Cultural diplomacy and the role of Sharjah Museums authority (SMA) in fostering intercultural and interfaith dialogue was the focus of a virtual talk by HE Manal Ataya, the Director General of SMA, for Wellesley College’s Albright Institute in the USA.
Addressing students and fellows across various disciplines in her presentation titled “Soft power: what does art have to do with international diplomacy?”, Ataya highlighted UAE’s extensive efforts in strengthening relations with countries across the world through cultural diplomacy, placing the country as the first regionally and 10th globally for the ‘influence’ indicator in the Global Soft Power Index (GSPI) 2022.
Museums in the UAE, particularly in Sharjah, have served as the main channels of cultural diplomacy as part of a larger soft power strategy to boost foreign relations.
“Art exhibitions, learning programs, discussions, and publications are gateways to enhance people’s understanding and appreciation of other cultures,” Ataya said.
She added: “As a mirror of humanity and a visual documentation of a country’s social and political life, art helps people understand themselves, as well as others, and establish tolerance and empathy.”
Ataya highlighted the importance of museum collections and their spaces as conduits to explore and demonstrate the deep historical connections of the region with other nations easily traced back many centuries.
“Museums in the UAE are spaces for discourse, open discussions, learning and inquiry. They are civic spaces that help challenge biases, nurture understanding and overall encourage social cohesion and positive community engagement,” noted Ataya.
She highlighted that empowering youth to establish a global mindset, while becoming cultural ambassadors for their countries, is another significant role museums play.
As spaces for cultural discourse, museums, Ataya said, provide young people with the tools to develop a deeper understanding of diversity, which is a key skill needed to thrive in today’s globalized environment.
Ataya’s talk was part of a three-week intensive program of discussions and training that the US-based Albright Institute hosts every January.
This year’s program, under the theme “The Diplomat’s Toolbox: Making the World Safe for Democracy,” brought together 40 Wellesley students from across departments and disciplines to engage with global affairs.
The Albright Institute for Global Affairs draws linkages between education and practice for aspiring global leaders and exemplifies and advocates for the value of diverse and multidisciplinary perspectives when addressing global challenges.