Cultural Diplomacy: Cases from Poland
Cultural Diplomacy: Cases from Poland
My name is Krzysztof Olendzki and I have been managing the team of Adam Mickiewicz Institute since 2016. I have been working for this cultural institution for a much longer time, though.

My professional experiences have allowed me to perceive cultural diplomacy from various perspectives of not only the director of the institution that has been promoting Poland through culture for the last 20 years, but also the director of the Polish Institute, director of the public and cultural diplomacy and development aid department in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, where culture as part of human capital plays a significant role, the head of the political department of the embassy, consul general, vice-minister of culture, and, last but not least, the ambassador. 

Since I took office at Adam Mickiewicz Institute, my key objective has been to encourage international artists to draw inspiration from Polish culture. Over the last three years of my work for the Institute, numerous initiatives have been completed including VR projects inspired by Tadeusz Kantor and Polish Radio Experimental Studio, new musical compositions, performances of the iconic Wooster Group, performance of the London-based Rambert Dance Theater staged to Witold Lutosławski’s music. Currently, Mieczysław Wajberg’s opera “The Passenger” is being staged at yet another opera house and several artists from the American musical scene are working on musicals about Ignacy Jan Paderewski. These events serve as examples of how to successfully encourage international artists to draw inspiration from Polish culture. Promoting Poland as a source of inspiration is the very essence of daily activities carried out by, among others, the Polska Music programme whose mission is to initiate performances of Polish music by such international artists as BBC Symphony Orchestra, Chicago Symphony Orchestra, London Philharmonic Orchestra, London Symphony Orchestra, and Los Angeles Philharmonic.

Inspiration is as crucial in the work of Adam Mickiewicz Institute as it is in cultural diplomacy, and I’m saying this not only as a manager of culture but also an experienced diplomat. Following this principle, along with my team I have set programming directions for the biggest challenge we have risen to. The Ministry of Culture and National Heritage has entrusted Adam Mickiewicz Institute with the International Programme of the Multi-annual Programme “Niepodległa,” the biggest initiative promoting Polish culture since 1989. Over the period of four years more than 400 cultural projects will have been carried out within the framework of the Institute’s programme, POLSKA 100. Their goal is to strengthen the image of Poland as a country with rich traditions and modern culture which continues to draw inspirations from the past, a country which makes an important part of the common European identity. Under the motto “Inspired by the past, we create the future,” we are running a cultural programme in over 20 countries in Europe (with a special focus on Central Europe), Asia, and major metropolitan areas in the USA. Events organized by Adam Mickiewicz Institute in cooperation with international partners have attracted nearly 2 million visitors, only in the first year of the project, whereas online projects have reached to another 6 million.

Polish music has been performed at, among others, Hong Kong Arts Festival, where the concerts were accompanied by live animations by Mariusz Wilczyński; the Prague Spring International Music Festival; the Bridging Europe Festival in Budapest with the opening performance by Sinfonia Varsovia and a renowned pianist, Piotr Anderszewski; BBC Proms in London, where the European Union Youth Orchestra under the baton Gianandrea Noseda performed Agata Zubel’s composition “Fireworks”. Agata Zubel has been awarded, among other prizes, the European Composer Award for her work commissioned to mark the occasion of 100th anniversary of Poland regaining independence. Adam Mickiewicz Institute has commissioned many more works to celebrate this special anniversary, among them, a new work by Paweł Szymański “Fourteen Points. Woodrow Wilson Overture” performed by the BBC Symphony Orchestra in Barbican Centre, London. Finns have funded the exceptional Oodi library to celebrate the centenary of their independence while our gift to mark the 100th anniversary of Poland regaining independence is a unique series of musical works by contemporary composers.

To mark the occasion of the 100th anniversary of Poland regaining independence, the recently opened Elbphilharmonie in Hamburg, already highly popular among music enthusiasts, has prepared a special programme with the focus on Poland. It was inaugurated by a concert performed by the Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Alexander Liebreich with the participation of a pianist Szymon Nehring. An important part of the series was a performance delivered by I Culture Orchestra, established and managed by the Institute. The Orchestra consists of young musicians from Poland, Ukraine, Belarus, Moldavia, Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan. Elbphilharmonie hosted as many as 13 concerts of Polish classical music and jazz organized within the Polish programme.

Another program with a special focus on Polish classical music and jazz was organized as part of the Bridging Europe Festival in Budapest.

Polish jazz had a chance to present its wide spectrum at the biggest jazz trade fair in the world – Jazzahead! in Bremen. As a partner country to the festival, Poland, organized 40 concerts and a two-week program. Designed by the best Polish designers, the Polish pavilion attracted as many as 120 representatives.

Polish art holds a prominent place in the international celebrations marking the 100th anniversary of Poland regaining independence. The classical works of avant-garde artists as well as those of contemporary visual artists from Poland have been featured in the Musee des Arts Decoratifs, neighbouring the Louvre, which held the biggest exhibition of the works by Roman Cieślewicz organized outside Poland. The show has gained widespread acclaim also at the Museum of Art in Olomouc, Czech Republic, where it made an essential part of the “” exhibition covering post-war works of over 40 Polish artists. Another comprehensive exhibition of Polish art at the turn of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century was held at the Gothenburg Museum of Art in Sweden. The Art Museum RIGA BOURSE in the capital of Latvia hosted an exhibition “Kunst. 100 years of Polish sculpture” showing a rich and impressive variety of Polish sculpture.

The works of a renowned artistic duo, Katarzyna Kobro and Władysław Strzemiński, hold a significant place in Polish art. Exhibitions of their works organized in Moderna Musset in Malmö, Centre Pompidou in Paris, and the current one on display in the Hague have attracted considerable crowds and interest. The exhibitions dedicated to their works have been the outcome of a collaboration between Adam Mickiewicz Institute and Museum of Art in Łódź. The idea behind hosting the exhibitions was to remind world viewers of the rightful place the two artists hold in the history of the 20th century art.

A comprehensive exhibition titled “ABCs of Polish Design” hosted in Berlin, as well as design week in Budapest, Bucharest, and Vienna, has been devoted to the rich traditions of Polish design. On the occasion of 100th anniversary of regaining independence, Poland was the honorary guest at 2018 Vienna Design Week. Aside “ABCs of Polish Design” Adam Mickiewicz Institute put on VR projects including “Cricoterie” dedicated to Tadeusz Kantor; a unique VR game commissioned by the Institute and designed by the Belgian studio Tale of Tales; and a VR installation “De Profundis” inspired by the works of Zdzisław Beksiński. The programme has been complemented by two exhibitions: “Symbol to logo” presenting the best Polish graphic symbols and “Design – Emergency Room” prepared by students of the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw.

Another important event organized as part of the international programme celebrating the 100th anniversary of Poland regaining independence was an exhibition illustrating the history of Polish shows in world expos titled “Back to Front. Polish Exhibitions on Show” organized in Milan during the Design Week of Triennale di Milano.

Other projects carried out within POLSKA 100 programme include new international co-productions. In the first year of the programme, the premiere of a dance performance “Polyphony” took place as the first performance in a series of “Choreographic Territories – new paths for the avant-garde” dedicated to renowned Polish female dancers and choreographers. Another project inspired by the life of factory workers and post-industrial spaces has led to the cooperation between dancers from Poland and Central Europe, and finally, staging of a performance titled “The Heart of the Factory.” Inspired by the figure of I.J.Paderewski, the long-term project “Paderewski Cycle” involving artists from the American musical scene has been progressing successfully.

In the POLSKA 100 projects implemented by Adam Mickiewicz Institute to celebrate the centenary of Poland regaining independence, the focus of attention has also been given to the field of new technologies. Accounting for as much as 25% of the carried out projects, new technologies are used by IAM as a tool for international communication for the first time on such a large scale. Among the events organized with the use of new technologies such as the already mentioned VR “Cricoterie” dedicated to Tadeusz Kantor, there are such initiatives as: an interactive installation “Paderewski Remixed” prepared by the London-based creative agency Yeast Culture; presentations by Pan Generator group, a multimedia Map of Polish Composers; a Guide to Polish Design; and a series of podcasts “Stories from the Eastern West”. Other projects have been in progress.

The modus operandi of IAM revolves around study visits, research visits, and residency programmes dedicated to managers of cultural institutions, journalists, and artists. There are on average 300 persons participating in the programmes each year. The visits are tailored to meet specific needs and interests of each guest as well as the profile of their institution. The exchange of experiences and inspirations often results in building strong foundations for future projects. The exhibition titled “Celebration,” which has just inaugurated the cultural programme celebrating the 100th anniversary of establishing Polish-Japanese diplomatic relations, serves as a great example. The programme is organized under the slogan inspired by the tea ceremony “Ichi – go, ichi e” i.e. “one meeting, one life.” Featuring works of over 20 artists and artistic groups, “Celebration” and takes place simultaneously in Poznań, Szczecin, several locations in Kyoto, including such major tourist attractions in Japan as the Nijo Castle. It is an outstanding fact that over 90% of the exhibited works have been created for the purpose of this particular exhibition. The artistic creations are the outcome of more than 20 study visits and residency programmes.

In our work we aim to share our experiences and inspire partners from Eastern Partnership countries through such tools as, among others, Culture for Local Development and I, CULTURE Orchestra.

One of the most dynamically developing youth orchestras in the world, I, CULTURE Orchestra has been bringing together young musicians from Poland and the Eastern Partnership countries. The Orchestra reflects the idea of solidarity and building bridges over cultural and political divisions. This international assembly of young musicians and their high standards of performance have gained genuine appreciation of music enthusiasts, journalists, experts, and renowned soloists. I hope that among readers of this tutorial there are music lovers who participated in one of the concerts by I, Culture Orchestra for the Orchestra has performed not only at the major concert halls and festivals but the Independence Square in Kiev as well.

The programme of the orchestra’s tour is prepared during a two-week residency in Poland when young musicians hone their skills during rehearsals run by tutors working on daily basis for: Philharmonia Orchestra, London Symphony Orchestra, Berliner Philharmoniker, and BBC Symphony Orchestra.

I, CULTURE Orchestra has completed 8 tours, delivered 45 concerts in 25 cities in the most prestigious concert halls and biggest music festivals in Europe including the Berliner Philharmoniker, Royal Festival Hall in London, Teatro Real in Madrid, Harpa Hall in Reykjavik, and at Edinburgh International Festival, Santander Music Festival and Baltic Sea Festival. During the fifth tour of the ICO organized in 2015, the Orchestra gave an exceptional performance at the Independence Square in Kiev celebrating the Independence Day of Ukraine. The event attracted over 50 thousand people and one million TV viewers. I, CULTURE Orchestra has cooperated with such world-class conductors as Andrzej Boreyko and Kirill Karabits and such acclaimed soloists as Julian Rachlin, Truls Mork, Lisa Batiashvili, Katia Buniatishvili, Nemanja Radulović, Alice Sara Ott, Simon Trpceski, and Arabella Steinbacher.

The success achieved by this project has inspired us to look for an even more effective formula of the project. I am hoping to present it in this tutorial soon.

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