The United Nations has many different agencies under its wing that specialise in promoting cooperation between countries in different ways. This lets the top level of the UN operate as an organising body for many different specialists, rather than generalising and failing to understand the nuance of particular areas. The World Health Organisation is the UN’s specialist health agency, helping to coordinate research on an international scale, as well as responses to serious outbreaks of disease; UNICEF allows the UN to specialise in children’s welfare, speaking about the plight of disadvantaged and at risk children with an authoritative voice that should command the respect of nations; and UNESCO is the specialist UN agency that deals with art, education, science and culture.
While it might not appear as urgent as the work done by WHO, cooperating through scientific research, educational programmes and artistic projects is a vital way to build links between nations, and break down the perception of ‘difference’ that can drive international tensions. UNESCO uses multiple different strategies to pursue this, from pooling international talent to preserve its designated World Heritage Sites, to awarding prizes to people in creative and scientific communities that have embodied the agency’s values.
One of the most important weapons in UNESCO’s armoury is art. Art can be a potent way to build bridges between nations, and the UN’s cultural agency has not been slow to recognise this. From appointing artists like Zurab Tsereteli as Goodwill Ambassadors to help ensure that UNESCO’s aim remain part of the international conversation, to sponsoring projects and opportunities that can bring artists together across the world.
Tsereteli’s career itself demonstrates the power art holds in building bridges – from the tail end of the USSR through to the birth of modern Russia, gifts of his artwork to countries like Great Britain and the United States have helped to create an international relationship in otherwise troubled times for these countries.
UNESCO also maintains a gallery of art gifted to the organisation, from works by old masters that UNESCO can preserve and make available to the world to modern works by artists living in a peace only possible because of the UN’s efforts. This gallery is a potent symbol of the power of art to communicate beyond language and borders, and of the work UNESCO has done, and has yet to do. Displayed in their Paris headquarters, this collection is a reminder of their mission, as well as an example of what can be achieved with success!