Who promotes Greenland’s culture worldwide?

Euskara. Kultura. Mundura.

2019-04-16

We interviewed Etxepare Basque Institute’s director, Irene Larraza, about her visit to AIR Wro Talks in Wroclaw and the conclusions drawn from her participation.

We interviewed Etxepare Basque Institute’s director, Irene Larraza, about her visit to AIR Wro Talks in Wroclaw and the conclusions drawn from her participation.

San Sebastián has a good relationship with Wroclaw (Poland), since they both were European Capitals of Culture in 2016. A good example of this are the AIR Wro artistic residencies that the Etxepare Basque Institute promotes in the Polish city, where several visual and plastic artists develop a project for a specific period of time. But since 2017 the AIR Wro programme has been organising another important event: the AIR Wro Talks international cultural conference, held this year on March 28th and 29th. Etxepare Basque Institute director Irene Larraza was in Wroclaw to take part in a roundtable on the role and tasks of Cultural Institutes, so we talked to her about it.

This is not Etxepare’s first time at AIR Wro Talks; but this year’s topic (The mobility of cultures and the ways of presenting them worldwide) made Etxepare’s presence more relevant than on previous occasions. “There are many cultural institutes in Europe, but ours was the only one at the event that, while promoting a culture and a language, didn’t represent a State,” said Larraza. “Our relationship with Wroclaw has brought understanding and a curiosity about each other, and thought it was a good idea to bring our model to the talks. It was a very enriching experience for us, since we learned from other models,” she pointed out.

The director of Etxepare participated in a roundtable called Who promotes Greenland? The Role and Tasks of National Institutes of Culture in the 21st Century, along with representatives from the Danish Cultural Institute and the Austrian Culture Forum in Warsaw. “The title was meant to ruffle feathers: Greenland, a vast territory, has no cultural entity to promotes their identity worldwide and, for that reason, it is not very well known by any of us,” Larraza explained. “The goal of the conversation was to talk about the importance of cultural institutes, since they are what that raise the international profile of a territory’s cultural identity, where large or small.”

The roundtable began by each participant giving a short introduction of their institute. They soon saw that, although they were few in number, each one was different. “The Austrian Culture Forum, for instance, only works in promoting culture, not language,” said Larraza. “The Danish Cultural Institute, on the other hand, promotes the country’s culture and language but also has a more social function: to seek cooperation between different cultures.” This task was very interesting for the representative of Etxepare Basque Institute: “We always think that the main task of cultures is to present themselves to the world; but instead of being unilateral, the aim must be mutual, seeking cooperation with other cultures. Regardless, I think that a territory should not start thinking about cooperation until it has properly promoted itself to the world and its culture is much stronger worldwide. We still have a lot of work to do on visibility,” she added.

Indeed, the Etxepare Basque Institute has a long road ahead in terms of promoting Basque culture and language. “The size of our region and the originality of our language makes us exotic to foreign eyes; that, at least, is an important characteristic. But we must not base our strength only on tradition. We must demonstrate that we are strong people today, and that our language is alive and active,” she insisted.

Larraza believes that the size of our territory often generates a false humility and negativity that can be harmful to us. To illustrate her point, she told an anecdote that happened to Basque writer Kirmen Uribe on a visit to Aston University in Birmingham. “He was discussing the small size of the Basque Country when an English professor asked him how many Maoris he thought existed in the world. Uribe answered quickly, saying there had to be many, since everyone knows about their culture, the haka dance, and can point to Maori territory on a map. ‘Well,’ the professor answered, ‘there are under half a million, so you can’t complain, because there are a lot more of you. You just need greater visibility in the world.’”

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