Archive for October, 2006

Interview: Kathy Randels

Tuesday, October 3rd, 2006

Photo: Kathy RandelsAna Maria interviews Kathy Randels, artistic director of ArtSpot Productions in New Orleans, Louisiana. ArtSpot is celebrating its tenth anniversary with the Artistic Ancestry Festival, taking place from December 1-10th. Artistic Ancestry acknowledges and celebrates the theatre groups that have influenced the work of ArtSpot - proving that we all stand on someone’s shoulders.

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Cultural Diplomacy

Sunday, October 1st, 2006

This week we featured a story on the latest initiative from the Bush administration: the Global Cultural Initiative. (September 28, 2006 - New Idea: U.S. Tries Cultural Diplomacy)

These days it seems rather easy to find fault with the Bush administration. For example, it must be a tough week for them when the best selling books on the administration are Bob Woodward’s State of Denial, Thomas Rick’s Fiasco, and Michael Isikoff’s and David Corn’s Hubris. Surely, it is time to redirect when one’s approach, management, and leadership are described as state of denial, fiasco, and hubris.

So how wonderful to hear Mrs. Bush announce a new cultural and diplomatic program for the United States. The four main partners in the project are the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, the American Film Institute, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the National Endowment for the Humanities.

The goals of the initiative are:

  1. Connect foreign audiences with American artists and art forms;
  2. Share American expertise in arts management and performance;
  3. Educate young people and adults in the United States and abroad about the arts and cultures of other countries.

What could possibly be wrong with this? Doesn’t it sound incredibly noble, high-minded, and embracing?

Leave aside for a moment the cynic’s characterization of the partners: the Kennedy Center’s leader earns over a million dollars a year, the most money of any not-for-profit arts organization in America, albeit one that serves the Washington, D.C. political establishment; or that the American Film Institute celebrates Hollywood films; or that the NEA’s budget for all of America is less than the arts budget for the Netherlands; or that the NEH used to be run by Dick Cheney’s wife. Even more, of the four partners only the Kennedy Center actively interacts with artists and companies from outside the United States.

What makes me hesitant to stand-up and applaud is that the program appears to be a bit of”¦ well, a state of denial, a fiasco, and a healthy dollop of hubris.

Is the issue that the world doesn’t know enough about American culture? Seems as though everyone knows plenty about dominant American culture from the Hollywood films and television programs that are exported every day, everywhere. Will Mrs. Bush and the partners want to make sure that the work of America’s leading dramatist, Tony Kushner, is exported?

Is the issue that the world needs our special expertise in arts management and performance? Wow. Going through the 5,000 pages of KadmusArts aren’t you shocked to hear that the rest of the world doesn’t know how to create art, and do it well? If only they had American arts management and performance “expertise” then things would really be cooking.

Is the issue that both audiences in American and in the rest of the world need to learn about culture from other countries? Certainly no harm in that, in fact something to be encouraged. So much so that many countries are far ahead of the United States in bringing arts and culture to their nations. Yes, it’s an issue — but one that America needs to address more than other countries.

Each of the State Department’s initiatives comes across as America knows best, does the best, and has the best — in other words, a kind of state of denial, fiasco, and hubris.

I will always support any step that helps give culture resources, a platform, and an audience. I am also a believer in diplomacy. But, maybe my kind of diplomacy is the old fashioned kind: listen first, be open to another’s point of view, and never assume that you know best.

So, I will try to be diplomatic and entertain the possibility that the program will be a positive effort, embrace and connect other cultures, and create a new kind of engagement with the world.

And you”¦?

- Bill Reichblum

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