussions in the plenary sessions, the lepak workshop and the parallel sessions further suggested that embracing these qualities with courage, compassion, and consistency can help to generate trust to underpin genuine and lasting change.

Throughout the Summit delegates also explored how embracing such shifts can strengthen our collective capacity to realise the promise of cultural rights; model new forms of collaborative leadership; and set into motion new paradigms and actions, rooted in commitment to inclusive dialogue, ongoing learning, experimentation at different levels, maturity (both personal and political), and mutual understanding. Longview interventions – particularly the critical need for new models of intercultural dialogue, education, and listening – throughout people’s lives are perceived as highly relevant, with universal potential to advance transformative change.

Day Two of the Summit highlighted the driving forces, resources and currencies of the digital age; as well as a growing recognition that systemic challenges require systemic solutions that leverage the collective assets of the global arts and culture community and the societies we serve. This awareness points to the need for new structures that can accommodate the profound diversity that characterises 21st century life, create a more equitable playing field and leverage its evolutionary potential with intention and care. To foster conditions that enable encounters between diverse individuals and the exchange of diverse ideas and aspirations, and to allow new behaviours to emerge.

With each day of the Summit, the urgency for individuals to work in communion with a diverse range of partners and in connection to the planet intensified. This current underscored our inherent interconnectedness and suggested a preliminary set of shared values able to guide our individual and collective efforts moving forwards. Working in concert, we can transcend the deterministic view that change is beyond our control or responsibility and discover new ways to bring more vibrant futures into being. The Summit closed with an open to call for delegates and the sectors they represent to continue such partnership, exchange and cross-pollination; and an announcement that the IFACCA Board has selected Sweden to host the 9th World Summit on Arts and Culture in 2022.

We look forward to sharing the full Summit Report with you soon, which will focus on both what was discussed, as well as how our global network might advance these ideas in practice, in collaboration and in ways that celebrate the distinct character of local contexts.

We warmly thank and congratulate our co-hosts the National Department of Culture and Arts (JKKN)Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture for hosting such a successful and inspiring World Summit; and thank all the speakers, moderators, facilitators, programme advisors, rapporteurs, partners and delegates who participated and generously shared their expertise.