State Dept. turns to the arts in diplomacy effort

WASHINGTON: Aiming to foster greater 'cultural diplomacy' between the US and foreign countries, the US State Department is turning to art to help improve its image and facilitate a better bond between cultures.

On September 25, the department announced a new partnership, called the Global Cultural Initiative, with the Kennedy Center, the American Film Institute, and others to educate Americans and participating nations about other cultures.

The Global Attitudes Project study released in June by the Pew Research Center found favorable opinions of the US have declined since last year in many countries.

Instead of a traditional PR push, the department hopes that artistic stimuli will help cultures understand each other.

'Public diplomacy isn't just the work of government,' said Karen Hughes, undersecretary for public diplomacy and public affairs, in a speech. "Every American who travels abroad or welcomes a foreign visitor can be an ambassador for America."

The Kennedy Center is organizing overseas projects, including one in Pakistan, to showcase US performing artists. The American Film Institute will showcase 20 US and foreign filmmakers at international film festivals and other venues. The National Endowment for the Arts will develop literary exchanges between the US and Pakistan, Russia, and other nations. The National Endowment for the Humanities will organize trips by teachers from various countries to summer seminars in the US.

The State Department's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs is overseeing the new effort. A spokesperson said that federal funding for cultural exchange programs may have tripled since 2001, to about $4.5 million for 2006, but partnering with private organizations greatly stretches the US' presence overseas.

'Public diplomacy can't just be the job of the government; you [must] have partners,' said the spokesperson, who wished to remain anonymous.

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