Culture and the Arts Program

Breathing in the Network – New Forms of Cultural Solidarity through Online Festival Engagements
Ricardo Peach, the director of the Vrystaat Kunstefees/Arts Festival/Tsa-Botjhaba, a multi-artform Afrikaans language festival in Mangaung, South AfricaRicardo Peach is the director of the Vrystaat Kunstefees/Arts Festival/Tsa-Botjhaba, a multi-artform Afrikaans language festival in Mangaung, South Africa
Breathing in the Network – New Forms of Cultural Solidarity through Online Festival Engagements
By: Ricardo Peach 

Director of the South African festival Vrystaat Kunstefees, Ricardo Peach, on how building connections between festivals will strengthen the sector as it recovers from COVID-19

Lessons from a Year in “Pandemia”
Enrique Avogadro
Lessons from a Year in “Pandemia”
By: Enrique Avogadro 

Minister of Culture of the City of Buenos Aires reflects on 2020 and the coronavirus crisis and where the Argentine capital’s culture scene goes from here

Beyond January 6, 2021 – What Future for a Festival in the Shadow of the Capitol?
Photo of Sabrina Lynn Motley placed on background featuring scene from Smithsonian Folklife Festival
Beyond January 6, 2021 – What Future for a Festival in the Shadow of the Capitol?
By: Sabrina Lynn Motley 

Director of the Smithsonian Folklife Festival considers the 54-year-old Festival’s future in the wake of the antidemocratic insurrection

What Future for Festivals?
What Future for Festivals?
By: Susanna Seidl-Fox 

“We need festivals – now more than ever!” declares Salzburg Global report on the current state and what comes next for the beleaguered sector, post-pandemic 

One hundred years ago at Schloss Leopoldskron, Max Reinhardt, Richard Strauss and Hugo von Hofmannsthal founded the world-renowned Salzburg Festival as a “Festival of Peace” to transform “the whole town into one stage.” To celebrate this centenary so inextricably linked with our home – Schloss Leopoldskron – Salzburg Global Seminar originally scheduled the program What Future for Festivals? for March 2020. However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the program was postponed to October and subsequently moved online due to continuing travel restrictions and health regulations.

Little did we know while developing the session in 2019, just how compelling and urgent the question at the center of our program – what future for festivals? – would be. Few sectors have been hit as hard by the pandemic as the cultural sector, with festivals being particularly vulnerable to the fallout from the compounded global crises – not just COVID-19, but also the climate crisis, and worldwide social and economic upheaval.

We know that festivals of all types and sizes have energized communities since time immemorial. Rooted in rituals, stories and faiths, they have embodied local and indigenous cultures and celebrated deep bonds to nature, land and the seasons. Modern festivals range from intimate experiments to gigantic mega-events, showcasing ever more diverse creative practices, from the performing, visual, and traditional arts to photography, film, literature, street arts, food, light, design and ideas-based, future-focused, eco-inspired events. Whatever their intended focus – creative innovation, activism, city branding, wellbeing, community building, pure entertainment – festivals have always spoken to fundamental human needs. They have allowed us to share in a density and intensity experience, revel in specialness beyond day-to-day routines, and join – as the German word “Festspiele” infers – in “celebration and play.”

But what is the future of festivals as we look ahead to continuing travel constraints, unpredictable limitations on public events, and looming economic crises? And, even with COVID-19 vaccines now forthcoming in some parts of the world, how will both the festival landscape and festival goers themselves have changed in the interim? How will festivals adapt and cope with these altered circumstances? These and many other questions were at the center of our online discussions in October and November 2020.

This report and the accompanying series of thought-pieces authored by several program participants (to be published weekly from February to April 2021) share reflections on the past year and insights on the challenging path ahead for festivals. While we identified even more questions than answers during our conversations, one thing is certain: we need festivals now more than ever. The coronavirus pandemic has brought into sharp relief that festivals are not just “nice to have” – we must have them to thrive and not just survive.

Human beings need to gather, to celebrate, they need their spirits to soar, to witness artistic genius, to feel chills and goosebumps run down their spines, to revel in the thrill of live performance and shared experience, to clap and be applauded, to amaze and be amazed, to laugh, shout, and be joyful together.

Without such experiences we may function, but we will not be truly alive.

Download the report as a PDF

Literary Society Moves 45th Anniversary Celebrations Online
Members of the International Society for Contemporary Literature and Theatre meet onlineMembers of the International Society for Contemporary Literature and Theatre meet online
Literary Society Moves 45th Anniversary Celebrations Online
By: Oscar Tollast 

The show goes on for the International Society for Contemporary Literature and Theatre, a network founded by Salzburg Global Fellows

Members of a literary society formed in the aftermath of a Salzburg Global Seminar program have celebrated the network’s 45th anniversary.

The International Society for Contemporary Literature and Theatre (ISCLT) moved their celebrations online this year due to the spread of COVID-19.

ISCLT was established in 1975, two years after inaugural members met at what was then known as the Salzburg Seminar, during the program, Contemporary American Literature.

ISCLT usually holds an annual two-week conference in a different country in the second half of July. This year, members planned to meet in Solin, Croatia, to celebrate its latest milestone, but organizers postponed the event until July 2021.

Marina Catalano-McVey, ISCLT executive secretary and Salzburg Global Fellow, thought of alternative ways for members to stay in touch, work together, and contribute toward a booklet celebrating the 45th anniversary.

She said, “It was amazing to see the response. We met virtually once a week during the summer and continued organizing prose and poetry reading sessions.”

“This experience has been so valuable also because we could be in contact with several members who have not been able to attend for the conference for several years for several reasons.”

“We have also organized our traditional final banquet through Zoom. The membership showed such enthusiasm and interest that I have decided to keep organizing Zoom meetings from time to time during the year.”

ISCLT is continuing to welcome new members. Catalano-McVey said, “ISCLT has proved extremely vital and creative in spite of the present dramatic situation, and we do hope we can inspire new members who may wish to join us and provide the Society with new vital energy in the future.”

For more information on ISCLT, visit or email Marina Catalano-McVey at


Pakistan’s Best Kept Secret: Lahore Museum 
Pakistan’s Best Kept Secret: Lahore Museum 
By: Anwar Akhtar – Samosa Media Director 

Multi-time Salzburg Global Fellow, Anwar Akhtar on why his film – made with Ajoka Theatre – “Pakistan’s Best Kept Secret: Lahore Museum”, has much to say about peace, for both South Asia and the UK

You can watch the film “Pakistan’s Best Kept Secret: Lahore Museum” on YouTube

The first half of 2020 has been lively, turbulent and difficult. The Coronavirus has changed our world, no matter whether you’re in India, Pakistan or the UK.

In the UK, the virus has disproportionally affected those from South Asian and Afro-Caribbean backgrounds, with arguments and theories flying in all directions about what social, economic and biological factors are in play. It will take some time to determine fully, but initial analysis points more to nurture, though nature is there as well.

On May 25, we witnessed the horror of George Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man, being killed by police in Minnesota, USA, suffocated with a policeman’s knee on his throat. That one brutal act has led to global support for the Black Lives Matter movement. 

This in turn has led to debates and protests around many deep seated issues that have risen to the surface – or in the case of Bristol slave trader Edward Colston’s statue, sunk to the bottom of the harbor. The UK must fully address – in our schools, colleges, universities, galleries and museums – what the British Empire was and why so much of that story has been airbrushed out of British history, from the scale of slavery to the savagery and theft of the East India Company that laid the foundations for so much of Britain’s wealth and power today. 

Like all countries, the UK was built by heroes and villains. For every Emmeline Pankhurst, Michael Faraday and Alan Turing, we also have our Robert Clives and Edward Colstons.

Debates about racism, class, religion and empire are not going away any time soon. What is in our museums matters. What is and is not taught in our schools and universities matters. These issues have attained a new prominence in 2020. 

Salzburg Global Seminar has always made the case for how arts can act as a social transformer and bring communities together. 

I have gained hugely from my time at Salzburg Global programs. At 2014’s Conflict Transformation through Culture: Peace-Building and the Arts, writers, journalists, academics, film and theatre directors, came together, to share stories, culture and heritage from the Balkans, Turkey, South Africa, Uganda, Cambodia, Korea and Ireland. This program helped me develop my thinking, the themes we explore in the Lahore Museum film. Looking at the colleagues present then, brought to life for me, Margaret Mead’s famous words that are part of Salzburg Global Seminar’s story: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

For someone involved in British arts production work and anti-racist activism for 25 years, the scale of change in the last few weeks has at times been breathtaking: statues falling, universities and business schools changing their names. Lloyd’s of London, like many institutions, at the heart of British power today, issuing apologies for their involvement in slavery and pledging to invest in social justice and equality schemes for Black British people. We’ll see if their actions live up to their words. 

But change has arrived and it is happening. Lenin’s famous words about revolutions not working to fixed timetables, describe events today: “There are decades where nothing happens, and there are weeks where decades happen.”

Many young British people of all backgrounds are questioning the nature of the British Empire and notions of “belonging” in a society where issues of race, culture, language and heritage all dominate.

Surely that is to be welcomed. Great Britain is an island with a global story, a global past, a global heritage, and a former global empire. We should, if I may adapt slightly Oliver Cromwell’s words, view it warts and all.

For many young people – and not just those with South Asian or Afro-Caribbean heritage – part of understanding who they are is to uncover their own history as offspring and descendents of Empire.

But other challenges arise. Competing narratives shroud our views. There is an antagonistic, confrontational nature to some contemporary nations trying to have only one story, one culture, one history, when in reality it is always plural. I think this is especially so, in South Asia today.

The internal turmoil within states, coupled with economic, ethnic and religious tensions, add layers of complexity. Many people are often simply bewildered or angered by or choose to ignore the past. They see it as a different country.

We can learn from history and avoid the mistakes of history by studying our histories. So we need books, films and documentaries to keep informing us. We need to study the archives, the literature, the paintings – and yes, to look at the statues. 

This is why the documentary I made with playwright Shahid Nadeem from Ajoka Theatre, “Pakistan’s Best Kept Secret: Lahore Museum”, is so important. It starts us on this journey, informing us that everyone in Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Afghanistan and the UK has a shared history, a shared story.

Lahore Museum has a rich, ancient and varied collection, which demonstrates the historical wealth and religious and cultural plurality of Pakistan – one of the largest Muslim-majority countries in the world, but also of course with large indigenous, mistreated and marginalised Hindu, Sikh and Christian communities. 

Our film explores the significance of the Lahore Museum – not just in Asia, but also in the UK. Through its magnificent collection we explore stories of ancient cultures: Hindu, Jain, Buddhist, Sikh, Muslim, and those of empire, trade, the East India Company, the contribution of British Indian soldiers in two World Wars, Partition and the creation of Pakistan. 

What Sumaria Samad, who was Director of Lahore Museum, and Nadeem have to say about the museum’s extraordinary collection and the history of the region is both compulsive viewing and highly informative. They also give some insight into life in Pakistan today and the future role of the museum within Pakistan’s wider social, political, religious and cultural context, as well as Pakistan’s relationship with the UK.

So much can be gained by this approach of looking at our shared religious and cultural traditions, as well as historic tensions through the ages. Lahore Museum has many stories to tell and our film, can help educate a lot of people online, especially now that colleges and universities have been closed by the coronavirus pandemic.

Most important of all – and the sincere wish of all those involved in making this film – is that perhaps it can help bridge the gaps and divides, and heal some of the hurt, the animosity and the trust deficits that exist between India and Pakistan, so we do not curse another generation in both countries and in their huge diasporas to grow up with sectarian tensions, wondering when, if ever, there can be good relations and peace between us.

Pakistan’s Best Kept Secret: Lahore Museum

Reviews of Pakistan’s Best Kept Secret, Lahore Museum    

“It struck me, watching this revealing film, that this Museum throws light not only onto thousands of beautiful and fascinating works of art, but also onto a body of thought, a concept of society, an ecumenical vision and a long view that risks being erased by many forces in the contemporary world.”  – Dame Marina Warner, DBE, CBE, Professor of English and Creative Writing, Birkbeck

“The real star of the film is the museum itself, founded at the height of the British Raj, with John Lockwood Kipling (father of Rudyard) as its first curator. As the film’s title implies, it’s a museum which, if it were in almost any other country, would enjoy worldwide fame.”  – Edward Mortimer, author of Faith & Power: The Politics of Islam, former adviser to UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, and long-serving program advisor to Salzburg Global Seminar

“The, first and foremost, a pleasure to eavesdrop on.  All three protagonists seem to be having fun, to be enjoying the pursuit of serious questions in an extraordinary context. At the Lahore Museum, showing a collection that reflects the serial transformations of this complex country poses thorny problems of identity and ownership.  Pakistan’s relatively recent acquisition, in contrast to its long and fluid history, of an apparently monolithic religious identity, makes the museum’s address to a richly diverse past more difficult and more essential.”– Dr Jim Harris, Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Teaching Curator, Ashmolean Museum, Oxford

Anwar Akhtarwas born and grew up in Manchester, UK. He is Founder and Director of The Samosa, a UK arts and journalism charity that works to embed diversity in the arts and humanities curriculum in schools, colleges and universities, and produces media that explores cultural and social issues. His latest film is “Pakistan’s Best Kept Secret – Lahore Museum” and his Manchester 4/4 talk, “Cities, Tolerance, Multi Culturalism” is available online. Anwar was the production consultant on the play “Dara,” working with Ajoka Theatre Pakistan and National Theatre UK.  The first South Asian history play at the UK’s National Theatre, “Dara” was seen by more than 30,000 people in 2015. “Dara” tells the story of Mughal India, raising questions about religious freedom, tolerance and clerical power that still resonate today. Anwar also led the Royal Society of Arts’ Pakistan Calling project, which produced more than 60 films looking at identity, education, equality, culture, religion, women’s and minority rights in Britain and Pakistan. Anwar was previously project director of the Rich Mix Cultural Foundation, where he led the capital and business development of a new £26 million arts centre in East London. He is a mult-time Fellow of Salzburg Global Seminar, having attended programs in the series Culture, the Arts and Society, Holocaust Education and Genocide Prevention, and the Salzburg Academy on Media and Global Change.

What Role for Culture and Heritage in the Age of COVID-19?
Image created by Catherine Cordasco. Submitted for United Nations Global Call Out To CreativesImage created by Catherine Cordasco. Submitted for United Nations Global Call Out To Creatives
What Role for Culture and Heritage in the Age of COVID-19?
By: Oscar Tollast 

Participants of What Future for Cultural Heritage? reunite – virtually - to discuss how to strengthen the cultural heritage sector

It started with a message on March 27, 2020. In a group email, Salzburg Global Seminar encouraged participants of What Future for Cultural Heritage? Perceptions, Problematics, and Potential to join Salzburg Global Fellowship’s new Facebook group. While several joined, fulfilling the email’s primary purpose, another outcome soon developed. What became apparent was a renewed enthusiasm to build on the program’s previous discussions to help strengthen the cultural heritage sector.

There were calls to formalize a “Global Heritage Consortium,” similar to what was discussed in Salzburg last year. COVID-19 will have “repercussions on socio-economic, governance, and value systems,” said one participant. Now is the time to consider what future there is for culture and find purpose amid a “precarious global system.” Now, and in the weeks and months ahead, is the time for responsible leadership, another participant suggested.

Several questions were put forward for discussion: how do we support artists and avoid a cultural desert? What role can culture play to bring people and societies together? How can we use the coronavirus pandemic to implement more sustainable practices? These questions, and more, were considered in a one-hour online discussion titled, What Role for Culture and Heritage in the Age of COVID-19?

The State of Play

The Network of European Museum Organizations (NEMO) already conducted an initial survey on the impact of COVID-19, receiving 650 submissions from 41 countries, including the USA, Philippines, Malaysia, French Polynesia, Iran, and 27 EU member states.

At the time of writing, the majority of museums around the world were closed, resulting in a loss of income. From the data provided, 30% of museums surveyed were losing up to €1,000 per week. Bigger institutions like the Rijksmuseum, the Kunsthistorisches Museum Vienna, and the Stedelijk Museum, were losing between €100,000 and €600,000 per week.

Institutions are now facing an unexpected shortfall in their budgets. There are concerns jobs will be sacrificed to make up the gap. The NYC COVID-19 Response & Impact Fund said it would provide $75 million in grants and loans to New York City-based social services and cultural organizations. Philanthropic groups can have a big impact and serve as an example to others.
Challenges can lead to the emergence of new ideas and ways of thinking. The culture and heritage sector has a huge opportunity to be innovative around online exchange and learning. More than 60% of the museums surveyed by NEMO had increased their online presence since their closure, while 13.4% had increased their budget for online activities.

But we cannot forget the digital divide. There are 7.7 billion people in the world, but only 3.5 billion online. Not everyone has access to an online device, and the situation is more challenging when countries are in lockdown. Technology provides people in isolation and quarantines a means of distraction and communication, but the issue of accessibility remains.

Some people’s work and living situations, meanwhile, make isolation and quarantine impossible. COVID-19 has exposed existing inequalities and fissures that cut across different societies.

An Online Reunion

The online discussion started with a welcome from Clare Shine, vice president and chief program officer at Salzburg Global. Shine suggested the whole nature of the models in which we run our economies, deliver health, and provide education are “all up for grabs.” There are “rich pickings” to take forward, she added.

After a few teething issues with technology, participants began providing insights from around the world and posed questions for others to consider. Cultural diplomacy is an area that will become more relevant now, said one speaker. How do we design communities to meet the challenges of the future? Do we focus on isolation or sharing?

Another participant expressed their concern about medium-sized cultural institutions in New York City being “squeezed out” as a result of COVID-19. There could be a profound change in what cultural offerings are available in the coming years as societies come to terms with new economic realities. Culture can create a new image of the future, and this is something we should be highlighting.

Participants discussed the lack of financial support for arts and culture in comparison with other sectors. Challenging times can spark innovation and create bonds, however. A participant observed how museums in the US were beginning to use digital platforms more creatively and reach audiences in a new way. People, meanwhile, are re-evaluating their values and recognizing their existing connections. One participant said this was an opportune moment “where humanity has come back.”

In South Africa, students and educators are taking part in a “big online experiment” when it comes to online teaching. But a participant suggested huge inequalities are visible. The COVID-19 pandemic is not just a medical problem. All around the world, there is a need for cultural and technological institutions to come together, step up, have their voices heard, and shape solutions.

Looking Ahead

There is a crisis of leadership and institutions. There is an opportunity to reassert how societies move forward and build coalitions for transformation. There is a pre-COVID-19 world and a post-COVID-19 world. Cultural and heritage leaders need to harness this moment and not let the crisis go to waste. Culture teaches us what it means to be human, but people in power don’t recognize this concept.

One participant said there were three questions to consider: what are we going to do? How are we going to do what we are going to do? When are we going to do what we need to do? In the discussion, Haroon Rashid’s poem “We Fell Asleep” was brought up to remind others how quickly the world has changed. The virtual meeting they took part in provided space for voices to be heard, to see where we are, where we need to go, and what role Salzburg Global Fellows can play.

Health systems are under pressure, unemployment is rife, and economies are on the brink of collapsing. Asking people to care about the culture and heritage sector at this moment in time may be challenging, suggested one participant in exchanges following the online meeting. But as another countered, “We do not have to wait for people to be concerned. We need to make people concerned.”