On 3 March 2020, during Asia TOPA, Asialink Arts convened a cross-sectoral conference titled Public Displays of Affection: How Can Artists Rebrand Soft Power? (PDA). The conference brought together regional participants to discuss the role and impact of Australian arts initiatives across the Asia Pacific. Diverse perspectives—from artists, academics, diplomats, arts and cultural producers to arts leaders, government arts agencies and media broadcasters—highlighted the power of arts and culture in forging people-to-people connections and strengthening regional ties.
PDA aimed to explore the relationship of arts and cultural initiatives to soft-power agendas which, along with ‘market’ and ‘audience development,’ often underpin the Australian Government’s investment in international arts activities. The title of the conference alluded to the discomfort many artists feel about the term soft power and hinted that international engagements might be re-contextualised in ways that reflect reciprocity and the more risky, visceral and organic characteristics of relationships.
The conference posed the question: How are artists across the Asia Pacific bringing new meaning to soft power?, and generated eight development horizons.
Summary of development horizons:
1. Share resources and insights to develop intercultural capability.
2. Create space for critical discussion on soft-power values to re-contextualise relations.
3. Collaborate on tackling racial injustice to highlight less-heard voices and build equality.
4. Acknowledging historical injustice towards First Nations cultures, prioritise an ethics of hospitality in relations across Australia and our Asia-Pacific neighbourhood.
5. Build ongoing conversations around cultural policy to reposition thinking on opportunities and investment.
6. Acknowledge the different accountabilities of artists and others to develop a nuanced understanding of potential roles in cultural diplomacy.
7. Connect existing networks to benefit artists engaging with the Asia Pacific.
8. Advocate for cultural diplomacy as a multifaceted process and encourage public and private support.