Interview with Dr. Samah Daakour, Prof. Liliane Ghosn-Sweydane and Prof. Wolfgang Schneider.
This interview was conducted within the Arab-German Young Researchers Exchange: Cultural Policy and Cultural Mediation in Transforming Societies that took place from the 18th-24th October 2018 in Beirut. The Research Atelier was organized by the UNESCO-Chair in Cultural Policy for the Arts in Development at the University of Hildesheim in cooperation with the Faculté des Lettres et des Sciences Humaines at the Université Libanaise Beirut and funded by the DAAD German-Arab Transformation Partnership.
About the cooperation partners
Professor Wolfgang Schneider is the founding director of the Deparment of Cultural Policy at the University of Hildesheim. He holds the UNESCO Chair in Cultural Policy for the Arts in Development at the University of Hildesheim. The UNESCO Chair acts as the academic contribution to the aims of the UNESCO. The work of UNESCO Chairs includes international cooperation, particularly in North-South, North-South-South development as well as the promotion of intercultural dialogue. UNESCO Chairs contribute to an equal distribution and application of knowledge to enhance sustainable development. Liliane Ghosn-Sweydane is Professor of French and Francophone Literature in the Faculty of Letters of the Lebanese University. She is a member of the High Commission for Curricula and Programs of the Lebanese University since 2005, and founder of the Professional Master in Cultural Mediation of which she has been responsible since its creation in 2012 until 2017. Dr. Samah Daakour is Professor for French Literature at the Lebanese University. She is the current coordinator of the master’s in Professional Cultural Mediation at the Lebanese University.
How was the cooperation between the Lebanese University and the University of Hildesheim established?
Prof. Ghosn-Sweydane: We met at a Research Atelier at Aix Marseille. We discussed the possibility of a collaborative Research Atelier, that could take place in Beirut. Afterwards, we convinced our university president to support this initiative. Now we are here. Currently this adressed as a one-time event, but we hope that it will turn into a lasting academic cooperation.
Prof. Schneider: Maybe I can add, that Hildesheim University is within the cultural studies very much dedicated to the practice of arts and through our UNESCO Chair in Cultural Policy for the Arts in Development. We are extremely interested in international relationships because we are aware that we are not alone in the world and scientific community. We already have established a long-term partnership with a double degree in the M.A. and PhD program with our colleagues in Aix Marseille which is supported by the German-French University. Naturally, the next step for us was to look beyond Europe. We saw that there is this wonderful opportunity to study Professional Cultural Mediation at the Lebanese University. For us it is important to talk about the curriculum and research, at the same time we aim to organize platforms for the next generations, for the students to bring in new ideas of teaching, new ideas for their jobs in the cultural landscape and academic development. A transnational event as this Research Atelier is very important to gain transnational experience which will support our students with all their endeavors.
How was the master’s in Professional Cultural Mediation established and what were the challenges in the process of establishing this master’s?
Dr. Daakour: It was the idea of Prof Ghosn-Sweydane. We started out with a curiosity on the concept of mediation, because it was a completely new concept to us here in Lebanon. Prof. Ghosn-Sweydane gave us first insights and from there it was a process of convincing the University to allow us to establish this program, until now we are still facing difficulties because the university is not entirely convinced about the relevance of this program. We worked with several French Universities in the development of this master such as Sorbonne Nouvelle (Paris-3) and Stendhal University-Grenoble. Prof. Ghosn-Sweydane and I traveled to colloquiums in France with the help of research grants to devise this master program. Our main interest was to see how the French universities addressed teaching mediation, what we could take from it and how to develop our own approach. The program ever since has been under reform because we are adapting to the needs of our students here in Lebanon and the academic as well as societal relevance of our program.
Prof. Ghosn-Sweydane: We had six seminars with professors from Stendhal University-Grenoble and Paris-3-Sorbonne Nouvelle separately to discuss cultural issues and adapt a new perspective on cultural mediation, because initially our background in this faculty was in literature so we needed to adapt.
We organized also colloquiums, such as the colloquium on democratization and the role of culture in democratization with our cooperation partners from Stendhal University-Grenoble in 2016, and one titled Combats pour la culture/ combats de la culture, which took place in 2017 with our partners of Aix-Marseille-University.
Final question: How can Research Ateliers and seminars like this one contribute to foster transcultural cooperation and learning processes in cultural policy?
Prof. Schneider: We are very pleased to work together with the Lebanese University here in Beirut. There are two central concepts that guide the answer to your question, the first one being on research and discourse, we are coming together in this Atelier to exchange our research results and to keep each other informed about our research including novel approaches from our PhD students. Within this seminar we get the possibility to exchange ideas and build networks with young researchers.
Secondly, our interest is to create tangible approaches to the cultural landscape and cultural policy, therefore, we brought in all kinds of actors including artists, arts institutions and civil society representatives in the field of art education as well as researchers. So, we combine theory and practice in this Atelier. We hope that our findings can contribute to the work by the new generation of civil society, artists and young activists that are present here.
What we have in common is the appreciation of cultural diversity as our driving philosophy behind the concept of cultural mediation. We all believe in the fundamental human right of freedom of cultural expression. Yet, we have different ways to approach cultural mediation and we can learn from each other on how to do this.
Dr. Daakour: It’s the first time that we are working with a German university, previously we have collaborated closely with French universities. We were very familiar with the research landscape in France. Now this research Atelier provides our students and staff with the opportunity to see what is happening in the field of cultural policy and cultural policy research in Germany. So, to us, this is very valuable. Furthermore, to see what is going on in other countries such as Tunisia and Morocco or Iraq is also extremely rewarding because we can see how other approaches to cultural policy and cultural mediation are shaped. It brings in new rich perspectives and fosters a process of learning for all participants.
Prof. Ghosn-Sweydane: This research atelier functions as a way of brainstorming of concepts and different interpretations of these concepts. These new insights bring progress also on the level of different interpretations and open new ways of thinking and teaching of these concepts.
My second point is that our students are a new generation of researchers and young professionals - they are the future - so it’s very important for them to see that they are not alone. Events like this one provide them with the possibility to network, to exchange ideas.
Finally, our Master program is still relatively new, and we face challenges within the Lebanese University. To bring so many different researchers and students to Beirut, and our efforts to establish a strong cooperation with universities from abroad such as the University of Hildesheim, is our way of showing relevance to the governing board of the university. It provides our students with the possibility to continue their studies and to create a lasting impact through cultural mediation. We are convinced that culture can bring about positive change, but it’s still a big challenge.
Interview edited for purposes of improved readability.