Belgium is fortunate to have two ministers of culture while most European countries have one and others have none

On 22nd January, the Minister of Culture Alda Greoli and her Flemish homologue Sven Gatz were both attending an event on “The Cultural Embassy for Children” at the Boghossian Foundation in Brussels. It was an opportunity for Diplomatic World to ask them a couple of questions.

Your visit to the Boghossian Foundation is not the first common initiative carried out by the Ministers of Culture from Flanders and Federation Wallonia Brussels. How important is this cooperation and in which areas do you think it is important?

Alda Greoli: In a country as small as Belgium, cultural cooperation with one’s neighbours is essential in all the artistic domains. For this reason, right from the beginning of this parliamentary term, we have activated the cultural cooperation agreement between the French and Flemish Communities, giving it financial means and programmes for concrete action. New collaborations between cultural operators on both sides of the linguistic border have been encouraged, with a particular emphasis in 2019 on the arts destined for a young public. The project at the Boghossian Foundation is incidentally an excellent example of this type of project! We have also agreed partnerships between communities as part of the Francophone and Flemish Book Fairs, or for the Venice Biennale. We have also set up a structure of concerted political dialogue between the different entities in the country, at the centre of an ‘Inter-ministerial Culture Conference’. So yes, cultural cooperation is in my view, very important and is of benefit to our artists.

Sven Gatz: Five years ago we realised that we had various cultural agreements with our neighbours, for example The Netherlands, but were missing a partnership with the Federation Wallonia Brussels. This, along with the pleasure of combining forces, pushed us to start cooperation on the cultural level. For a long time, these types of collaborations were approached from a political point of view. Luckily this view has evolved and stances have shifted to more cooperation in the fields of concrete projects. This means that our focus has shifted to the field itself rather than political frameworks. At the end of the day, artists, cultural organisations etc. are the real key actors in this story. By providing a political basis, based on a geo-strategic interest and the will to cooperate, we hope to create a mentality in which artists and organisations consider it a given to cooperate with actors from other regions. I am pleased that five years into our cooperation we have managed to support up to 30 projects a year in which both Flemish and Walloon actors are joining forces. Equally, we are continuing such partnership with the region of Haute de France, The Netherlands, and perhaps soon with North Rhine Westphalia. 

Cultural Diplomacy is increasingly important for developing international influence. Can you explain what Belgium’s cultural diplomacy strategy is, and how your linguistic community contributes to it?

Alda Greoli: We live in an increasingly fragmented world, threatened by conflict, inward-looking attitudes and intolerance of differences. I believe deeply that culture is one of the best antidotes against populism and nationalism. Faced with fear and inward looking attitudes, we have a vital need of culture to know ourselves better, to get to know others and to recognise their equal human dignity. In the current international context, the European Union seems to me to be the best able partner to promote a model that is not founded only on interests and power relations, but also on the values that unite us. This is why it is urgent to place culture and its liberating values back into the centre of the aims of the European project, along with the promotion of peace and the well-being of the peoples who make up the Union.

Sven Gatz: Most people would agree on the importance of cultural diplomacy. Yet, I do not believe culture is going to save the world. Hence it should not be overestimated or misused. I still prefer artists and organisations to set up ties with their counterparts in various regions. I am happy to interfere or help pave the way for actors but I very much cherish the liberties of artists and organisations to work with whomever they prefer. Keeping a balance when it comes to government interference is key. In countries with stringent cultural policies, cultural diplomacy could help in opening up paths for organisations or artists.

The CEO of Fondation Boghossian, Mrs Louma Salamé’s statement about the initiative „Cultural Embassy for Children” and the circumstances of the visit of Alda Greoli and Sven Gatz.

Since the creation of the Boghossian Foundation, the development of intercultural dialogue in tolerance and respect has been at the heart of the institution’s founding missions. Not only do we propose a program that breaks down barriers between civilizations and geographical areas, in order to promote exchanges and cultural diversity, we also want to make Villa Empain an open house for all with educational projects. With the Cultural Embassy for Children we are very proud to offer schools this original and free educational offer, thanks to the support of Ministers Alda Greoli and Sven Gatz.

Thanks to our partners the Wallonia-Brussels Federation and the Flemish Government, we have welcomed 2100 students since 2017.

The Villa Empain is a hallmark of Brussels’ art world, and also a remarkable testament to the Art Deco movement. It was built at the beginning of the 1930s by architect Michel Polak under Baron Louis Empain’s initiative. The Boghossian Foundation purchased the Villa at a critical time, just as the damages it had suffered were about to become irreversible. After dedicating four years to the Villa’s complete restoration, the Boghossian Foundation opened its doors to the public in 2010.

The Cultural Embassy is aimed primarily at pupils from primary (8-12 years old) and secondary (12-16 years old) education in French and Dutch, all networks combined. Each visit includes two hours of discovery and creativity centred around a theme of the teacher’s choice, Art Deco, Roaring twenties, Art Nouveau… A creative way to discover the Villa Empain, an Art Deco jewel.

Boghossian Foundation — Villa Empain
Centre for art and dialogue between
The cultures of the East and the West
Avenue Franklin Roosevelt 67
BE-1050 Brussels
+32 2 627 52 30
Dr. Pick Keobandith