Artist Exchange and the Predicaments of Public Funding in the Post-9/11 Era

Cultural diplomacy is an important dimension of American foreign policy. Beginning in 1938, the U.S. Department of State allocated funds for cultural exchange programs in order to promote America’s image abroad through the arts. Following the end of the Cold War, however, funding for cultural diplomacy waned. Although the 9/11 terrorist attacks have reignited interest in cultural diplomacy, current funding practices have diverged from historic ones. In “Post-9/11 International Artist Exchanges Between the United States and the Middle East,” Hyesun Shin explores the divergent trajectories of private and public funding. She suggests that while public funding is strong, the U.S. government’s Anti-Terrorist Funding Guidelines have inhibited many private foundations from pursuing cultural exchange programs.

Since 9/11, the U.S. government has increased its budget for cultural exchange. By promoting people-to-people exchanges, the U.S. has sought to improve its relations with, and restore its image in, the Middle East. Between 2003 and 2010, public funding for educational and cultural exchange programs increased from $245 million to $635 million. 

Between 2002 and 2006, private giving to programs with the Middle East doubled, but private giving to artistic exchanges with the Middle East decreased by 50%. Shin suggests that the Anti-Terrorist Funding Guidelines are partly to blame. Although this legislation was designed to prevent financing terrorists through the abuse of the funding streams of charitable organizations, it has also hindered the international operations of U.S. funders. In a 2002 survey of U.S. foundations, 68% of respondents indicated that “the international ‘war on terrorism’ makes funding overseas more difficult due to increased security risks abroad.” While these numbers had decreased by 2006, one third of foundations still reported that “the more demanding post-9/11 regulatory environment discourages giving to non-U.S.-based organizations.” Even more recently, prominent American arts organizations have looked beyond the United States for funds to finance cultural events.

In 2009, for example, the Kennedy Center’s Arabesque Festival brought 800 Arab artists from 22 different nations to participate in a series of festivals in Washington D.C. that aimed to share Arab art with the American public. Despite taking place in the United States, this festival was heavily funded by donors in the Middle East. Only two American foundations contributed to funding the festival;  in contrast, Middle Eastern corporations and embassies, seeking to promote Arab culture and identity abroad were enthusiastic in their financial support. While the Kennedy Center’s Arabesque Festival represents a success story of privately-funded artistic exchange, it cannot easily be replicated, as many other U.S. foundations lack the credibility, reputation, and existing relationships with U.S. government agencies to make such an exchange possible. 

Shin suggests that the Anti-Terrorism Funding Guidelines represent an unsustainable short-term solution. Instead, she advocates for policy revisions that encourage the private sector to fund arts programs such as the Arabesque Festival that aim to enhance U.S.-Middle East relations.

Shin, Hyesun. 2013. "Post-9/11 International Artist Exchanges Between the United States and the Middle East." The Journal of Arts Management, Law, and Society, 43: 203-214. DOI: 10.1080/10632921.2013.841112

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