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Welcome remarks for the « Cultural Dinner » closing the Transatlantic Dialog Conference
Abbaye de Neunmunster May 24, 2011

mardi 31 mai 2011, par Thierry Leterre

The transatlantic Dialog conference was initiated in Luxembourg by Miami Ohio and the University of Luxembourg, to which Bowling Green Ohio joined early in the process.

Dear colleagues and friends,

It is my privilege to offer some remarks to welcome you to this cultural dinner. From the early stages of the preparation of this conference with my colleagues from Miami Ohio and Bowling Green Ohio I have found the notion of culture as a transatlantic dialog particularly enticing. For the French Citizen, the American Dean and the Luxembourgish resident that I am, the theme of a dialog between America and Europe has obviously deep personal resonances.

But the fact that we are talking of a dialog about culture entails something even more specific to me that I could describe by saying that for me, culture has always been a sort of transatlantic dialog for me : a transatlantic dialog, so to say, between me and myself.

Neither my family background nor any special talent prepared me to consider culture seriously. At home, we did not go to museums ; we never attended concerts, or even shows. Nothing cultural could be considered as pertaining to the regular course of our life or even to exceptional moments.

And no ability of mine would make up for this. As a matter of fact, I do not know what between my art classes or my sport classes I could chose for the award of the worst personal memory. I was equally miserable at both. I remember for instance that I was so unfit to anything related to music that I was expelled from my middle school choir—a soft humiliation largely compensated by the fact that I got to leave school earlier every Monday, as choir practice was mandatory and only poor singers could get away with it. As you see, there has always been an ocean between culture and me. It was a huge, fascinating and dangerous distance that could never been bridged, as it is not possible to build bridges over oceans.

However, years after having extensively proved that I was not a cultural animal, I chose poetry as the topic of my first Master dissertation. I made this choice because something had happened along the way. This something that we call education.

One certainly cannot hope to build a bridge over an ocean. But we learn to sail, and that is what can be learned during university years. This is a role that American universities endorse thanks to the tradition of what we call the liberal arts. Those of us who had the privilege to attend yesterday’s performance of StepAfrica, were probably struck by the pride these talented dancers took in being college graduates. In the US, art and the production of art are not separate from the core mission of universities as it is often the case in Europe. Even though some fear, quite legitimately, that the tradition of liberal arts is challenged in many higher education American institutions, it still remains a distinctive feature of American education. But it is nevertheless true that more often than ever, as we heard it in the first panel of this conference, US universities are tempted to challenge the classical understanding of culture. The consideration of plurality in the ways of life takes over from the notion of culture as the esthetical dimension of education. Cultures supersede culture.

European universities play a lesser role in the artistic part of culture : music schools, art schools, dance schools are often separate bodies which often do not have a direct link with academia. But European life does more for culture than the American way of life. There are institutional reasons for that : the existence of ministries of culture is a powerful tool to support creation. But I would say that the most evident connection between Europe and culture is historical as most of the major cities of the continent have kept the trace of millenniums of outstanding artistic achievements.

I think this has been a fruitful basis for a dialog between two different systems which have to learn from one another not only through discussions, but also, as has been the case during these few days by working and performing together.

I can only hope that the series of the dialog will develop in a more permanent structure to encourage a better understanding of the role of arts and culture in higher education and develop new actions in this field.

I wish you “bon appétit” a good appetite for our dinner, a great appetite for culture.