Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Cultural diplomacy and 'smART Power'

The U.S. State Department has long sent "cultural ambassadors" abroad, but in recent years, as this New York Times article from last October points out, those envoys have been mostly performing artists (dancers, actors). Last fall the Obama administration decided to start sending visual artists abroad too, under a $1 million program called smART Power to be administered by the Bronx Museum of the Arts.

It's tempting to make fun of this, but I'm not really in the mood for that today. I'll content myself with noting that the State Dept., according to the article, is spending more on cultural diplomacy now than it has in quite a long time: in 2010 the budget for this was $11.75 million, no doubt a small fraction of State's total budget, but not nothing. At a time when budget pressures are acute and may lead to cuts in U.S. government programs aimed at alleviating extreme poverty and fighting disease in poor countries, one does wonder whether sending a sculptor to, say, Islamabad or Lahore to create a public artwork is a wise use of funds or, to be blunt, just ******* crazy (yes, Pakistan is on the list of places for smART Power; so is Egypt; so is a Somali refugee camp in Kenya -- this last might make more sense). However, I'll leave this question for readers to ponder. (Note: I don't know what the current budget imbroglio has done, or is doing, to smART Power's appropriation -- if anything -- or to the broader cultural diplomacy appropriation.)
Hat tip for the article to HC. It only took me five months to get around to reading it.

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