Celebrating Soft Power with the
Soft Power Destinations Awards
Written by Ngaire Blankenberg, Director (Europe) at Lord Cultural Resources.
This excerpt was originally posted in Lord's Blog in October 2016.
The world feels a bit topsy-turvy right now. Everyone is shouting. Peacock displays of hard power abound.
In the cultural sector, we seem to be doing a lot of waiting. Waiting for a new government and budget. Waiting for new leadership. Waiting for the world to change. There are some who are leading that change and being that change. The Soft Power Destinations Awards are our way to honour that.
The Soft Power Destinations Awards celebrate many of the little and big actions and decisions that often go unnoticed but are brave and thoughtful and have ripple effects in trying to make the world a better place. We wanted to recognize not just the visible markers of amazingness – the exhibitions and architecture – but also the incredible work being done ‘behind the scenes’ that gives an institution its soft power. We want to applaud destinations that are influential, not because of their price tag, but because of the way in which they relate to and are received by the communities around them.
"We celebrate not only cultural institutions
but also cities and districts who are committed to empowering communities and connecting people."
We award transparency because trust Is the foundation of soft power. Being transparent about how you are funded, how you fund, what your policies are, who sets the agenda – these are all decisions that are made to foster trust. So important, but rarely acknowledged unless when betrayed.
Accountability and transparency go hand in hand. Accountability acknowledges that cultural institutions or districts or cities do not exist in a vacuum but are a vital part of a community and a democracy. Although their legal accountability may be to a board or an individual funder, we celebrate those who acknowledge that, like others in the cultural commons or in civil society – our real accountability is to the communities we serve. We show accountability not in our words but through our actions.
We are continuously impressed by the levels of excellence in our sector expressed through the creativity and insight of programs and exhibitions, incredible architecture and exhibition design; of course we celebrate these.
Sustainability in the context of soft power destinations is about both environmental stewardship and financial and operational sustainability. It is longevity from long-term planning and resilience in the face of budget cuts and change. It is keeping in mind the needs of the future in all aspects of the destination- collections, architecture, operations…
And finally, relevance. We think culture is a central player, not a bystander in the big and small issues that are consuming us. Extremism, climate change, self-determination, separation, love, fear, apologies, peace, resilience, rebuilding… Destinations who seek to speak about, and to create a forum of conversation and activity that is relevant to what their people care about (and do it in a way that fits into the rhythms of the lives of their community) – we salute you.