100 years of the ifa

The ifa is celebrating its 100th anniversary in 2017 – how often has this institute for foreign relations reinvented itself since it was established?

The ifa is celebrating its 100th anniversary in 2017 – how often has this institute for foreign relations reinvented itself since it was established? 

It is imperative for any future-oriented institute to reinvent itself time and again, to react to current circumstances and to the global political situation that to a certain extent determines its work, and to reflect this. This is evident from the historical events and turning points that have prompted the institute to reinvent itself – be it following the seizure of power by the Nazis in 1933 or the end of the Second World War and subsequent de facto re-establishment of the organisation as an institute for foreign relations in 1949 – and from the restructuring of the ifa after the collapse of the Iron Curtain. The ifa regards itself as a learning institute and therefore continues to evolve all the time.

At which stage does it currently find itself?

The ifa serves as an art mediator and competence centre for culture and foreign policy, and shapes dialogue with and for civil society. In 2017, our anniversary year, we are looking ahead to the future: in our feature “Kulturen des Wir” (i.e. cultures of we) we plan to focus particularly on questions of diversity, community and peace. “Kulturen des Wir” is based on our conviction that communities, rather than being static, are in a state of permanent flux. This is why we need exchange, dialogue and discourse to highlight forms of diversity and allow new “we” constellations to emerge. Understanding these new constellations forms the basis for shaping the activities that will urgently need to be pursued in the future.

Cultural exchange is one of the ifa’s core activities. Despite all the efforts that are being made, people appear in many respects to be less and less open to foreign attitudes nowadays. Nationalist viewpoints are becoming increasingly popular in many countries. What is the ifa doing to combat this?

Another defined objective of the institute’s work is to provide worldwide support to civil society actors who are engaged in conflict prevention, conflict management and the promotion of democracy and peace. Establishing forums for government and civil society actors from different areas of life and training these actors is just as important in this context as empowering organisations in transition countries and conflict regions and supporting them in their peace consolidation activities. The thematic field of culture and crisis or culture and conflict constitutes one of the key aspects of cultural mediation activities. Such global thinking contradicts nationalistic and right-wing populist ways of thinking and tendencies. The dialogue approach plays an essential role here. We regard dialogue as a learning community and as an attitude. It is by nature process-oriented and open-ended and thus more difficult to achieve than “merely” implementing projects at the local level.

When is intercultural dialogue successful?

Cultural dialogue is successful when joint processes (cooperation) are created, issues are jointly developed (coproduction) and projects are not only carried out but actually have concrete outcomes. In addition, it is important for an organisation to learn from the intercultural dialogue and to change as a result. Our art programmes and exhibitions are a good illustration of this: we come up with topics in cooperation with external curators, jointly put them into practice with local partners and thus achieve a multilateral point of view on a topic – as for example is the case in our current exhibition at the ifa Gallery Berlin “In the Carpet”.

How will you be celebrating the anniversary in 2017 – and which event are you looking forward to in particular?

Personally, I am particularly looking forward to the ceremonial act that will give our anniversary the political significance that the event merits. In addition, there is a whole host of other events that are bound to be highly stimulating and inspiring – such as the Kupoge congress on domestic and foreign policy that will be exploring an important cultural policy issue, the “Kulturen des Wir” conference that will be formulating an important message for the future, namely “Ein WIR ohne IHR denken” (i.e. thinking of terms of WE rather than YOU), and the ifa’s summer party that will be celebrating the anniversary with numerous partners and friends of the ifa. What is more, we will be launching our own online magazine in January in which topical issues of community will be discussed. How do we need to understand community in order to face current challenges? What does community mean today? How do communities distinguish themselves from one another? National and international artists, academics and authors – such as the Indian essayist Pankaj Mishra and the French philosopher Jean-Luc Nancy – will have their say in the magazine. The first issue will begin with the video series “In einem Boot” (i.e. In the same boat), the first episode of which will feature the political philosopher Otfried Höffe talking about his idea of a global republic as the ideal form of global coexistence.

In the summer of this anniversary year, Martin Roth, previously the director of the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, will become the president of the ifa. What does the ifa Steering Committee hope to gain from this choice of one of the most successful cultural managers in Europe? 

Martin Roth is a person with outstanding international contacts. What is more, he thinks and acts to a large extent in an interdisciplinary manner, which will be a great enrichment when it comes to further developing and enhancing the ifa’s profile. With his innovative ideas, he will give the ifa an even clearer cultural policy role in the worldwide cultural scene as a generator of impetus for international cultural work.