What Are International Cultural Promotion Organizations?


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The diplomacy – both formal and informal – that occurs between and among “all nationally defined cultures” (Said 1993: 15) is much more of an art of give and take than an exact science. With so many factors of culture, language, and current events at play, there is never a hard and fast way to interact internationally. This is the very reason why foreign diplomats undergo so much training – in language(s), in bilateral policy, and furthermore in making a concerted effort towards understanding the peoples and places in whose midst they are placed as representatives of foreign governments. Ideally, they must be prepared for any contingency. But of course this is only a ideal; in reality, one misplaced comment or misunderstood joke could ultimately mean the difference between copacetic relations and tumultuous scandal. Conversely, one mutually respectful relationship between two analogous diplomats could mean the difference between bringing a project to fruition or allowing it to languish in bureaucratic stagnation.

But beyond this “art” of diplomacy, the arts in their traditional sense (along with the humanities in general) offer a nexus through which members of different nations and/or cultures may cast aside more formal geopolitics in the pursuit of both identifying and celebrating our commonly shared qualities and interests. It is from this standpoint that we arrive at the concept of “cultural internationalism,” defined by Akira Iriye as “a variety of activities undertaken to link countries and peoples through the exchange of ideas and persons, through scholarly cooperation, or through efforts at facilitating cross-national understanding” (1997: 3).  But how do these endeavors look and feel on the ground level, day to day, and from the perspectives of those who take part in them? While much is written about political science, diplomacy, international relations, geopolitics, and other related topics, one corner of this area has yet to be amply studied: international cultural promotion organizations, also known as (inter)national cultural centers, cultural institutes, or cultural agencies.

Whether in the form of the Confucius Institute (China), the Instituto Cervantes (Spain), the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (USA), or any number of other centers or institutes active throughout the world, during the last 150 years or so governments have increasingly invested in how they interact with their counterparts internationally. These places serve as meeting grounds for new ideas, musical and other cultural events, language learning, and mutual understanding in general. As J.M Mitchell observes, “Activities arranged by cultural agencies create a favourable impression on foreigners in leading positions, either directly as with high culture, or indirectly through the reputation built up by more routine operations in their countries such as language classes, libraries, etc.” (1986: 15). And while the efforts of ICPO’s may differ from nation to nation and from era to era, their purpose is uniform: to be a part of the global community.

The below table offers information and links for the world’s more active international cultural promotion organizations. Find one near you and get involved with another culture today!


Iriye, A. (1997). Cultural Internationalism and World Order. Baltimore, MD: The Johns Hopkins University Press.

Mitchell, J.M. (1986). International Cultural Relations. London: Allen & Unwin.

Said, E. (1993). Culture and Imperialism. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.


Nation Inst. name Founded Main partner(s) In USA? Main US sites
Andorra Fundació Ramon Llull 2008 Catalonia (Spain) No N/A
Brazil Rede Cultural Brasil 1962 Other S. American nations and Lusophone (CPLP) nations No N/A
China Confucius Institute 2004 Worldwide Yes All major US cities and nationwide (458)
Czech Republic Czech Centres 1993 Other European nations Yes New York City
Denmark Danish Cultural Institute 1940 UK, Baltic states, Brazil, China, Russia, Benelux No N/A
Estonia Estonian Institute 1995 Finland, Hungary No N/A
Finland Association of Finnish Cultural and Academic Institutes 2005 Europe (13 countries), Japan, Middle East Yes New York City
France Alliance Française 1883 Worldwide Yes Multiple: New York, Los Angeles, Chicago (100+)
Germany Goethe-Institut 1951 Europe, USA, South America, Africa Yes Most major US cities (6)
Greece Hellenic Foundation for Culture 1992 Egypt, Germany, Eastern Europe, Australia No N/A
Hungary Balassi Institute 1927 Europe (13 countries), Russia, India, Egypt, USA Yes New York City
India Indian Council for Cultural Relations 1950 South Asia and worldwide No N/A
Italy Società Dante Alighieri; Italian Institutes of Culture 1889; 1940 Western Europe and worldwide; worldwide (90 total) Yes New York City, Boston, Miami, Seattle, Anchorage, Denver, Pittsburgh, Pueblo (NM), Detroit; NYC, LA, San Francisco
Japan Japan Foundation 1972 Asia, Australia, and the Americas Yes New York City, Los Angeles
Poland Adam Mickiewicz Institute 2000; 1971 Asia, Turkey, Brazil; USA No… Chicago: Copernicus Center (non-profit)
Portugal Instituto Camões 1992 Lusophone Africa + East Timor, EU, Latin America, USA, Canada, Senegal, S. Africa Yes Boston, Newark
Romania Romanian Cultural Institute 2005 EU, Turkey, Israel, USA Yes New York City
Russia Russkiy Mir Foundation 2007 China, Cuba, EU, Israel, Central Asia, East Asia, USA Yes New York City, Washington, D.C.
South Korea Korean Cultural Center 1991 USA, Japan, China, Russia, EU, Vietnam, Brazil, Argentina, India, Thailand, Mexico Yes Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, New York City
Spain Instituto Cervantes 1991 Latin America, USA, EU, North Africa/Middle East, South/Southeast Asia Yes New York City, Chicago, Boston, Seattle, Albuquerque
Switzerland Pro Helvetia 1939 France, Italy, Egypt, S. Africa, China Yes New York City, San Francisco
Sweden Swedish Institute 1929 France No N/A
Turkey Yunus Emre Institute 2007 Italy, Jordan, Azerbaijan, Albania, Belgium, Japan, UK, Iran, Hungary, Poland, Northern Cyprus, etc. No N/A
United Kingdom British Council 1934 Worldwide Yes Washington, D.C., New York City, Los Angeles
United States Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs 1961 Worldwide N/A N/A
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