Going Global: Negotiating the Maze of Cultural Interactions

Barnett Arts and Public Policy Symposium

The beautifully-restored Southern Theater in Columbus, Ohio served as classroom May 5 and 6, 2000 for "Going Global: Negotiating the Maze of Cultural Interactions," the fourth Barnett Arts and Public Policy Symposium hosted by the Ohio State University College of the Arts and the Ohio Arts Council. The two-day symposium is named for Lawrence and Isabel Barnett who established the Barnett Endowment at OSU, which funds the biennial symposium.

Five panels including nearly thirty panelists assembled under bright stage lights to share their perspectives on international cultural interactions. Partners and participants in Ohio's successful international cultural exchange programs were heavily represented on the panels. From outside of Ohio came panelists from France, Chile, Cuba, the United Kingdom, New York, Washington DC, Chicago, and Newark, New Jersey.

As might be expected from a forum with a theme as large as "globalization," several presenters ventured into the deep woods of global cultural, political, technological, and economic forces. At the same time, participants were offered some opportunity to see the individual trees in the form of practical information on how to launch successful international cultural exchange and cultural tourism campaigns.

Conference literature billed the symposium as a place to "advance the discussion about globalization and the arts in positive ways." Still, panelists devoted plenty of time to discourse on potentially sinister aspects of United States' worldwide dominance of popular culture, and on impressions of U.S. "cultural imperialism" among other nations.

Raj Isar, director, Cultural Policies for Development, United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), Paris, opened the conference Friday with a working definition of globalization as "an upsurge on a world scale of the interactions embodying all human activity, a deepening of interdependencies that no longer recognize the frontiers created by time and space, the emergence of a planet-wide economy, and a world culture made up of information flows both universal and local."

According to Isar, corporatization (i.e., U.S. commercial dominance) of culture is being resisted and a cultural "repolarization" — a claim to place and culture — is occurring. Isar said development of cultural interactions from the bottom up would result in positive globalization. He took on commercialization with a challenging question, “Are Americans really ready to get into deep cultural interplay and synthesis?” He said Americans might need to abandon the benefit of furthering their own economic interests for the welfare of humanity. He left the audience with what he termed a “motto” for a globalized world with a quote of Mahatma Gandhi: “I do not want my house to be walled in on all sides and my windows to be stuffed. I want the culture of all lands to be blown about my house as freely as possible. But I refuse to be blown off my feet by any.”

In response to a question from the audience regarding UNESCO financial resources available for supporting international exchange, Isar spoke to the reality of UNESCO's modest budget. He emphasized that the U.S. had not been a member of UNESCO since 1987 and therefore is not eligible for UNESCO grants. Isar urged the U.S. to rejoin UNESCO, a plea raised later at an Ohio State House dinner address by Bill Ivey, chairman of the NEA. Ivey observed that people in the field should “value and promote” the opportunity of U.S. participation in UNESCO. There are too few opportunities, according to Ivey, to articulate cultural policy in an international context. In the U.S., what Ivey terms the “natural arts process” is an invaluable policy asset with potential to bring credit to our nation and earn respect around the world if it were better understood.

Federal-level policies affecting support for international exchange were also explored by the other U.S. government official represented at the symposium, Friday luncheon speaker and under secretary of state, Evelyn Lieberman. Lieberman heads a new office for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs at State, created in October 1999 through the Congressionally-mandated folding of the United States Information Agency (USIA) into the State Department.

Recently Lieberman's office surveyed overseas ambassadors on the usefulness of State Department cultural programs. The ambassadors responded overwhelmingly that these cultural programs should be strengthened. Lieberman said culture increasingly occupies the heart of foreign relations and our overseas ambassadors see cultural understanding and exchange as a basis for successful diplomacy. She added that at a time when the U.S. is spending less than one cent per tax dollar on foreign relations, they are struggling mightily to hang on to resources for cultural programs. Attendees were reminded of their ability to elevate cultural programs on the foreign policy agenda by making their voices heard about the value of international exchange.

The foreign relations and diplomatic aspects of cultural exchange were presented by Rafi Gamzou, consul for cultural affairs at the Consulate General of Israel in New York, on a Friday panel titled “Mediums of Exchange.” Dissemination of the cultural traditions and arts of Israel is almost always overwhelmed by the ongoing press and political coverage related to war in the region. Israel seeks cultural exchange opportunities as a way to broaden dialogue on the international stage. Gamzou mentioned the success of programming at Lincoln Center and Kennedy Center in celebration of the fiftieth anniversary of the state of Israel. Landscape paintings from Israel were recently exhibited at two Ohio venues. International exchange, according to Gamzou, requires curiosity, mutual interest, keeping in touch, creativity, flexibility, good staff and supporters, a well-developed budget, and the knowledge of how to move in the political atmosphere.

From the perspective of a state arts council, Ohio State Arts Council executive director Wayne Lawson echoed many of Gamzou's points on the political and fiscal difficulties of launching successful and meaningful exchange projects. Lawson added that work in international exchange required time, patience, research, and a policy framework. Panelists representing Chile and Israel talked about their collaboration with the Ohio Arts Council. Ohio has built an impressive international exchange framework and has successfully entered into agreements with partners in Brazil, Chile, India, Israel, Japan, and Mexico. The state council's international program is designed to foster long-term involvement in international cultural exchange that will further the international goals of Ohio artists, performers, educators, administrators, and organizations. The Council works closely with the state government on the inclusion of the arts in the state's international trade framework. Additional information on Ohio's international cultural programs can be found at the Ohio Arts Council website.

Policy considerations related to international trade, copyright, and intellectual property laws were discussed at a Saturday panel. Former USIA official and scholar William Glade spoke of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the differing attitudes and negotiating positions of Mexico and Canada on cultural aspects of the agreement. Canada felt the need to build a policy wall to fend off U.S. intrusions while Mexico made a priority of jumpstarting the Mexican economy and didn't want cultural issues to stand in the way. These positions deeply affected how the two countries negotiated with the U.S. on NAFTA and provide lessons on interactions between similar and dissimilar countries.

The Internet was a central topic of discussion throughout the weekend. At the Saturday policy panel, OSU professor Sheldon Halpern characterized the Internet as having changed everything related to copyright. In the past, he said, little concern was paid to copyright of certain forms of creative expression — performance, dance, music, the visual arts — but now copyright law provides the infrastructure for the entire cultural milieu.

From two panel-packed days around globalism and cultural exchange, conference organizer Margaret Jane Wyszomirski, professor and director of the Arts Policy and Administration Program at OSU, was able to glean and to present to attendees three basic assumptions regarding international cultural interactions: 1) they are an investment (not a luxury, a cost, or a subsidy); 2) they can occur at many and multiple levels of engagement; and 3) they interweave domestic and foreign aspects. She presented a construct for policies around two different kinds of “capital” — creative capital and cultural capital. Wyszomirski's market analogy was the punctuation at the end of a conference that in every way related opportunities in international cultural exchange to the new economy and a post Cold War economic order.

Report by Shelley Feist, associate, National Culture Program at the Pew Charitable Trusts.