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Pre-Summit Briefing

The production, transmission and consumption of media have changed radically within our lifetimes. Swiftly advancing technologies, the rise of social media and rapidly shifting business models have crumbled the divide between journalist and audience. In the media sessions, programmed by The Economist Events, our expert speakers will consider where responsibility lies between content producers, aggregators and consumers of media. Over the four days of the Culture Summit 2019, the panellists will debate the following questions: where is the boundary between free speech, censorship and civic responsibility? How should media outlets responsibly cover the post-truth politician? And, how can media platforms remain open for user content without allowing themselves to be hijacked by malicious actors?

The rise of media-savvy populist politicians, activists and commentators who are adept at generating coverage of themselves and targeting social media to broadcast their comments to a wider audience is leading to a rethink. Where is the balance between providing a platform and interrogating the veracity of their views? Business models for media outlets will also be considered, and with a wave of mass-layoffs at the original “new media” companies what lies in store for business models for media companies old and new in the information age?

While much coverage of the media focuses on how people are retreating into echo chambers where they can have their own opinions repeated back to them, what are the positive impacts of the media? How does the media exert soft power and change attitudes? The media stream will also look forward into how continuing technological change will enable new forms of journalism and enhance old ones. How can tools such as AI scanning social media for breaking news, and software to grapple with big data sets enable new forms of journalism or ways of telling stories? Have news sharing tools exacerbated polarisation of the discourse or merely made us more aware of it? More interestingly, what can be done to combat the problem?

Across the globe, new museums focusing on contemporary art are opening at an unprecedented rate, and established museums are grappling with how to keep pace with a rapidly changing world. Exploring the future of museums has never been more urgent—or more poised for impact. The meteoric rise of digital technology, an evolving definition of culture, and shifting expectations from new audiences demand a reexamination of how museums, seen as stewards, conveners, and seekers, can evolve with the needs and pace of the 21st century.

The scope of these dramatic shifts can perhaps fall under two essential questions: What exactly are the influences shaping the next generation of global art museums? And how can museums thoughtfully engage with the diversity arising from new art histories, while honoring the legacy of the past? These inquiries are at the heart of three panel discussions organized by the Guggenheim Museum, which will invite conversation, idea exchange, and debate between some of today’s leading museum directors, curators, artists, and cultural influencers.

In the first panel, artists Emeka Ogboh and Kudo Takashi join museum digital strategists Lizzy Jongma (formerly of Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam) and Martin Payne (The British Museum) to debate what role technology plays in the museum setting from the unique perspectives of visitors and artists. Moderated by Guggenheim curator Troy Therrien, this discussion explores digital tactics that museums are undertaking to enhance the visitor experience, while staying responsive to artists working with and even inventing new media technologies.

Artists often draw freely from multiple time periods as sources of creative inspiration or as topics of radical critique, but the rigid periodization of history as displayed in our museums makes mixing up temporalities an intellectual taboo. Antonia Carver, Director, Art Jameel; Wanda Nanibush, Curator of Indigenous Art, Art Gallery of Ontario; and artists Shahzia Sikander and Subodh Gupta endeavor to break down this enduring museum tradition: organizing art, objects, and cultures through time-based categories and distinct historical periods. This timely conversation, moderated by Guggenheim senior curator Alexandra Munroe, proposes alternate ways to see the cultural past through the lens of the present, and explores how different approaches towards chronological time can activate museum galleries into more lively and curious spaces.

To conclude the Museums sessions, Guggenheim director Richard Armstrong moderates a conversation amongst leading museum directors who reflect on the boom of new contemporary art museums and their emerging identities as visionary social spaces for education, entertainment and enlightenment. Many of these new international museums are opening in societies under great transition and with relatively little exposure to contemporary art institutions. Aaron Seeto, Director, Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art in Nusantara (MACAN); Suhanya Raffel, Director, M+; Madeleine Grynsztejn, Director, Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago; Manal Ataya, Director General, Sharjah Museums Authority; and Kulapat Yantrasast, Architect, wHY, dissect the forces shaping these new museums, examine how emerging local, global, young and digitally-native publics are impacting today’s museum culture, and what effect these changes could and should have on museum experiences.

Culture Summit Abu Dhabi offers a timely opportunity for these vital conversations about museums, which can no longer be seen solely as platforms for dialogue and understanding, but as catalysts for transformative ideas and experiences. Anchored by the Guggenheim’s founding belief that art has the ability transcend the quotidian and therefore transform society, each conversation aims to push the boundaries of convention to offer a space for an intellectual collision that we hope will lead to meaningful action.

In response to the broad idea of Cultural Responsibility, the Royal Academy of Arts is programming four panel discussions examining a range of topics that are of critical importance in a variety of ways across the globe. Each will be framed as a question or series of questions and be debated by distinguished artists, architects, curators, museum directors, cultural producers and commentators.

The first session will explore the idea of ‘Popularity versus Populism”. All major museums and many smaller ones aspire to engage with mass audiences and on one level this is admirable but why should art appeal to all? Also, under consideration is the contentious notion of elitism and the denigration of expertise in mass culture alongside the question as to whether or not liberal institutions are too sensitive to criticism. Debating this will be Lars Nittve, the Swedish former director of Tate Modern in London, the Moderna Museet in Stockholm and M+ in Hong Kong; Munira Mirza, one-time deputy-Mayor of London with a brief for the city’s cultural life, and Farooq Chaudhry, co-founder of the Akram Khan Dance Company.

Globalised visual culture is the subject of the second session and the question being posed is whether or not it is too dominant an idea to the detriment of local and regional traditions. There is obviously a paradox potentially at play here with museums and galleries seeking to adopt increasingly expansive approaches to their collections and exhibition programmes and to challenge the dominance of various narratives, particularly the traditional history of Western art. But is there is an increasing danger that multi-nationalism actually leads to a universal blandness? Among those wrestling with these issues will be Megan Tamati-Quennell from Te Papa in Wellington, New Zealand and Elana Brundyn from the Norval Foundation just outside Cape Town, South Africa.

The role of art in the public domain and its relationship with architecture is the third topic up for discussion. Public art has a long tradition but the notion of permanent public memorials have been increasingly questioned in recent years as has the status of Public Art as a category apart not to mention the dangers of it being mere civic decoration. Artists Oliver Beer and Sir Michael Craig-Martin, pioneers of new forms of art in public places, go head to head with architect Farshid Moussavi, whose impressive portfolio includes the landmark building for the Museum of Contemporary Art in Cleveland, USA.

Finally, the critical and complex issue of Freedom of Expression which the European Human Rights Act maintains is for everyone. But outside the specific legal frameworks in which individuals should operate, what are the responsibilities of artists, curators and writers? Put another way, how much should we defend the right to offend and is there a universal moral code that should govern our attitudes towards censorship or is context always the key?
Among those discussing these questions will be artist Monica Narula, from the RAQS media collective in Delhi, the Palestinian artist and writer Khaled Hourani and Zelfira Tregulova, director of the Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow.

Conceived and organized in partnership with UNESCO, the “Heritage and Emergencies” stream of the Culture Summit will explore, through four separate but related sessions, the challenges and opportunities associated with the safeguarding of cultural heritage in emergency situations, including both armed conflict and disasters. This has become recently a much-debated topic, notably because of the deliberate destruction of monuments and sites by terrorist organizations, and the devastating impacts of wars and natural disasters on cultural heritage. Interest in this question has been aroused well beyond the cultural domain, as the connections between culture and heritage, on one hand, and security and humanitarian issues, on the other hand, were becoming apparent. In this context, heritage can be understood both as a fragile asset to be protected and as a precious resource to strengthen resilience and foster the recovery of affected populations.

The first introductory session, “Why is Heritage a Priority in Crises?” will discuss the reasons why heritage should be given consideration as part of humanitarian response and peacebuilding strategies, through the experience of cultural experts and practitioners. Moderated by Lazare Eloundou, UNESCO Director for Culture and Emergencies, the session will also provide an opportunity to learn about threats affecting heritage in Yemen, plans for the recovery of the Museum of Rio de Janeiro and the positive role that art can play in realizing cultural rights and fostering resilience in the aftermath of a trauma.

The Second session, titled “What is the Role of Heritage in Post-Crisis Recovery and Reconstruction”, will examine the place of heritage in the critical recovery stage after a war or major natural disaster, when many decisions are taken, which will have far-reaching consequences for the concerned populations. Moderated by Dr Shadia Touqan, Director of the Arab Regional Centre for World Heritage, the panellists will share concrete examples of culture-driven recovery and reconstruction initiatives, which emphasize the soft power of heritage in rebuilding the fabric of society, promote reconciliation and foster development following a crisis.

The third session will look into “How can New Technologies Support Heritage in Emergencies”. In recent years, a number of technological developments have occurred, which have revolutionized the heritage field, in particular for the documentation, study and public presentation of cultural properties. Moderated by Einar Bjorgo, Manager of UNITAR’s Operational Satellite Applications Programme (UNOSAT), the panellists will shed light on three very different applications of technology at the service of heritage in emergencies, ranging from scientific study and public awareness to access to culture and exercise of cultural rights.

The final session, “Which New Actors for Heritage in Emergencies?”, will highlight the kind of innovative partnerships that the heritage sector will need in the future if it wishes to be integrated into humanitarian, security and peacebuilding operations in emergencies. Moderated by Alessandra Borchi, Coordinator of the UNESCO Heritage Emergency Fund, the session will present some of the most relevant experiences so far, placing special focus on new initiatives to mobilize resources to protect heritage in armed conflict, as well as to strengthen the awareness and capacities of parties to those conflicts, including the militaries.

Lazare Eloundou, Director for Culture and Emergencies, UNESCO

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