Culture: In this age of rapid globalisation, local artistic practices and cultural identities are increasingly facing the challenge of sustainability.

At a one-day symposium in Washington DC, USA on “Cultural Sustainability in the Age of Globalisation”, Her Majesty Gyalyum Sangay Choden Wangchuck said that Bhutan is committed to a holistic development approach that the world has come to know as Gross National Happiness, which strives to strike a balance between socio-economic, environmental, spiritual and cultural needs of the people.

“This is because culture not only defines who we have been as a people but it must guide us as we negotiate the complex, regulating forces of globalisation, if we are to continue to retain our age-old values and unique identity,” said Her Majesty. Apart from promoting communal harmony and building social resilience, festivals and historical monuments are also the backbone of the tourism industry, which is the second highest contributor to Bhutan’s GDP, she added.

Her Majesty said that Bhutanese culture is synonymous with spirituality and living with compassion for all sentient beings. “This has led to an emphasis on the preservation of our cultural heritage through maintaining our centuries old fortresses and monasteries, architecture, and the traditional dress at the work place and formal functions.”

Her Majesty emphasised that it is, therefore, extremely important that governments, countries and people take measures to preserve and strengthen cultural traditions and identities, while at the same time reaping the benefits of globalisation. “Preservation of the living arts is an initiative I have always felt very strongly about. It led to my involvement in establishing the country’s first textile museum in 2001 and the Royal Textile Academy (RTA) in 2005.”

Textile museum and RTA are two organisations among several others that seek to preserve Bhutan’s living arts while embracing the opportunities served by globalisation. Her Majesty said that the mission of RTA has now evolved to include preservation and promotion of the various other traditions and cultures of Bhutan including, oral traditions, etiquette and other art forms.

“It is my earnest belief that this symposium will add significantly to the momentum and will bring us closer to the realisation of cultural sustainability in the face of globalisation,” said Her Majesty.  “Let us strengthen our weakened heritage legislation and activate the range of tools available to help achieve meaningful heritage preservation.”

The symposium was organised by the Smithsonian Centre for Folklife and Cultural Heritage, Alliance for California Traditional Arts, and the Royal Textile Academy of Bhutan.

Staff reporter