In his fine article "Out from Under the Proscenium: A Paradigm for U.S. Cultural Diplomacy," Peter Kovach lays out a pretty solid working model of a new frontier for cultural diplomacy. He emphasizes a move away from the old Cold War model of CD and toward one that focuses strongly on engagement--a term that is usually more associated with the exchanges part of public diplomacy. I had always considered cultural diplomacy to be a more one-way flow of information--jazz tours, art exhibits, etc--so while I first sort of went "huh?" at his suggestion, the more I read the more I thought he was onto something good. It will take American culture out of the movie theater and off the pedestal, so to speak; as Kovach says, "We must do this in the spirit of wanting to be known and wanting, in turn, to know others." His plan seems to couple the exchanges and other people-to-people programs with traditional cultural diplomacy subjects, and I think it's an excellent idea.
Then, while scrolling through the latest John Brown review, I spotted this article that to me shows what's wrong with the old method of cultural diplomacy. Senior FSO Patricia Kushlis critiques the placement of the US ambassador to the UK's American art collection--not just his own private collection, but works from museums, galleries and other sources, procured through the State Department's Art in Embassies program. While she notes that the collection is impressive, she wonders--rightfully, I think--why it has not been made more accessible to the public. Here's a great opportunity to showcase some of the best of American art--which according to Kushlis is hard to come by in major museums in London--and it's staying in the Susmans' residence, only to be seen by those who get invited there for events. Kushlis doesn't suggest that the residence be opened to the public, since security has been tight in residences even since before 9/11. (John Brown felt it was more feasible--see his lively discussion with Kushlis in the comments.) but that a public-private sector initiative be started that places a permanent collection of art in a well-known London gallery, complete with room for temporary exhibitions and other programs about American art and culture. She argues that this could be a step in the right direction for a better U.S. pavilion at the next World Expo, in Milan in 2016: "...it seems to me that both are important enough in terms of American image building among the public and the elite groups –in a non-propagandist way – to be taken seriously and handled right."
I completely agree with Kushlis' suggestion, and would even take it one step further by implementing some of Kovach's ideas in the process. Perhaps the PAO/CAO in London, and/or the consulates in Edinburgh and Belfast, could establish partnerships between young American and British artists, including long-term exchanges with the best art programs at universities in both countries. The emphasis, as Kovach stated, would be on co-creation, with the aim of showcasing their work in temporary exhibitions--including at that London gallery at which Kushlis suggests the permanent American art collection could be housed. Hopefully, these collaborations could lead to long-term partnerships and a better understanding of both countries--especially important in the case of the UK, our closest ally. (It could of course be implemented in other countries as well.) In order to get "out from under the proscenium" as Kovach says, we need more creativity and energy in our cultural diplomacy, and breathing life into our art programs would be a great place to start.