Social media viewed as critical tool for cultural diplomacy

WASHINGTON – Facebook, Twitter and other digital social network tools are now integral to cultural diplomacy and arts exchanges, according to presenters at today’s CCLP Washington DC “First Monday” forum.

Anita Maynard-Losh, Director of Community Engagement for Washington’s Arena Stage complex, said she uses Facebook to link twelve ensembles in the U.S. with four theater groups in India.

CCLP PDC mtg Joe Johnson (2)“I wasn’t even on Facebook,” Maynard-Losh said. “I didn’t know how to chat.”

But that was before the Arena Stage programs in India last year, which were funded by the State Department. Now, according to Maynard-Losh, the young people in the Indian groups insist that she join their social networks, where Indian and American artists are in constant contact. (pictured to the right: L-R forefront, Susan Clampitt, moderator; Maynard-Losh; and Pennie Ojeda, background: Adam Clayton Powell III and Roger J. Whyte II)

View the Arena stage presentation here: India Presentation2.pdf

Her words were echoed by Pennie Ojeda, Director of International Activities for the National Endowment for the Arts.

“It’s part of everything we do,” Ojeda said. “We don’t even think about it.”

Ojeda said digital media are integrated into all four of her initiatives – U.S. Artists International, which sends American artists to arts festivals around the world; ArtsLink, which funds 18 artists and arts managers to come to the U.S. each year; the U.S. Japan Creative Artists Program, which sends five Americans to Japan each year; and the new Southern Exposure program, which focuses on exchanges with performing arts in Latin America.

Roger J. Whyte II, Director of Special Events for the Washington Performing Arts Society, said he is using social media for all WPAS international programs with Washington embassies – and to link those programs with Washington DC schools and school programs.

Among those will be a free concert that WPAS will present on Feb. 10 at the Kennedy Center featuring South African artists, to celebrate the anniversary of Nelson Mandela’s release from prison over two decades ago. Spreading the word on Twitter and Facebook will be integral to outreach, according to Whyte.

That concert is just part of a major arts and culture initiative by the South African Embassy here.

“South Africa has many cultures,” said Aluwani Museisi (pictured below right), the Embassy’s First Secretary: Socio-Economic and Development, adding that the several cultures will lead to a richer representation of his country during the 2013 arts initiatives.

DSCN5055 (2)One key role of cultural diplomacy – indeed of any public diplomacy – is to listen, not just to talk. And according to Maynard-Losh, listening to young Indian artists helped establish the themes for the India programs. One of the themes requested by actors in Kolkata was women and power.

“And we know from recent headlines how that resonates,” she said.

Maynard-Losh said her dream is to use the Internet to establish virtual connections with artists in India and around the world – and then to bring them to the U.S. to perform together. But funding for such an ambitious exchange seems out of reach, for now.

Today’s forum was part of a series of “First Monday” lunch forums in Washington DC presented by CCLP in partnership with the Public Diplomacy Council For future programs in the series, see the events page here.