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Study: Cultural Exchanges Down Since Sept. 11 by L Jacobs

East September 09, 2004

Study: Cultural Exchanges Down Since Sept. 11
Report Urges U.S. to Improve Artists' Visa Access

By Leonard Jacobs

Much has been written about the immediate and lingering negative economic effects of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 on the world of the arts, not just in New York City but across the United States as a whole.

But a new study, "Cultural Diplomacy: Recommendations and Research," concludes that U.S. cultural diplomacy -- the notion that by exporting American artists, we burnish our image around the world -- has become a neglected facet of foreign and domestic policy, too.

Beginning in 2002, the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Arts and Culture, working with the Coalition for American Leadership Abroad, also headquartered in the nation's capital, set out to assess the state of cultural exchanges. The study was published in July.

And the bottom line: "The annual number of academic and cultural exchanges has dropped from 45,000 in 1995 to 29,000 in 2001." This means that far fewer American artists, including performing artists, are being given chances to ply their crafts on foreign soil. The study presumes that those figures have decreased even further in recent years.

"Cultural Diplomacy" also summarizes five research papers that have been commissioned since 2002, including one that offers a historical overview of cultural diplomacy and another that summarizes past and present support from U.S. foundations for international arts exchanges. Another research paper details "best practices" for cultural exchanges, specifically citing performances of "Porgy and Bess" in the Soviet Union in 1952 and a Vietnam visit by the Martha Graham Dance Company in 1975 as positive, proactive ways of delivering the American message abroad.

Last year, the Center also sponsored two conferences -- "Arts and Minds: A Conference on Cultural Diplomacy Amid Global Tensions" and "Communicating With the World: Diplomacy That Works" -- that informed the study's set of conclusions and recommendations.

Indeed, the recommendations are perhaps the most salient element of the study. If implemented in full or even in part, they would increase the visibility of, as well as job opportunities for, American artists. While some recent initiatives are given their due -- Back Stage reported on the State Department's CultureConnect program in August 2003 when the Kennedy Center's president, Michael M. Kaiser, was named a "Cultural Ambassador" -- overall, the study says, attention has been wanting.

"American culture and the American people are the best assets for communicating values, diversity, and democracy," the first recommendation reads. Therefore, "the U.S. government, specifically the U.S. Department of State, should use American cultural figures strategically and should expand educational and cultural exchanges."

The study goes on to recommend budget increases for government agencies that sponsor or facilitate visitations of American artists to foreign lands along with cultural exchanges with foreign artists from around the globe.

In an era when American culture often drives resentment and fear in foreign lands, the study cautions the State Department not to ride roughshod over the cultural traditions of others. Instead, U.S. efforts "should recognize the value of other cultures, show a desire to learn from them, and seek ways to help preserve their traditions and historic sites and artifacts."

And the government should work harder not just to bring our artists overseas but to make it easier for artists overseas to travel and work in America. Specifically, the study encourages the Homeland Security and State departments to "work together to improve the current visa situation&so it is less of a barrier for foreign visitors, artists, and scholars, and for the presenters who invite them."

The Center for Arts and Culture is a nonpartisan, nongovernment policy center whose mission is to inform and improve policy decisions that affect cultural life. The guiding principles of that mission include freedom of imagination, inquiry, and expression, as well as freedom of opportunity for all to participate in a vital and diverse culture.

The study and all five research reports can be found at

CulturalDiplomacy.pdf Description

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