Earlier this month I attended New York City’s Alliance for the Arts presentation of The Arts Forum at The New York Times on Cultural Diplomacy: Engaging a Changing World. Panelists included Maura M. Pally, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Professional and Cultural Exchanges at the U.S. State Department’s Educational and Cultural Affairs Bureau; Margaret C. Ayers, President, Robert Sterling Clark Foundation; Vishakha N. Desai, President, Asia Society; and Anne Pasternak, President, Creative Time.
Videos of the hour-long discussion are on The New York Times’ Community Affairs Facebook page. The session’s topic was simple enough: we can make meaningful and lasting connections among people through culture and the arts and that through this exchange people will gain a greater understanding and appreciation of our and other countries’ cultures, values, and similarities.
I enjoyed hearing about the history of the U.S.’ efforts in this area through its various diplomacy programs over decades, past efforts from Margaret Ayers and current efforts from Maura Pally. I especially enjoyed hearing Vishakha Desai’s definitions of cultural exchange, cultural engagement, and cultural diplomacy. The differences are nuanced, but distinct and important. Desai is always so interesting to listen to and inspirational. She pointed out that the Asia Society was at the forefront of cultural diplomacy in the U.S. when the Asia Society began in 1956.
Admittedly, this is an area of the arts of which I know little, so I was eager to see if there was an arts branding implication that I could draw from the session. It turns out the implication is fairly simple and hopefully obvious. It is about clarity. Many arts groups operate within a sphere of influence that is local or regional and some operate on a national or global level—in the performing and visual arts. When arts groups venture outside their physical spaces, they need to project an image without the perceptual aids of their locales or facilities.
To project this image and achieve this clarity when contemplating exposure abroad, arts groups need to consider three aspects: a new audience, emotional benefits, and perception.
Addressing a new audience. Arts groups are used to creating perceptions of their organizations with visitors and attendees, donors, educators, and others, but when considering representing the U.S., they need to consider their professional colleagues who staff the selection committees for participation. These advisory groups for the Bureau ask themselves how each group could represent the U.S.—not all of its faces—but perhaps one, and how each group could represent something that is culturally valuable about the U.S.
Focusing on emotional benefits. Selection committees also look for how the potential barriers of language and cultural differences can be overcome through an image of each arts group that speaks to underlying , universal emotions. In my business, this is focusing on benefits not features. In fact, we delve quite extensively into figuring out how best to position an organization to connect with people’s emotions.
Helping create a perception. Finally, arts groups must convey through their explanatory and promotional communications emotionally resonant and commonly-held messages, and compelling, clear visual identities. Arts groups need to project images that are concise, readily understandable and translatable, and precise for easier and more intuitive comprehension.
UPDATE. The Alliance for the Arts recently posted that “the U.S. State Department’s Educational and Cultural Affairs Bureau announced an open competition to administer the American Music Abroad program, which will consist of approximately 10 tours for professional American artists in a wide range of uniquely American musical genres. Estimated funding is $1,500,000. To be considered, the administrating organization must have at least four years experience in global exchanges. To learn more about the application, due April 29, 2011,” click here