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Michael Kaiser Headshot

An Open Letter to Secretary Kerry

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Dear Secretary of State Kerry:

Congratulations on becoming our nation's leading diplomat. Everyone hopes and prays that you will build on the great work of your predecessors to make the world a safer and happier place.

While you have access, no doubt, to a wealth of advice and knowledge, I humbly suggest that you fully exploit the expertise of your arts community and the power of cultural diplomacy.

Since the time of the pilgrims, America has experienced virtual separation of art and state. We have no Secretary of Culture and no national cultural policy. As a result, the potential power of the remarkable (privately funded) arts ecology that has been created in this nation has been traditionally under-utilized in our diplomatic efforts.

Why is this a problem?

Because we are wasting a huge diplomatic resource. Other nations have used cultural activities to build bridges on a sustained and widespread basis. The recent work of the Chinese government and the British Council are just two such examples.

But I am not suggesting we duplicate their efforts and send large numbers of American artists abroad. This is very expensive and I question whether the pay-off is large enough. When we tour abroad we tend to reach the most educated and worldly members of society. Are we really changing minds when we perform for the elite?

But the time is right for another form of cultural diplomacy. Other national governments do care deeply for the role of culture and the arts. They spend time and resources to ensure the health of their cultural institutions. And right now, these institutions are threatened. Governments across the globe can no longer afford to support their arts institutions and are desperate to find new funding strategies. We in America have developed approaches to building private levels of support and can transfer this knowledge to everyone's benefit.

Of course you know that the best diplomacy involves building relationships. And when we go abroad and teach arts leaders how to find new resources, we are building relationships that can last forever.

And we are sending an important message: while we are proud of American artists, we acknowledge that the artists of every nation are important and we want to help them succeed.

This approach to cultural diplomacy also has the advantage of being very inexpensive. It does not require exporting large orchestras or dance companies. It simply takes one person with expertise who is willing to teach others and costs little more than an airplane ticket and a hotel room.

I am sure you are spending a great deal of time addressing crucial areas like the Middle East. You should know that some of us have been welcome visitors in Damascus and Ramallah because the governments there are anxious to see their orchestras and theater companies prosper.

At a time when many Americans are looking to cut the budget of the State Department, you have an entire arts sector ready to work with you.

Just call on us.

Sincerely,

Michael M. Kaiser