21/01/2015 08:27 GMT | Updated 23/03/2015 05:59 GMT

Syria: A Third Space

The role that culture, in its widest sense, has to play in development is important to the work of the British Council - the UK's international organisation for cultural and educational opportunities. Culture, in all its forms, both tangible and intangible, matters. For social cohesion and resilience, for economic development and sustainability, for dialogue and mutual understanding and for the long security and prosperity both of the UK and the countries in which we work.

Culture is often seen as marginal to the development process, outside the mainstream of economic, political and social policy debates. Or it is offered as an appendage to them, often invoked to explain the failure of well-meaning development interventions: local circumstances were overlooked, different experience disparaged, indigenous knowledge not harnessed. The time has come to reappraise the role of culture and to put it centre-stage in the development process.

In the arts, freedom of expression and creative enterprise must be championed, supported and acknowledged as an integral element in achieving sustainable development: because culture treads a different path. Culture creates the space for people to express opinions, explore issues and imagine alternative futures. In the wake of the 2008 economic crisis and its aftermath and fractious politics in many parts of the world, this must be a fundamental element of sustainable development.

The British Council's work in Culture and Development has two main areas: 'Voices and Spaces', which focuses on the creation of safe spaces for debate and exchange; and 'Artists in Recovery', a programme supporting artists who are working in areas of conflict and upheaval. On display at the moment at the British Council's London headquarters is the exhibition Syria: Third Space. In the exhibition are more than 30 works of films and photography that explore the roles that artists play in responding to conflict and displacement. The artists have been funded by grants that support Syrian refugee communities and give a voice to those affected by conflict. To continue with this engagement, The Space and the British Council have teamed to launch And و, a new digital commissioning programme supporting displaced Syrian artists to create work that raises awareness of those affected by conflict.

The overall aim of this work is clear: through arts and culture, civil society is strengthened from the ground up; marginalised people are able to express themselves freely and advocate for their rights successfully; and the creative industries can contribute to the alleviation of poverty. We believe this is of vital importance to the long term stability of the region.

Nowhere is this work more valuable than in the responding to the Syrian crisis - during which over 40% of the Syrian population has been displaced: over 7.6 million people inside Syria and 3.7million in neighbouring countries - making Syrians the largest refugee population in the world. Whilst the British Council cannot have a physical presence in the country at present we are committed to supporting the people of Syria through the provision of schemes such as this, as well as through access to English language learning and civil society projects. Our broader vision is that together with partners across government and other British institutions we will have provided 75 million young people across the Middle East and North Africa with access to the UK's language, education and culture by 2020, developing skills to support more open and secure societies in the region.

Syria: The Third Space

8 January - 18 February 2015

British Council, 10 Spring Gardens, London, SW1A 2BN


Public tours at 1pm: 23 January (Country Director Syria, Joel Bubbers), 6 February (Director Arts MENA, Stephen Stenning) and 18 February (Culture and Development Manager, Anna Langdell). To attend a tour, please email

For more information visit: