Cultural diplomacy at the heart of South Australia's largest ever trade mission to China

By / 26th of May, 2015
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THE largest trade mission in the history of South Australia has links established by the state’s cultural institutions to thank for its warm welcome in China this week.

Years of fostering cultural relationships will help the more than 250 delegates looking to do business with their 500 counterparts in South Australia’s sister province of Shandong as well as open doors for the Australian arts industry in China.

Douglas Gautier, the CEO of the Adelaide Festival Centre and the current chair of Association of Asia Pacific Performing Art Centres (AAPPAC), said that while many countries and states try and forge purely economic relationships with China, the only way to properly engage was to also have strong cultural ties.

While many countries and states try and forge purely economic relationships with China, the only way to properly engage is to also have strong cultural ties.
 

“South Australia has the best template for doing business in China,” said Gautier, adding that when speaking to China’s Deputy Minster of Culture last year she told him that “special relationships are based on politics, trade and culture.” That China would not trade with anyone that did not combine the three.

Cementing the cultural aspect has taken two years, beginning with the First Memorandum of Understanding with Shandong Province in April 2013 to have Shandong be the focus of the 2014 OzAsia Festival.

“The Shandong and South Australian governments supported over 140 artists to travel to Adelaide to stage a number of exhibitions, workshops and have the Qingdao Song and Dance Theatre perform Red Sorghum and the Shandong Acrobatic Troupe stage Dream of a Ghost Story,” said Gautier.

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Dream of a Ghost Story at the OzAsia Festival.

The success of the festival led to a second memorandum in 2014 between the Shandong Department of Culture, the Adelaide Festival Centre and the University of South Australia to bring five interns from Shandong to study and work at South Australia’s main cultural institutions this year.

To underpin the importance of arts and culture in the relationship, more than 10 heads of South Australian cultural institutions are visiting Jinan and Qingdao this week to finalise the third MoU that will see South Australia reciprocate with a cultural showcase in Shandong.

This showcase will include a smaller version of the Adelaide International Guitar Festival, featuring Slava and Lenny Grigoryan, and Aboriginal art exhibition, the presentation of South Australian film and a photography exhibition.

Gautier said that China is using the blueprint established by South Australia – fostering political and trade relationships by engaging in true cultural exchanges – as their template for dealing with other states in Australia as well as Canada and New Zealand.

The Governor of Shandong, Gou Shuqing, told an audience of more than 600 people witnessing the signing of the third cultural memorandum on Monday (25 May) that cultural understanding is an important step in doing business.

“Connecting people is the core,” Governor Gou said. “People to people connections are the core of doing business.”

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Events like OzAsia are key to South Australia's relationship with Shandong province.

Douglas Gautier is pleased that the cultural ties may lead to more business between the two places but he also says that there is a big opportunity for Australian arts and cultural institutions to benefit from the burgeoning arts administration industry in China.

“Cultural centres are exploding in China and there are many opportunities to teach the Chinese how to make money in the arts because they have no experience in it,” said Gautier.

He envisions institutions like the Adelaide Festival Centre helping with programming and ticketing technology, or Art Lab using its expertise to preserve Chinese art and cultural artifacts.

As the current chair of AAPPAC, Gautier also sees a role for Adelaide to become the hub for Asia-Australia cultural engagement.

“No other state in Australia has a relationship as deep as ours in China,” said Gautier. “This positions us well for being the gateway for Chinese productions touring Australia as well as leading Australian arts beyond Beijing and Shanghai to the regional cities.”