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Whatever Happened to Cultural Diplomacy?

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In his eighty-eighth year, Dave Brubeck is going to have to add another shelf to his trophy room--or another trophy room. His most recent honor came yesterday from the US State Department. Here's a paragraph from the Reuters report in The New York Times.

“As a little girl I grew up on the sounds of Dave Brubeck because my dad was your biggest fan," U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said at the ceremony where Brubeck received the department's Ben Franklin Award for public diplomacy.

To read the whole story, click here.

It is admirable that the State Department is honoring Brubeck for the valuable cultural diplomacy he and his quartet practiced with government sponsorship as recently as the 1980s. But what is the policy of The United States today in using culture to reach out to the world? Sad to report, official cultural diplomacy is largely dormant at a time when the country's international image is at its lowest point in decades. I recently delivered a speech entitled “Jazz Roots In The Bill Of Rights." Cultural diplomacy was not the main theme of the talk, but this paragraph touched on it.

Not long after the Berlin Wall came down, the United States Information Agency asked me to go to Eastern Europe as part of its US Speakers program. That program no longer exists because the USIA no longer exists. The Clinton administration killed the agency in a budget move. The function shifted to the State Department and under the Bush administration, nothing has been done with it. Cultural diplomacy exists on paper, but it is not being practiced. That's a shame because there is intense interest in the world in how democracy and the concept of individual freedom work. We have laid aside a tremendously effective tool for making friends in the world by the simple, inexpensive means of sending Americans abroad to talk about America.

Let us hope that the next administration will understand the importance and impact of what the USIA did--when there was a USIA--and revive the agency or create one like it.


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