Artful education : the role of Art in Embassies in 21st century diplomacy



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This case study focuses on the current purpose of the Art in Embassies (AIE) program that is run by the U.S. Department of State. More specifically, it examines how the temporary exhibition of art placed in Reykjavik, Iceland by AIE aids in fulfilling that purpose. I sought to determine how the U.S. Embassy in Iceland uses the exhibition and accompanying catalogue produced by Art in Embassies to educate visitors about American culture and aid in the embassy's cultural diplomacy efforts. I accomplished this by conducting interviews with the ambassador and Public Affairs staff in Reykjavik, members of the AIE staff, artists whose work was included in the exhibition, and Icelanders who had the opportunity to view the art in the ambassador's residence. My goal in researching this topic was to contribute to our understanding of the role visual art can play in cultural diplomacy. Initially, it was unclear to me how education factors into Art in Embassies, given that access to the art is limited. It is now my belief that there are certain posts around the world that are working to utilize their AIE exhibition to its fullest potential, and they should be commended for their efforts. However, much more needs to be done to encourage all ambassadors to use art as a tool for diplomacy. The lack of current research on Art in Embassies was a chief motivator for conducting this study. In recent years, the number of people researching the field of cultural diplomacy and writing on why the U.S. government should better engage in it has steadily increased (Cummings, 2003; Hurlburt & Ivey, n.d.; Sablosky, 2003; Schneider, 2002/2009). Despite this fact, little has been done to address this issue. As a well-established government program focused on art and culture, Art in Embassies is uniquely positioned to engage audiences around the world by harnessing the power of art to foster goodwill and mutual understanding.