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University of Iowa News Release

Sept. 15, 2005

Committee Including UI's Merrill Calls For Urgency In Cultural Diplomacy

Throughout history, cultural diplomacy has bridged the gaps left by political disagreements, and now more than ever the U.S. should be devoting resources to sharing its cultural riches with the world, according to a new report drafted by Christopher Merrill, University of Iowa professor of English and director of the International Writing Program.

The Report of the Advisory Committee on Cultural Diplomacy is the result of a year's worth of research and fact-finding by a nine-member committee including Merrill. Members of Congress, concerned about the decline of support for America around the world, mandated the committee and Merrill was nominated by Rep. Jim Leach (R-Iowa.) The committee was charged with advising the Secretary of State on programs and policies to advance the use of cultural diplomacy in United States foreign policy.

Merrill and the committee will present the report today (Thursday, Sept. 15) at 10 a.m. at the U.S. Department of State.

Defining cultural diplomacy as "the exchange of ideas, information, art and other aspects of culture among nations and their peoples in order to foster mutual understanding," the report states that "it is in cultural activities that a nation's idea of itself is best represented."

In preparing the report, the committee drew on the findings of several academic studies, independent task forces, and various commissions and committees on public and cultural diplomacy; insights gleaned during its summer 2004 fact-finding mission to Oman, Egypt, and the United Kingdom, as well as from separate visits by Merrill to Greece, Malaysia and Norway; interviews with artists, choreographers, cultural activists, educators, film makers, theater directors and writers in the U.S. and abroad; and discussions with American diplomats, program officers at the State Department, and a range of foreign officials, journalists and experts.

The report notes that since the end of the Cold War, the United States has lost its focus on and withdrawn funding from programs promoting American ideals abroad. "And the waning of American cultural presence abroad left a gap in public perception eagerly filled by those with political agendas diametrically at odds with ours -- particularly extremists in the Islamic world," the report states.

The report includes 21 recommendations for improving and enhancing cultural diplomacy, starting with a commitment to funding such opportunities on an ongoing basis. An important starting point, the report says, is the creation of an independent clearinghouse to promote the national interest, as the British Council does for the United Kingdom. This entity would support groups in their efforts to bring the best artists, writers and other cultural figures to their audiences and develop public-private partnerships to help facilitate such exchange. The report also calls for increased support for educational and cultural exchange, particularly with Arab and Muslim artists, students and scholars, and for funding for translation of important texts into and out of English.

With the confirmation of Karen Hughes, a longtime confidant of President Bush, as undersecretary of state for public diplomacy and public affairs, Merrill said the committee hopes to see public diplomacy "accorded a new place in the diplomatic hierarchy."

He said that political differences will always be a part of international affairs, as is the case today, but cultural exchange highlights those things we share in common, rather than our differences.

"If you don't have a cultural presence, the only way for people to judge is on politics," Merrill said. "And in the Middle East particularly, we will always lose on politics. If at this juncture we can not self-correct, then the consequences could be more dire than they already are."

OTHER INFORMATION: The complete report is available online, http://www.state.gov/documents/organization/54374.pdf

STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa News Services, 300 Plaza Centre One, Suite 371, Iowa City, Iowa 52242-2500.

CONTACTS: Media: Mary Geraghty Kenyon, 319-384-0011, mary-kenyon@uiowa.edu. Program: Christopher Merrill, christopher-merrill@uiowa.edu