World Cultural Summit
WHEN I LEARNED that I might have the opportunity to attend the first World Cultural Summit In Versailles, France, I was quite frankly so thrilled that I could hardly think of anything else. The purpose of the conference, held under the patronage of Jacques Chirac, President of the French Republic, and Koïshiro Matsuura, Director General of UNESCO, and supported by private businesses, was to look at the effects the impact of a global economy has on culture and civilization. Chen Chi (profiled in ART TIMES July, 1989) and the subject of last month's Peek and Piques!) had been asked by Hubert Astier, President of the Chateau de Versailles, to have a retrospective exhibition of his work at Versailles during the conference. I was excited when I saw the program and genuinely awed by the idea of spending 3 days with 150-200 representatives from 50 countries which included ministers of culture, ambassadors, and members of the business, political and spiritual communities from all continents. Logistically it was difficult to leave my office in the middle of the month but how could I not go?
We met in the National Parliament Chamber at the Chateau of Versailles, one of the world's great historic sites and where the treaties ending both the American Revolutionary War and the First World War were signed. This chamber is still used today when the French Congress convenes for the sole purpose of approving a bill to amend the constitution. Young women, from a college in Paris helped out at the conference, giving directions, serving refreshments (no coffee though we had announced coffee breaks!), distributing earphones and handouts for the various speakers. They were very courteous, always with a smile and willingness to help in any way, and did a good job of making me feel welcome. The Summit began with a greeting from Hubert Astier and then formal remarks by Adrien Gouteyron, VP of the Senate, and Yves Cochet, VP of the National Assembly. The structure of the Summit each day included three different panels of experts who addressed their particular positions, then responded to questions or comments from the floor and each night we were wined, dined and entertained in a manner to which I would love to become accustomed.
Day One: The World in Communication. The first panel dealt with the Internet and was chaired by John Murdock, President of Maryland Information Technology Center. Today, he said, we have the ability to digitize information, transmit it globally, store it, and have telecommunication around the world. The point is to have the wisdom to make the best use of this technology and to develop it intelligently. Individuals participating in this panel were those involved in the fields of linguistics, telecommunications and the internet.
Pulling together some of what was said: The US, for a variety of reasons, has dominated the internet. It seems to be more the nature of the American, as we are primarily a nation of immigrants, to provide service, to pioneer and to incorporate all components of the internet. It was pointed out that there is a great need to widen the linguistics/language of the internet to make sites available in many languages (apparently, current translation programs are poor and don't take into consideration the culture of individual countries and people, e.g. in writing the date or in ways to approach potential buyers).
The next session dealt with Intellectual Property rights. This is a huge issue and the expertslawyers, CEO's of the media industry, heads of unions of music and the publishing worldexpressed their different points of view as well as their concern that it's difficult to make rules when technology is changing so quickly. What is important, they said, is to establish who is to be responsible and what are they to be responsible for?
Cultural Uniformity and Diversity was the next panels topic after a sumptuous buffet lunch (a pleasant intermission repeated each day which gave us more time to interact with one another) in a room that one entered from the gardens. Members of this panel included film directors, writers, a professor, chaplain, and the Mayor of Versailles. The values and drawbacks of globalization were discussed as was its inevitability. Many felt that economics prevails and therefore eliminates much cultural diversity amongst people. Languages and cultures are disappearing each year. In providing economic aid and development, it is critical to keep the culture in mind. Examples were given of how help is not always helpful. Speakers from both Africa and Rumania spoke about the breakdown of their culture/spirit when their country and people had been taken over. Others said that globalization is just another way the world is being Westernized and several at this conference expressed resentment at what they felt was the overbearing presence on the world by the United States. Later in the day this was responded to by an American who said that bashing the United States was not the way to solve the problems within their country; he also addressed the claim that the US does not permit foreign films to be shown in the US. He was followed by a member of the clergy living in Paris who expressed the view that young people under the age of twenty-five represent a different culture unto themselves. They believe that distribution and consumption governs the world and that competition has the final word. It was also expressed that culture is the root that links people to their history and it is critical to preserve these connections.
Chen Chi spoke towards the end of the afternoon panels and shared his feelings about globalization. It is his belief that art can and doesbring all peoples together. It is his concern that the resources being spent on armaments, which can only destroy mankind, could bring great ease to the hunger and plight of peoples in the world. Everyone was invited to see his retrospective exhibition organized by Elizabeth Wang of the Elizabeth Wang Gallery, NYC, in the Galerie d'exposition de la Grande Ecurie. It was a wonderful opening with people expressing their joy and pleasure with the paintings. Nearly 50 paintings had been shipped to Versailles for this retrospective and a catalogue as well as a print of one of Chen Chi's scroll paintings were offered as gifts to each visitor. It was a particular tribute to Chen Chi when the Ambassador of China to France spoke so highly of the man and his paintings as did Hubert Astier, President of the Chateau de Versailles.
That evening we were all invited to dinner at the town hall by the Mayor of Versailles. For me it was like a scene from a movie. As each guest approached the long staircase leading to the entrance, guards both on the steps and on horseback saluted. When I got to the entrance I introduced myself to Mayor Etienne Pinte and his wife. Trumpets sounded as I entered the foyer before walking up a wide stairway and then into the reception room. After Champagne and hors doeuvres, we entered a room glittering with light from mirrors and chandeliers rich in the reflections of gold rococo on the walls and ceilings. Dinner was wonderful, the new people I met delightful, and my head was already swimming with new ideas and impressions as the first day of the conference ended.
Day two dealt with the governance of the world, a definition of the Nation State, a look at the new powers which included the criminal underworld and world mega corporations, and values in the world. As I approached the National Parliament I could see much more security and many more black cars with drivers standing around than I'd seen before. Members of the first panel of the day included the Interior Minister of France, US Ambassador to France as well as several other Ambassadors, Ministers, Presidents of Foundations and Institutes concerning themselves with world issues. (Predominantly men, with women making up the majority of Ministers of Culture). Generally throughout the day I observed much more political posturing and positioning of personal agendas. It was difficult to fully grasp all that was being said for a number of reasons including the fact that most of the speakers were speaking French and I found the simultaneous translations difficult to follow. One of the viewpoints I did hear is the need for a separate national instrument to give voice to culture as we have for politics and economy. Generally the feeling was that we need to take stock of what is not working and to maintain the dignity and identity of the individual.
In the evening the group had been invited to the Palace of Luxembourg in Paris for cocktails with the President of the French Senate. Buses took us into Paris. What a gorgeous city! We drove along the Seine, past the Eiffel Tower, the little Statue of Liberty that stands in the Seine, and then saw the Place de La Concorde. C'est magnifique! I decided that it would not be too much longer before another trip to France was in order. It turned out that our host was not home it was never clear to me why he couldn't be there but we drank champagne and had a good time continuing to meet and exchange thoughts amongst ourselves.
The Last day of the Summit had only two panels. Sustaining environmental development was discussed by scientists, researchers, heads of preservation groups and the chief of the Amazonian tribe Kayapo who was looking for support for his institute in Brazil. There didn't seem to be any disagreement of the importance of preserving our environment while developing its resources. The second panel dealing with spirituality, religion, philosophy and mysticism included speakers that told us about the major religions of the world: Christianity, Judaism, Islam, and Buddhism. A mystic view was heard (keep taking away till there is nothingness) as was the nature of artistic spirituality and endurance of art. We must change the paradigm from competition to cooperation your problem is mine, your hunger is mine.
The Summit was brought to an end with a summing up by Hubert Astier and then a speech by Koïshiro Matsuura, General Director of UNESCO. After turning in my headphones for the last time, I joined the English tour of the Palace. What a treat to have such a private tour which under other circumstances could have lasted for hoursbut we had to find our way back to our hotels to get ready for the grand finale at the Palace a premiere performance of Maurice Béjart's ballet "The Infant King," and then dinner at the Orangerie.
The Ballet was held in the Royal Opera, built, as was most of Versailles by Louis XIV. Just being in this little theater is thrilling and then to see such an exciting ballet! It was the story, told in voice and dance, of the three Kings that lived at Versailles and, along with the costuming and sets, done in a mix of both classic and contemporary styles. I felt that it was a brilliant concept and executed by a fabulously talented and well-trained company. Bravo Monsieur Béjart! And then off to what seemed to be a state dinner in the Orangerie. Perhaps 500 people (the others that joined our group included Madame Chirac, Mrs. Arafat, Ambassadors and other dignitaries I recognized a few faces, including the Mayor from our dinner at the Town Hall) sat at Bacchus table identified by names rather than numbers. I sat with the Cultural Attaché to France from the US, a few attendees of the Summit, and political and business leaders from Paris. More Champagne, delicious wines, food, and exciting connections. After the meal we were treated to fireworks and then by 3am the party was over.
The meeting of other people genuinely concerned about humanity and their culture was for me what this conference was all about. There were some people with whom I could exchange only a few words yet those few words and the smiles and gentle sharing touched deeper than anything I heard throughout the panels. The seeds of lasting friendships and impressions were sown during these 3 days and I believe it is here where continued understanding, tolerance, acceptance and exchanges truly take place. I know that we have much to work on in understanding another's culture as we strive together for a healthy environment where humanity lives in harmony yet allows for cultural diversities. To do this we must remain open to one another, to encourage that which is good and healthy for ourselves and our environment, to be diligent against evil and the enticement of greed. It was truly an honor to be part of this first World Cultural Summit and I hope to be part of such gatherings in the future.