From Washington

September 2002

Shelley Feist

Bush says U.S. will rejoin UNESCO

In a speech September 12 to the United Nations General Assembly urging action on Iraq, President Bush announced that the United States would return to the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). In making the announcement the President said, "This organization has been reformed, and America will participate fully in its mission to advance human rights, tolerance and learning."

The U.S. withdrew from UNESCO in 1982 citing mismanagement and efforts by the organization's then-chairman to muzzle the Western press and politicize the organization's programs. The withdrawal of the United States, along with Britain and Singapore, dealt the agency a blow as together these countries contributed a third of its budget. Britain rejoined UNESCO in 1997.

Congress will have to consider the budget ramifications of the call to rejoin. In the past the U.S. provided nearly 25 percent of UNESCO's total budget.

UNESCO Director-General, Koichiro Matsuura, a Japanese diplomat, has lobbied heavily in Washington for the U.S. to rejoin. Backers in the effort included the United Nations Foundation, a $1 billion organization set up four years ago by Ted Turner, the founder of the Cable News Network (CNN).

Cultural Bridges

Legislation introduced in the Senate by Senator Kennedy (D-MA) (S. 2505) would provide for expansion of the State Department's existing educational and cultural programs to better reach students in the Islamic world. The legislation — the Cultural Bridges Act of 2002 — authorizes $75 million for the fiscal years 2003 through 2007 for establishment of an international exchange visitor program under which eligible students from the Islamic world would: (1) attend public secondary school in the United States; (2) live with an American host family; and (3) participate in activities designed to promote a greater understanding of American and Islamic values and cultures. The Secretary of State would be required to carry out the program with U.S. sponsoring organizations.

The 2002 Emergency Supplemental Appropriations legislation contains $9 million for the State Department to create the new program for high school students from the Islamic world to study in the United States.

Heritage areas legislation

There has been a rash of legislation introduced in Congress for creation of national heritage areas. At least seven bills were introduced this summer in the House and Senate to establish new heritage areas. There are presently twenty-three federally-recognized heritage areas. Examples are the Hudson River Valley National Heritage Area in New York, the Automobile National Heritage Area in Michigan and the National Coal Heritage Area in West Virginia.

John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts

Another milestone was met in efforts to significantly enhance visitor access to the Kennedy Center and to provide for future expansion.

On July 26 the Senate passed legislation authorizing $400 million for the fiscal years 2003-2010 for the Department of Transportation to undertake a five-phase plan for improved access to the Kennedy Center. The improvements will include construction of a pedestrian plaza atop a deck that will utilize air rights over the ramps and roadways of the Potomac Freeway. This and other roadway changes will result in creation of approximately eight acres of new space directly east of the Kennedy Center.

The bill also authorizes the Kennedy Center to construct buildings on the newly created plaza with non-appropriated funds. The Center intends to construct buildings to provide space for educational, rehearsal, performance, and administrative functions. Work has begun on a two-year project that will add 600 parking spaces and new outdoor patron and performance spaces.

NEA announces Challenge America grants

The National Endowment for the Arts has announced the award of more than $1.4 million for 154 grants through the Challenge America: Community Arts Development program. The awards were made in 47 states and the District of Columbia.

Although Congress has not taken final action on FY2003 spending bills as of the time of this writing, the House in July passed an increase of $10 million specifically for the Challenge America program. If the House numbers hold in conference with the Senate, Challenge America would be funded at $17 million.

Hackers disable Web site of Recording Industry Association of America

Hackers launched a denial-of-service attack on the Web site in late July. Denial-of-service attacks overwhelm an Internet site by enlisting thousands of other machines that then attempt to make simultaneous connections.

The attack was launched a couple of days after the RIAA-endorsed legislation sponsored by Rep. Howard Berman (D-CA) and Rep. Howard Coble (R-NC) that would authorize copyright holders to begin “blocking, diverting or otherwise impairing” peer-to-peer networks.

RIAA CEO Hilary Rosen said in a statement that Berman's bill was “an innovative approach,” adding that “it makes sense to clarify existing laws to ensure that copyright owners — those who actually take the time and effort to create an artistic work — are at least able to defend their works from mass piracy.”

Shelley Feist is with the national program in culture of the Pew Charitable Trusts.