Last month, I participated a symposium organized by arts management students’ group, and attended a break-out session “Arts&Diplomacy.” During the session, the panel speakers from Meridian International Center and CompanyE, both non-governmental/non-profit organizations that create cultural exchange/diplomacy programs, emphasized “neutrality” as one of their strengths. I’ve become interested in this word and what it exactly means.
In fact, the website of Meridian uses this word several times:
Meridian stands at a neutral intersection of the public, private and diplomatic sectors, giving our public programs and events a depth and scope that is unique.
Provide a neutral forum for international collaboration across sectors
…by creating neutral environments where people can appreciate each other at all levels of society.
I found this study by Zatepilina, which also talks about NGOs’ “neutrality” in PD but questions it:
A few participants questioned NGOs ’neutrality or perceived neutrality. Regardless of whether or not an NGO receives government funding, once in a host country it cannot completely separate itself from its government, argued some interviewees. […] As a result, NGOs are not always seen as ‘good guys’ – that is, as independent and impartial – rather they are seen as actors in the power struggle.
That is, even if NGOs think themselves as “neutral”, that does not mean their foreign counterparts perceive in the same way, or in a favorable meaning. Rather, “neutrality” might be seen negatively, or convey the fuzziness of their position.
This reminds me of Pamment’s words: “these audiences are now considered active, and greater emphasis is placed on how they make meaning.”
“Neutrality” is much more complex than I’d thought. Since Zatepilina does not include any arts organization in his study, I wonder how “neutrality” plays differently/similarly, in cultural diplomacy context especially where they engage people through arts?