IMHO: Arts and Minds

In the October issue of The American Prospect, you can find my essay on the new State Department/ American Association of Museums collaboration. “The United States government wants to enlist members of the art community to help win ‘hearts and minds.’ This fall, the American Association of Museums will award almost $700,000 — half of it from the State Department — to American grant applicants for overseas artistic outreach projects. The idea isn’t new, but the level of control the government may assert over the actual art is. At first blush, this program, Museums & Community Collaborations Abroad (MCCA), appears to be an earnest extension of U.S. ‘public diplomacy’ efforts, intended to help our country regain the international admiration it has lost during the Bush presidency. Under closer scrutiny, however, it is less benign….The issue is not altogether unfamiliar. During the Cold War, the CIA subsidized the avant-garde through front organizations such as the Congress for Cultural Freedom, which supported abstract expressionist painters as well as intellectual magazines like Encounter, Monat, and Partisan Review. The idea was precisely not to attach political strings to specific artists or projects, but to show ambivalent foreign elites that Western capitalist democracy constituted the most fertile ground for artistic freedom.” Read more. The American Prospect was founded in 1990 as an authoritative magazine of liberal ideas, committed to a just society, an enriched democracy, and effective liberal politics. Robert Kuttner, Robert Reich, and Paul Starr launched the magazine initially as a quarterly. Since then, the Prospect has grown into a magazine with a paid circulation of 55,000, a special in-depth report in most issues, and a daily Web magazine with more than 300,000 monthly visitors.

For more on USG funding of international art projects, check out Jason Edward Kaufman’s article in The Art Newspaper, the AAM website, and Lee Rosenbaum’s take on the program at Culturegrrl. Edward Winkleman assessed the program and opened his blog for debate. Also check out Louis Menand’s 2005 New Yorker article which examines how the CIA used Abstract Expressionism as a propaganda tool during the Cold War.

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