THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release November 28, 2000
REMARKS AT WHITE HOUSE CONFERENCE
ON CULTURE AND DIPLOMACY
The East Room
11:35 A.M. EST
MRS. CLINTON: Thank you. Please be seated. Welcome to the East
Room of the White House for this important conference, and I am delighted
to welcome all of you here and particularly Secretary Albright and
Secretary Riley, Senator Leahy and Congressman Leach, members of the
Diplomatic Corps, the NEA Chairman Bill Ivey and the NEH Chairman Bill
Ferris. Librarian of Congress James Billington and all of the other
distinguished guests who are here.
The President and I welcome you to the first-ever White House
Conference on Culture and Diplomacy. You know, it has been said that
culture may be described simply as that which makes life worth living. It
is the arts and humanities that give us roots, that foster our civil
society and democracy, and that create a universal language so that we can
understand each other better as nations and human beings, even when the
dialogue of diplomacy is strained or doesn't exist at all.
I recall so many occasions in talking with people who fought for
democracy in their own societies, often against great odds, who told me how
art and music kept their spirit going and kept them persevering in the face
of often intolerable burdens and seemingly insurmountable odds.
At a time when resources are scarce and fears of a global
consumer culture that threatens to homogenize us all are on the rise, we
are searching for new ways to share and preserve our unique cultures around
the world. And I cannot think of a more distinguished gathering to do that
than our first panel whom we will hear from in a few moments.
We'll hear from one of the world's great musicians, Yo-Yo Ma,
who has often entertained us here at the White House with his performances
and who just stood in with the Marine Band strings, much to their great
delight. (Laughter.) And I think Senator Leahy, because at the moment
there was no White House photographer around, but the Senator, who is quite
an accomplished photographer, memorialized this occasion for the White
I want to thank Poet Laureate Rita Dove, who was also once a
Fulbright Scholar in Germany, and whose German-born husband accompanies us
here on this conference today.
We're honored to have a Nobel Laureate among us. You know, Wole
Soyinka is someone who means so much not only to his own culture, but to
the universal culture that respects not only great writing and thinking,
but a great human spirit.
I want to thank Her Excellency, the imaginative Minister of
Culture from Italy. I first met Giovanna Melandri in Florence when the
Italian government sponsored a wonderful millennial conference on culture
and the arts, and Giovanna played the leading role in pulling that
I want to thank His Highness The Aga Khan for joining us today.
He is a powerful voice for culture and development around the world, and
for respecting the unique culture and history of different societies.
And Joan Spero, the President of the Doris Duke Charitable
Foundation, a former State Department official serving in this
administration, who is a great champion of the arts.
Now, that is just the panel. And in the audience, we could
literally introduce everyone here with similar descriptions. We have an
extraordinary group of scholars, creators, government officials, foundation
heads, business leaders from around the world. I know that many of them
will be introduced to you and you will be hearing from them as the day goes
on. Our friend John Brademus is here, who is a champion of the arts in the
Congress and has gone on to be a champion as the head of a university and
in his many other roles.
Congressman Lee Hamilton who played a similar role, my friend
Chuck Close, Meryl Streep, John Lithgow -- many, many people who have
really added to the culture not only of the United States, but of their own
nations and of the world. So let me thank all of you for being here and for
the important role that you will play.
This conference grew out of the ongoing efforts by Secretary
Albright and Under Secretary Evelyn Lieberman to ensure that culture is not
marginal, but central to our diplomacy. And it grew out of the many
recommendations we've received about how to strengthen U.S. cultural life
and understanding around the world, including the report done in 1997 by
the President's Committee on the Arts and Humanities, which specifically
suggested a White House forum.
Now, this idea is catching on around the world. When I
participated in the major World Bank Conference in Florence on the Role of
Culture in Sustainable Development, there were people from all over the
world in addition to the minister and myself who were thinking about how to
take it to the next stage. And many people have understood that if we want
history and identity to be preserved in the global marketplace, culture
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During these last eight years I've been privileged to travel
around my country and around our world, meeting with people from Turkey to
Vietnam to New Mexico, who are trying to save historic places, documents
and communities, and who understand how important it is that there can be
no freedom of speech or press, or freedom of religion or political
expression, unless culture is free to thrive. There can be no vibrant
democracy unless people understand and preserve their own history, and have
a say in creating their culture and their future.
I remember in this room, at President Havel's suggestion when we
had a state dinner for him, that we invite Lou Reed as the entertainment.
And we've received a little criticism from time to time in the last eight
years -- nothing really that amounted to much -- (laughter) -- and when
word went out that Lou Reed was performing at a state dinner, some in the
press didn't understand. But when we explained that it was Lou Reed's
music and the Velvet Underground that he represented that really did help
President Havel get through some very tough times, it really became clear
that culture and the arts are powerfully political, in individual lives and
in the lives of our societies.
We hope that the work that comes out of this conference and that
really is the impetus behind what we hope to achieve in the future really
does have a life of its own after today, and that each of us in our various
roles will understand how significant it is that we pause for a moment here
in the White House to recognize, respect and honor culture.
No one has worked harder or more effectively to make that point,
here and around the world, than our next speaker. From her very first day
at the State Department, the Secretary has made sure that culture has been
integrated into our overall foreign policy. She's known around the world
as a skilled diplomat, a tough negotiator, a tireless peacemaker, a dancer
extraordinaire -- (laughter) -- a wonderful friend, and an absolutely
first-class Secretary of State -- Madeleine Albright.
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Thank you very much. Thank you. What a
pleasure to be here. And the warmth and strength of this audience -- we
had a great dinner last night, and I think we got everybody totally in the
right mood. So I'm very pleased. Thank you, Madam First Lady -- or should
I say Senator-elect. I'm sure I speak for everyone -- (applause) -- we
were just saying that all of us, no matter where we live, believe we are
your constituents. (Laughter.)
Mr. President, Secretary Riley, Senator Leahy, Congressman Leach
and distinguished members of the Presidential panel and Excellencies from
the Diplomatic Corps, good friends and colleagues and guests. This is
truly a remarkable occasion and I'm so pleased to be able to be a part of
I begin by thanking the President for convening this conference,
and to all of you for participating. And I look forward to having what we
say in diplomatic terms, a frank and productive discussion on an
increasingly vital subject.
And the truth is, whenever I have traveled in the past for the
last few years, I have been totally impressed and very aware of the fact
that culture has had the most direct influence on our world events.
Cultural factors play a pivotal role in many of the international
challenges we face, from establishing rules for trade to finding common
ground in the pursuit of peace.
And that's why our cultural diplomacy programs are central -- and
I underline that -- central -- to the success of American foreign policy.
They help us educate our citizens about the national experience of others
and help friends abroad gain knowledge about the dynamism and diversity of
our own culture. And that's why it was so important that we were able to
bring cultural and public diplomacy programs into the mainstream of U.S.
foreign policy, when we brought USIA and all the various programs that it
involved within the State Department, itself, and why we have to continue
working together on a bipartisan basis to finance them more generously.
As the First Lady has said, we are fortunate this morning to have
a panel of unparalleled accomplishment and demonstrated wisdom to launch
this discussion, and fortunate as well to hear from the person whom I'm
about to introduce.
When President Clinton took office, he confronted a world
transformed by technological and political change. The old rules of
national security no longer applied, and the new rules had not yet been
written. There was a real risk that America, in the absence of a Cold War
threat, would retreat from our responsibilities and turn our back on the
Instead, under this President, our nation has restored its
international economic leadership and been a mighty force for peace from
Northern Ireland and the Balkans to North Korea and Africa. Today, America
enjoys greater prosperity than we've ever known, in a world more free than
it has ever been.
But President Clinton has also understood that real leadership is
not measured only in economic and security terms. And that's why he has
brought his message of openness and mutual respect to every corner of the
earth. He has led efforts to humanize and democratize globalization
through debt relief, trade benefits for less developed nations and training
in 21st Century skills. He's inspired millions around the globe to pursue
and strengthen freedom and led the campaign against HIV/AIDS and championed
the rights of women and girls. And he has also thought and spoken
eloquently about the topic we are going to discuss here today.
Americans may be grateful for a chief executive who helped our
country enter the new century secure, prosperous and at peace. And the
world may be grateful that America has a leader who understands the
importance of cultural diplomacy. And I am always grateful to have the
opportunity to introduce the President of the United States, William
Jefferson Clinton. (Applause.)
THE PRESIDENT: Well, thank you very much, and welcome. I want
to, first of all, say how honored we are to have all of you here. This is
a remarkable assemblage, and I want to thank Hillary and Secretary Albright
and all the others who have worked so hard to put this meeting together
today. And I thank those of you who have come from around America and from
around the world to be here.
And I thank, especially, Senator Leahy and Republican Leach and
the members of the diplomatic community who have come.
This is a topic that I care a lot about. I think I should begin
by saying that Secretary Albright just spoke to you eloquently, wearing a
bolo from the Navajo Nation. I was just not very long ago on a Navajo
reservation in Northern New Mexico. But it represents a very distinctive
and important part of America's culture, the first Americans.
This conference, I think, comes at a rather pivotal time in human
history, because we all think we know what we mean when we talk about
cultural diplomacy. You know, you send your artists to us, we send our
musicians to you, we all make nice and everybody feels better. But the
truth is that the world is also full of conflict. Indeed, I was seeing Mr.
Lithgow out there and he may have thought that in the last two weeks he has
returned to the third rock from the sun. (Laughter.)
Let me say what I mean by this. The end of the Cold War, bipolar
world, and the emergence of a global information society have given rise to
two apparently contradictory forces. And what we came here to talk about
sort of falls in the middle.
First, you see, as we all get to find our own way at the end of
the Cold War, the emergence of a huge number of different racial,
religious, ethnic and tribal conflicts within and across national lines
that might commonly be called "culture wars" -- if you use culture in a
broader sense, and not just the sense that most of us use the word.
And, secondly, you see how, if they're having a crisis in Russia
or an earthquake in China, immediately we all know about it, all around the
world, because we live in a global information society and that means that
our musicians, our artists, our movies -- particularly here in America,
which has been an entertainment capital of the world -- go across the world
rapidly and other countries worry about whether we're going to blur all the
distinctions between our various cultures and render them meaningless so
that they won't have independent power to inform, to enlighten, to enrich
our own societies and those around the world. Now, these are not exactly
new questions, but they are being felt with increasing force because of the
end of the bipolar Cold War world and the emergence of the most globalized
society the Earth has ever known.
You can put me, as usual, in the optimistic camp. I still
believe that the role of culture in the sense that brings us here today
will be fundamentally positive, because it will teach us to understand our
differences and affirm our common humanity.
And that is, after all, the great trick in the world today.
Since we don't have to draw a line in the dust and say, you're on one side
or the other, the way we did for 40 years after the end of World War II, it
is very important that we understand and appreciate our differences, and
then recognize that, as important as they are, somehow we have to find a
way to elevate our common humanity. That's where cultural diplomacy comes
And I have certainly benefitted from it in terms of my life as
President, probably more than any person who ever held this office, in no
small measure because of the time in which I was privileged to serve. But
I can think of just in my lifetime a few examples that I might mention that
I think are important.
I think it's not an exaggeration to say that Glen Miller and
other American jazz bands had a pivotal effect on the morale of our
European allies in World War II. I think it's probably not wrong to say
that Elvis Presley did more to win the Cold War when his music was smuggled
into the former Soviet Union than he did as a GI serving in Germany.
I think it's worth noting that on the morning of Poland's first
free election in 1989, voters woke up to find their whole country plastered
with posters of my favorite movie, depicting Gary Cooper in "High Noon,"
with a Solidarity pin where his sheriff's badge should have been.
(Laughter.) And the gun in his holster airbrushed out. One look and the
people knew that the time had come to stand for freedom, nonviolently.
When I was on my state visit to the Czech Republic, Vaclav Havel
took me to the jazz club where he used to gather and plot the Velvet
Revolution. And I played with some of the Czech musicians who had been
allies of his in that great struggle.
A few years ago in Bosnia we needed to find a way to teach
children how to avoid land mines. So we choose the universal medium of
Superman comics. During the darkest days of that war, when books were
burned and libraries were shelled, American artists, authors and performers
like the conductor Charles Ansbacher, who is in our audience, traveled to
Sarajevo to show their Bosnian colleagues that they were not forgotten.
Even then, cultural diplomacy was a giant step ahead of
traditional diplomacy. In 1992, when the time finally came that we could
reach out a democratic South Africa, our path there was forged by the Dance
Theater of Harlem.
So cultural diplomacy does have the power to penetrate our common
humanity. And I say that not just in terms of the stars, but in terms of
the way people generally feel. And I was recently on our trip to Nigeria;
the First Lady of Nigeria dragged me out on to the dance floor to dance to
Nigerian music. And when I was in India, I went to a little village in
Rajasthan, Nilah (phonetic), and the village women got me in the middle of
their dancing and they showered me with thousands of petals of flowers.
And I understood, in a way that I never could have read from a book, how
they related to the world and what role music and the arts had in their
So, I think this is very important. I also don't buy the fact
that the fact that we know more about each other's culture means that we're
all going to be diluted. I think that American culture has been enriched
by the rest of the world, and hopefully we've been a positive force on the
rest of the world.
In our country, we have the architecture of I.M. Pei, or the
plays of David Wong, who is with us today, and who reminds us that American
art, in many ways, is the art of the rest of the world.
Dr. Saman Sang and his wife, Chan Mulachan (phonetic), have also
joined us today. They escaped from Cambodia during the reign of the Khmer
Rouge and brought to America the gift of Cambodian court dance. It was
threatened in the land of its birth and it is now part of our culture, as
well. With the support of foundations like Rockefeller, Ford and the NEA,
they are now returning home to introduce a new generation of Cambodians to
their old culture.
I say this to point out that our country really does benefit from
this sort of cultural interchange, and I think we can benefit others if,
from time to time, we provide a safe haven for cultural preservation. I
think this is more important now than it was in the past because of the way
the world works, as I have said. I know there are some people who believe
that our culture has become too pervasive in the rest of the world. I've
encountered this anxiety in every part of the world, from people who don't
share our political system's views to those who just worry about the trade
impact of American movies or records or Cds.
Many people are absolutely sure that because of globalization,
pretty soon their children will be speaking American English, every
television will be tuned to MTV and every French movie will have a happy
And in some parts of the world, these kind of fears have fueled a
lot of bitterness about the process of globalization. But we can't turn
this globalization off -- you know, people want to know more about each
other. And now they have the means to do it. The Internet is the most
powerful means of communication in all of human history.
And I think that globalization, in the end, will be a force for
diversity, not uniformity. A week ago I was in Vietnam, where many people
are wondering how to open their doors while protecting their traditions. I
pointed out that globalization is not just bringing the world into Vietnam,
but it is also bringing Vietnam to the rest of the world.
Films about life in Vietnam are winning awards over the globe.
Paintings by Vietnamese artists command fortunes at international art
shows. Fortunately, we were able to find some wonderful ones in Vietnam
that don't yet require a fortune to buy. (Laughter.) Old Vietnamese poems
are published in America in English, Vietnamese, and in an ancient script
that never before has come off a printing press.
Consider the Nobel Prize in Literature, for those who think the
world is becoming homogenized. Of the first 80 prizes given out after
1900, only five went to authors outside Europe and North America. Seven of
the last 20 prizes have gone to Asian, Latin American and African authors,
including our panelist, Wole Soyinka, not simply because the good people of
the Nobel Committee are trying to cast a wider net, but because we actually
do know more about one another than ever before.
And what about this business about language being homogenized?
Well, if you get on the Internet, you will find people all over the world
chatting in Welsh, downloading fonts in Bengali, ordering courses in
intensive Cherokee. With advances in translation and voice recognition
technology, before long it will be possible for people to communicate
instantaneously on the Internet or even on the telephone in their own
languages. Thanks to the Internet, people with similar interests and
outlooks can now be dispersed around the world, and still form a community.
I tell somebody all the time, I've got a cousin in Arkansas who
regularly plays chess with a man in Australia. I don't know how they work
out the time change, but this is the kind of thing that is happening. And
it will open the avenues for more cultural, even subcultural diplomacy.
Now, we have some obligations here. We have to do more to close
the digital divide so that the poor of the world can participate more
readily in this sort of cultural interchange. And we are working very hard
on that. We also have to work hard in America to make sure that our
contributions reflect the diversity of our culture. We have supported
public-private partnerships in recent years, for example, that have sent
Andy Warhol exhibits to the Hermitage in St. Petersburg, Navajo textiles to
Latin America and the art exchange between regional museums in America and
France that Elizabeth Rowatan (phonetic) has recently organized.
And I do want to support the legislation that has been introduced
by Representative Leach who is here and Senator Biden, to create an
endowment to support State Department cultural exchange programs on top of
the funds we're already providing. This will become more and more
So I've already said more than I meant to, but I care a lot about
this subject. I think you should see this for what it is. It's an
opportunity for us to learn more about each other, to understand each other
better, to reaffirm our common humanity, and in so doing, not to blur the
cultural lines, but to highlight them in a way that promote peace and
reconciliation, and therefore put a real roadblock in the path of those who
would like a 21st Century dominated by culture wars, instead of cultural
Thank you very much. (Applause.)
Hillary has to go, and we're giving her a cultural excused
absence. She's going to sign copies of her new book. (Laughter.)
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT?: Let me just get us started. I think that
the President's opening remarks have made very clear the importance that we
place on cultural diplomacy. From my perspective, as we have been looking
to institutionalize various aspects of new foreign policy that are
absolutely essential as we move into the 21st Century, I think trying to
anchor completely the role of cultural diplomacy is very, very important.
And so, I hope that as a result of this panel, and as a result of
this fantastic audience that's going to carry on discussions later today,
we really develop ways that -- how we are able to make sure that cultural
diplomacy continues this very good start of being central to our foreign
policy. So let me now turn this over to the President, and we will
continue our discussion.
THE PRESIDENT: Well, I think we should basically talk about the
first issue that I mentioned, which is preserving diverse cultures in a
global economy. I don't buy the argument that we're all going to become
homogenized. But I do believe that nations and groups within nations have
to work hard to protect their cultures. So I would like to ask you,
Highness, to make a few remarks on this subject, and thank you for your
HIS HIGHNESS THE AGA KHAN: Mr. President, thank you very much.
I would like to be brief and to the point and try to illustrate some areas
where I think American foreign policy could have a significant impact on
the pluralism of culture around the world.
I think the first issue that arises is one, President, which you
raised, which is the question of language. And many of the world's most
important cultures cannot communicate in the English language. They are
not able to communicate, their resources are constrained in their language;
and, in fact, that has become worse due to the policies that were in place
at the time of decolonization, to treat language as a building block for
nationhood. Some countries opted for an African language or an Asian
language and in that way, in a sense, worsened the issue.
So the first point I would make is that I think there are
significant cultures around the world that would need to be assisted to
convey to the world their cultures in English. That doesn't mean giving up
the national language. It means exposing to global understanding their own
culture. It will improve the global understanding, it will enhance their
own respect for their own culture.
The second issue that I would raise, as you asked about how to
protect cultures in the developing world, is the issue of institutions.
Institutions in the developing world in the cultural field are extremely
weak, and this is particularly severe in higher education, where the
humanities are not really taught to a significant level in the universities
of Africa and Asia.
The third issue I would raise is the people. People in the
Western world who live from culture are able to live from their activities
in an honorable manner, in a dignified manner. The carriers of culture in
much of Asia and Africa, which is the part of the world I know, simply do
not have the economic context in which they can survive from their
commitments to culture.
And the last point I would make is with regard to communications
where, President, you mentioned the issue. The United States has
communications capacity, global communications capacity, which is unique in
human history. It seems to me very important that these communications
capabilities should be used to enhance understanding of the pluralism of
human culture. And that message, carried across the world, in the
developing world in particular, it seems to me a really essential issue.
So these are the points that I would want to make very briefly as
to perhaps areas which the panels may want to discuss where United States
policy could come in support with your institutions, with your academia,
with your capacity to organize and plan, so that culture isn't the last
item on the development list in most or many of the countries of Asia and
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you.
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Thank you very much. And I think that we're
very glad to have you here, Your Highness. We had a dinner about two
months ago, I think, in the State Department where we first started
thinking about these ideas. And His Highness was there, and I think
presented a very useful set of points for us to discuss, which I think are
coming out here. And so the impetus for a lot of what we're doing has a
lot to do with the role that you have played internationally on this.
The issue of language is obviously extremely important. And I
have had the feeling, as Secretary, when I sit across the table from
somebody whose language I do not understand at all about the importance
that interpreters play in our daily life, and that they are the cement or
the glue that allows us to have discussions. And I was recently in North
Korea, and having Kim Jong-il ask about how -- whether I thought his
interpreters were any good and could we really help more, I think made very
clear your point about language.
I think it's very important also that we engage as many
organizations, both public and private, in our whole effort, and try to do
what the President was saying in terms of not seeing globalization as
something that is good or bad.
I think also what is so important is to describe what you said,
Your Highness, about the fact that people should be allowed to be involved
in cultural activities in a way that is dignified and allows them to play
an important role. And there is no one I think that has done this better
than our Nobel Laureate, Wole Soyinka, who has talked so much about the
importance of ideas and culture. No one has written more, I think, on
culture as an expression of truth about people and how they see their role
in the world. And if I could ask you a question.
You went to prison for your desire to have freedom of expression.
And why are art and culture so important that artists actually are willing
to go to jail, or worse, for pursuing their art? And why is it so urgent
in the face of globalization and development that we preserve the ability
to have diverse cultures?
MR. SOYINKA: Thank you. I sometimes think the answer to that is
that artists are a crazy bunch of people in the world, seem to have a
totally different temperament and sensibility from the more rational beings
that inhabit the globe.
Well, I think it has to do also with what should not exist, a
kind of instinctive opposition of culture to politics. That kind of
dichotomy really shouldn't exist; but then it happens because politics
tend, I think, to have, as its first principle, the demonization of the
other, whereas culture tends toward the humanization of the other.
And I sometimes wonder if the seeming division between politics
and culture -- which sometimes I translate as the difference, the division
between power and freedom, one on the side of politics, the other on the
side of culture, and I think the reason for that is simply because of the,
particularly sometimes seemingly incompatible aspect of looking at the
world -- is it to demonize the other or to humanize the other? And I find
encounters like this very important in that respect because it seems to me
that a theme is an attempt to bring the two sides together. I think maybe
it's even part of the whole scheme of initiative of UNESCO, the dialogue of
civilizations, which has as its basis the presentation of the other in
I think the United States was represented at the conference of
U.N. recently, at the initiative of President Khatami of Iran, and UNESCO,
in which we met on a certain level, the artists, the intellectuals and so
on, and were addressed by the politicians and, of course, they listened to
us in turn.
So for the artist, I think, who has a far more holistic outlook
on the world than the average politician, I think -- maybe a few exceptions
like the former Rhodes Scholar sitting on my right here -- (laughter.) I
think that what we need right now is a continuation of this philosophy
behind the dialogue.
It's not so much even spreading the cultural gospel of one to the
other, but doing it on egalitarian terms. In other words, not with a sense
of superiority, and above all, using culture to bridge the gap between
peoples. It sounds romantic, of course; but then, if the other side --
politics -- is merely dividing peoples, I think then other human
activities, such as culture, have a right also to be romantic in that
An example, one final example -- for instance, I look at a
situation which I'm sure is on the mind of everybody here, the Middle East,
where the issue really is one of a very profound demonization of
conflicting parties. And I wonder what kind of a role culture, the
presentation of the other in humanized terms, can play in a situation where
politics, diplomacy, appears to fail; where it is the peoples who need to
talk to one another, who need to be assisted to talk to one another, rather
than the leadership talking between themselves, and even the leadership
talking to their own and other peoples.
So I think this is profoundly -- this way of seeing or perceiving
the world, of sensing the world, which makes maybe some of us so daft as to
risk the ire of dictators and so on, and go to jail for what they believe.
THE PRESIDENT: If I could just follow up a little bit on the
Middle East to illustrate your point. One of the most successful things
that's been done in the Middle East in the last 10 years is this Seeds of
Peace program, which brings together Israeli children with children from
all the Arab societies surrounding it. And they do things together, they
work together. And if you talk to these kids, the sea change in their
attitudes that have been affected about each other, and their
understandings of one another because of the way they have lived and worked
together, even for brief periods of time -- often, I might add, in the
United States, they come here a lot and spend time here -- is really
And the flip side of that, to make a particular cultural point,
is the profound alienation which occurs when people believe that their
cultural symbols are off limits, one to the other, and when even sometimes
in the case of the Palestinian textbooks, what they say about the Israelis
is almost designed to create a cultural divide that will maintain
solidarity within the society, but then makes it harder and harder to
create peace, and also maximizes misunderstanding.
The one thing that I think ought to be thought about in view of
all these cultural conflicts that I mentioned earlier around the world is
that the most dangerous thing that can happen in trying to -- if you're
trying to preserve peace and get people to make progress, is when both
sides feel like perfect victims, and therefore, every bad thing that
happens they believe happened on purpose. They cannot ever admit the
possibility of accidents. People do screw up in politics. So bad things
sometimes happen not by design. But if you believe -- but if you see this,
you realize how desperately we need some cultural coming together, some
means of reaffirmation. And so, anyway, the Middle East is a classic
example in both good and bad ways -- the point you just made.
I'd like to call next on Rita Dove, who was our Poet Laureate a
couple of years ago, and she was a Fulbright Scholar in Germany. She's
lived in Israel, she's lived in Ireland, and who knows where else -- I
think France. And I think she has a unique sort of perspective on this.
So I want to give you a chance to say whatever is on your mind about the
MS. DOVE: The first thing I noticed when I -- well, for the
first time, which was a Fulbright Scholar, was how American I was -- that
what I had conceived as almost irreconcilable differences between my ethnic
background and what I perceived to be American culture were really
infinitesimal compared to how the world perceived America, and that, in
fact, I had more things in common with my fellow Americans than I had --
than I imagined that I had.
The connections that I began to make with people as a writer were
connections which were very human. And just to join in with what our Nobel
Laureate has said, the idea that these connections have to happen on a
human level, on an egalitarian level, is extremely important.
I'm reminded of an anecdote that a fellow poet had told me.
Michael S. Harper, who is an African American poet, had gone to South
Africa on a cultural mission, and was -- this was before apartheid had been
lifted. And as he was in the taxi cab, which was driven by a colored taxi
driver, the driver turned around and said, "Listen. When black Americans
are alone together, what do they speak, what language do they speak?"
(Laughter.) And he said, "Well, English," and tried to explain that there
were, of course, idiomatic expressions and black English and all that. He
said, "No, no, no, no." He said, "When you get together, don't you speak
And that notion that language is something which communicates on
a level beyond -- or underneath, let's say, rational thought, that language
contains -- that in fact it contains all of the music and all of the hidden
feelings of us, and that it is in fact something that is an amalgam of all
of our experiences and our differences.
Jazz, a callalu, a gumbo, rather than something that divides us,
which is something that's always accompanied me. When I was Poet Laureate,
I had the opportunity to travel in official capacity as a spokesperson for
this country. And I was impressed by the fact that many foreigners were
amazed that Americans could be so diverse and yet so at ease with our
diversity, relatively at ease compared to much of the world.
They were also amazed at the speed with which we can absorb the
many aspects of our culture. And I think that it is no mean feat that we
continue to work at in this country. When we seem to be most floundering,
in terms of trying to bridge our differences or incorporate our differences
into a pot that doesn't melt them all together, but instead gives us a
mosaic, that's really when we're doing our best. To present a unified
front is no way to, I believe, to begin to communicate with other people in
any human level.
I don't think this was an automatic development in this country.
I think, in fact, that the arts have played a major role in this, this
education of what we could perhaps call this gumbo national character that
we have. I think the National Endowment for the Arts and the National
Endowment for the Humanities and private philanthropic foundations have
gone a long way toward bringing our culture to the people of the country,
making it available to those who might not have been able to get to a
museum or to play an instrument, or to meet a live author or to be able to
express their feelings and have someone listen to them.
And when I was Poet Laureate I had a woman -- one of the letters
that I received has always stuck with me -- there was a women who wrote
simply that -- in arguing that art begins with children, and it begins very
small in schools. They need to be familiar with it. She said that poetry
is making the language your own. That doesn't mean that it excludes
others, but it means that you learn the languages there to be made into
your -- to be given out into your own story. And then you share your own
story, your own version with other people.
I think that what she was also trying to say is that -- and I'm a
poet, so I must talk from that aspect -- that if you don't know how to
express what you're feeling, that in a certain extent, some of what you're
feeling gets lost and you become bewildered. That if you can't know how to
say that to other people, if you cannot -- if you don't have, in fact, the
-- if you don't feel that you have the right to say what you feel, honestly
and deeply, to someone else -- and literature gives you that opportunity to
do that -- then you'll never be able to connect to know that, in fact,
people are more alike than they are different.
It's for that reason that I think that I'm always astonished when
people claim that the arts are elitist, that they don't belong at the very
base of all of our priorities. To me, a poem, a piece of art of music,
they're so firmly rooted in the world that they're more helpful in
negotiating our terms of our identities, I think, with a more public
spirit. I find them more useful than, in fact, the mass media. I think
that mass media can give us the news, but they can't tell us what to do
it -- as we've learned lately. (Laughter.)
Of course, it's not the task of the news media to give us a
solution, but it does help us I think to learn how to incorporate what's
happening in the world, in the larger world around us with our own personal
and private thoughts, and that art does that.
I'd like to end with a quote from a poet, William Carlos
Williams, because I believe that it is something we must remember all the
time. And that is that he argues that though we have information systems
which are the best in the world, and we are in a global economy and
information society, we are still starved for connection, and that's
something we have to remember.
He says, "It is difficult to get news from poems, yet men die
miserably every day for lack of what is found there." (Applause.)
THE PRESIDENT: I don't think I can improve on that. I would like
to now ask Yo-Yo Ma to make a few remarks. But before I do, I want to say
how much I personally appreciate all the times we've shared these last
eight years and the fact that you have chosen, even though many people
believe you're the greatest living classical musician, you have chosen to
spend an enormous part of your life in the act of cultural diplomacy as a
part of your work -- playing with Chinese musicians, with Kalahari Bush
People or, something that I particularly appreciate, your work with Mark
O'Connor on the Appalachian Suite, which I think is one of the most
important pieces of American music in many, many years, uniting the strains
of classical music with American hill country music, which is an important
part of my heritage.
So you've actually, in a way, made a life of cultural diplomacy,
without calling it that, and I'm very grateful to you. (Applause.)
MR. MA: In that case, I don't have to say anything. (Laughter.)
Mr. President, it's such an honor to be here and I feel that I've
done a lot of the work that I do because I've been very lucky. I've been
very privileged to travel. And on one of my recent travels, I'd like to
start with, I discovered a quote by Baaba Doom, (phonetic) the Senegalese
ecologist and poet. And he says, "In the end we will conserve only what we
love. We love only what we understand. And we will understand only what
we are taught."
We must learn about other cultures in order to understand, in
order to love and in order to conserve our common world heritage. So I
speak from a musician's perspective. And I can say three general ideas
have come to me regarding the notion of culture.
First, I've learned that you start a cultural education from the
inside -- whether it's in a piece of music or in a community. My teachers
and guides, both musical and nonmusical, have suggested that creativity
arises at the interface between the internal and the external. It is,
therefore, essential to start learning from the inside, from the living,
breathing communities where the work is sustained over time. Only by
gaining the level of understanding that comes from this kind of study can
we become truly advocates for other worlds.
Second, in all my collaborations -- whether musical or cultural
-- I found that the most important ingredient is the development of trust.
Whether rehearsing with pianist Emanuel Ax, or learning the Mongolian horse
head fiddle, I have learned that music is one of the best ways to connect
the inner lives of people. Only when trust exists can this connection be
Similarly, we must encourage trust among the cultures of the
world so that we can move forward from coexistence to co-reliance.
Finally, I've noticed that music, like people, has always
traveled. All styles of music and the many cultures I've experienced stem
from transnational roots. So, for example, the Argentinean composer, Astor
Piazola, his tango music grew from Italian, African, German, Spanish,
American and French influences. But we know it as the Argentine composer.
In looking at culture, we must recognize that the strength of any
one society is a product of its varied roots and we must encourage
continued cultural exchange.
In the Silk Route Project, which His Highness is also involved
in, the project attempts to unite these three ideas on an international
level. The project was founded to study the ebb and flow of ideas among
different cultures, along the ancient Silk Route, the Internet of
antiquity, if you will. (Laughter.) And Internet is everywhere.
Based on what we have learned, we're providing opportunities for
artists to share their talents with each other and with broader audiences.
Our ultimate goal is to build a network of people who are working to create
a common, cultural currency, a basis for the exchange of ideas.
I hope that one day we will think of our cultural identities not
as separate but, instead, as dynamic influences that compose our world
heritage. So the Silk Route Project is one of many organizations that are
doing this kind of cultural work. We are partners with other like-minded
entities; we're very lucky to be partners with the Aga Khan Trust for
Culture, in central Asia, and with the Smithsonian Folk Like Festival here
in Washington, D.C.
So if Baaba Doom (phonetic) is correct, that we only conserve
what we love, then our ultimate goal should be to learn, to understand and,
ultimately, to love our common world heritage. (Applause.)
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: I have to say, you've talked about the fact
that music travels. I have to tell you a story about an instrument that
I was in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, following the Silk Route, and I
found there a saxophone that had been brought to a Russian dealer by a
Czechoslovak, and so they figured they had to sell it to me so that I could
give it to the President -- (laughter) -- and thereby discovered that this
original saxophone had been made in Austria in the '30s. So it had
traveled, and the music that goes with it.
I think very much the kinds of things that you have done offer
some very practical suggestions for foreign policy practitioners. And we
need to absorb what you have said. One of the programs that I think we are
really proud of that we do in connection with the Kennedy Center, which is
the Jazz Ambassadors. Because I do think that people think that we speak
jazz here, and the First Lady already spoke about the importance of jazz in
the Czech Velvet Revolution.
I'm also very pleased with something that we initiated at the
State Department was to have the Thelonious Monk organization come in and
have a wonderful celebration before they actually go to the Kennedy Center.
That has brought a lot of very different kind of people to the State
Department from the normal diplomatic groups that we entertain. And I
think that what needs to happen is to truly expand on the programs that you
have discussed in a way of having more public-private partnerships, similar
to the fund for U.S. artists at international festivals and the expositions
that are cosponsored by our department and the NEA and the few charitable
trusts and the Rockefeller Foundation.
So I think that these very practical diplomatic measures that
you've mentioned are something that we need to absorb more and more. I
wanted to ask Minister Melandri a question, because you have in fact done a
lot of work in trying to attract private support for cultural projects, and
to create innovative programs within your country that really are very
supportive of the arts.
We talked about this a little bit last night at dinner, that we
don't have a minister of culture or a ministry of culture per se, but we do
have the National Endowment for the Arts and Humanities and the Educational
Cultural Affairs Offices that we have at the State Department.
I was wondering, you as Minister of Culture, what your
recommendations are about how we can better integrate our cultural concerns
into the day-to-day conduct of foreign policy, because frankly I don't
quite see us being able to make the leap to have a Minister of Culture.
But I think the ideas that you have would be very worth hearing about.
MINISTER MELANDRI: Thank you. I don't want to suggest you to do
that, but let me tell you how I feel about being the Culture Minister in
Italy. I feel that being Culture Minister in Italy is like being the Oil
Minister in Saudi Arabia. (Laughter and applause.)
No, I just -- thank you, thank you Mr. President. Thank you,
Secretary Albright. I want to touch very briefly on what was the main idea
and focus of the conference that we held in Florence last year that the
First Lady recalled upon. The title of that conference was Culture Counts,
and I think that -- culture has always counted.
But maybe today it counts in a very more special and different
way. And if I could use this comparison, I would say that if environment
and biodiversity are in a way the last -- I mean, preserving environment
and biodiversity are in a way the last battles of an industrial society,
cultural diversity may be considered the first challenge; preserving
cultural diversity may be considered as the first challenge of the
And I totally agree with the fact that globalization has to be
seen as a force, a great opportunity and a great force for diversity, even
though we should never forget the risks that are within it. So the
conference in Florence had really one central idea. The idea is that if we
look at what is sustainable development today, it needs not only to put
environment and the protection of environment at its heart, but also the
protection and diversity of cultures.
Which very concretely means that we have to open a way for
multilateral and bilateral cooperation in this field. And for the first
time in Florence, more than 40 ministers and people responsible of the
culture policy in many countries could meet with the World Bank and other
agencies active in the development field and work on the idea of producing
concrete facilities to finance projects in the Third World that have at
their heart the idea of preserving diversity.
And here, also, I just very briefly want to touch on this issue.
I think, as Mr. President said very clearly, the world is witnessing
cultural conflicts, and at the same time, we are in face of a risk -- the
risk of a homogeneous culture. Now, I think cultural policies and putting
culture at the center of development programs is really a way of
considering culture as a connecting force. And it's to promote integration
-- not assimilation, but integration.
Our country, my country is investing a lot of public resources in
this sector. We consider it as a part of our social system. We have done
a lot of work in the last years to restore, conserve, and promote our
cultural heritage. And our experience is that bilateral and multilateral
cooperation on this field of protecting and valuizing cultural heritage is
an extraordinary mean also for development and for social development to
promote identity in this -- as an integration and as a connecting force,
and not as a dividing force.
This idea of sustainable development with culture at its heart I
think has to bring policy makers around the world to develop instruments.
I remember when, in the early '80s, on a global scale, the discussion on
environment and protection of the environment started, this brought, for
example, the World Bank to put together the GF -- the global environmental
facility for financing projects concerned with environmental development.
I think that we have to look at something similar in the future for
culture. Thank you. (Applause.)
THE PRESIDENT: Well, first of all, I agree with what you said,
and I think your remarks lead me naturally into the next question, which
is, what is the responsibility of the United States, first of all, to
promote our culture around the world, and to help to deal with something
that His Highness The Aga Khan mentioned in the beginning, which is that
there are a lot of countries with which we might have cultural exchanges
whose artists, whose musicians, whose craftspeople literally can't make a
living doing what they do best. And that's something that I think I'm
going to think a lot more about. There are no royal courts to support such
people anymore. (Laughter.) And not every country has an economy which
will support them.
So I would like to call now on Joan Spero to speak because she
has had an unusual career. She was our Under Secretary of State in my
first term. She's been a Vice President of American Express and is now
President of a major foundation, and I think has a unique perspective on
the roles that private foundations, big corporations and the United States
government can and should play in this whole area.
MS. SPERO: Thank you, Mr. President, Madam Secretary. I think
that we all agree that cultural exchange makes diplomatic and business and
aesthetic common sense. And the question I've been asked is really how can
business, government and the nonprofit sector work to try to achieve an
improved exchange of the type that my colleagues on the panel have been
Let me start with government -- rather, start with business. I
think business plays a couple of roles that I have seen. One that we've
talked about a bit already is that cultural globalization is already a
reality; whether because we have the interest around the world in jazz, in
other forms of American culture, or because American business has been very
effective in using technology, in using marketing, to spread American
music, commercial music, American films and other forms of American
culture. And I think this combination of the appeal plus the ability --
the prowess, if you will, of American business, has been something that has
been a major force and a piece of globalization.
But I think business also plays another role, and it's one that I
saw when I was at American Express. And that is business also supports
nonprofit cultural exchange. Again, when I was at American Express, we
were major funders of performing arts, of the visual arts, of historic
preservation and that had a cultural objective which was to encourage
greater understanding and appreciation of cultures. But it also had a
business objective, which was to improve the marketing and the visibility
and the identity, if you will, of American Express. And I think that was
all very good.
So I think business can play an important role, and I think -- I
don't think we should apologize for the commercial side of our culture. I
think we should celebrate it, but I think we need a balance. And I think
there are certain limitations to the role of business.
First of all, I think there are a lot of people around the world
who don't understand the role that business plays in culture. I know again
when I was at American Express there was a great skepticism about the fact
that business was supporting nonprofit cultural exchange. Why are you
doing this? There must be some sinister motive of all of this. That may
be improving, but I think there continues to be this skepticism not only on
the commercial side, but on the nonprofit support of cultural exchange by
business. It doesn't mean we shouldn't do it, it just means I think there
needs to be a balance.
I think secondly there is another limitation on the role of
business. And that is businesses, even when they are working in the
nonprofit area, are doing mainstream work. They are providing support for
things that have large audiences. They are less likely to do something
that is more innovative or more controversial. And that's why I think you
need both government and the philanthropic world.
And let me mention briefly what I think they can do. I think
government obviously can provide greater funding, not all the funding. In
our system, it doesn't work that way. But I think government can be a more
active supporter, and I think the bill that Congressman Leach has proposed
that you've mentioned I think is a very exciting idea.
I think that government can do more than that. And when I was in
government I saw the role that the Department and the Embassies can play as
generators of ideas, as conveners, as provocateurs. I think of the
Embassies in a way as sort of the marketing agents of the U.S. government
around the world. They have access to foreign cultures. They understand
what might be useful here, and they also can help us here to help
understand what might be useful abroad. So, I think we need to use the
Embassies not just in a financial sense, but in a creative catalytic way.
And I think finally that, obviously, philanthropy plays an
important role. As I say, cultural exchange in the marketplace is
important, but I don't think that's enough. And I think philanthropy can
play a very important role because we are not constrained, as much, by what
is politically correct or by what is commercially popular. And we can be
more like venture capitalists in the cultural world, if we have the nerve
to be, if we're willing to take the risks. We can provide seed money. We
can try to co-invest. We can act as catalysts to try to organize
government or business. We can do things, from time to time, that are
controversial or we can support things that are controversial or things
that are contemporary or not mainstream.
And I want to close by giving one practical suggestion, or really
an example of an area that I think we need to think more about, and that is
the application of technology -- technology exchange -- which some of us,
the old and the new Internet have been talking about here today.
I think there's great promise there. And we, for example, are
trying to explore ways at the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation to take
advantage of this new promise in the field of artistic creation and of
We've worked with -- I'll give you two quick examples -- we've
worked with Arts International on two projects. One is to create a Web
site which will enable artists, managers, presenters, festivals to meet in
virtual space. From artists from around the world, from the developing
world as well as from the developed world, to show their work, when they
would never have an opportunity to do so otherwise; and for that work
perhaps to be accepted by presenters around the world. So it's a new
medium that can be used, we hope, when it's up and running.
Another example is where some of my fellow panelists have said
where the artistic process itself becomes the cultural exchange. We've
given support to Arts International and to the UCLA Media Center, and
they're working on the U.S. side with a foundation in Argentina and with a
theater in Argentina that is supported by the Argentine government -- I
think I got that all straight -- to create the first arts-specific digital
media lab in Argentina. But it's not just going to be for Argentina, it's
going to be for all of South America. And related to that center, which
will be located in the theater, will be funding for artists from throughout
the region to travel there, to access the media, to use it.
Americans will be given support to go to Argentina for long
periods of time, for residencies, people who are expert in the new
technology, to work with artists there. And we hope that this networking,
this creation of new work, in effect, will be a new foundation for, in a
small way, U.S. relations with Latin America.
Thank you. (Applause.)
THE PRESIDENT: Very good. Let me just say one sort of follow-up
point on that. I really believe that our government and our foundation
community have an obligation to try to deal with this point that you made
earlier about the capacity of people in developing countries to make a
living at their art, whatever it is.
And you mentioned that, but there are all kinds of things we can
do to help people market their music, their acting skills, their crafts
work, whatever, in ways that get -- first of all, bring them to the
attention of a larger audience, and secondly, get more of whatever income
can be generated from their activity back to them in their communities than
would otherwise be the case, if we waited for traditional things to
develop. And I think this is very important.
One of the things that I have learned because I've had the chance
to be President and go to so many countries and listen to so many people is
that most of us who get where we are are there in part by accident, and
there is somebody else with a heck of a lot of talent somewhere else that
never even gets noticed.
And I think it's very, very important that we think of how we can
use our money and organizational and media access capacities to bring the
largest number of people possible to the attention of the larger world.
Because I think that has a very important diplomatic impact. I think the
more people from otherwise isolated groups and cultures are in contact in a
positive way with the rest of the world, the less likely we are to have
debilitating wars and conflicts and isolation. So that's something I want
to think some more about.
I wonder if any of you on the panel, or maybe Congressman Leach,
who is a sponsor of this bill, or Senator Leahy, if any of you have any
specific -- specific points you want to make about things we ought to be
doing here before we wrap up this section.
Anybody else? Wole?
MR. SOYINKA: Yes. I think we shouldn't -- when I use the word,
"egalitarian," I use that word very deliberately because a principle of
this exchange, which you emphasized, is that this exchange should meet on a
consciously equalized, level playing -- in other words, the perception of a
receptor of culture from another society should, as well as a donor, should
understand that these cultures are meeting as valid, productive means --
evidence of their productivity of a society, suited to the societies from
which they emerge. Not that there is one which is staring down on other
cultures, looking at other cultures as bits of exotica -- that, in fact,
these cultures are integral to the very processes of even other productive
means in the society.
I say this especially in relation to American society, which I
think many of us here will agree is one of the most culturally insular
societies in the whole world. And I believe that this insularity, this
habit of looking at other cultures from a very detached level also affects
certain political decisions which are taken by a powerful society like
this. A lack of understanding, in other words, of other cultures -- and
even where the knowledge of other cultures exists, that knowledge is a
knowledge of viewing something from the wrong end of the telescope. It's a
bit of exotica which has absolutely no bearing on the realities of their
I've been thrown by circumstances on a far more regular basis
with this society, over the past few years, for reasons which some of you
know than I have been most of my life, and it's given me an opportunity to
observe really that this is one of the most insular societies -- I mean, a
society which actually knows very, very little about the outer world. So
when we're talking about cultural exchange, I think the natives of this
land also require as much assistance in this respect as the natives of
other lands. (Laughter and applause.)
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: I think, Mr. President, we've just about run
out of time, and I would hope, perhaps you would like to make some
concluding comments. The panelists and others will disperse to have
meetings this afternoon, and then we're going to have a closing session.
But I think this has been a remarkable opening. And if you would like to
make some --
THE PRESIDENT: Maybe I will just close by following up on what
you said, Wole. I believe that this should definitely be a two-way street;
we ought to be putting out and taking in here. And I don't have much else
to say -- I never learn anything when I'm talking, only when I'm listening.
(Laughter.) Once in a great while when you're talking you learn something
because you didn't really know what you thought until you brought it out,
but not very -- (laughter.)
I want to thank all of you for being here. This is quite a
luminous group we have in the White House today, and we might have had any
number of you also on this panel. And so I want to urge to please fully
participate in the remainder of events; please make the most of it. And
try to come out of this with as many specific areas of concern as you can.
I thank His Highness The Aga Khan for starting out, because he
said, look, here are three things you need to really work at, and I think
we need to be thinking about this. And I will do my best to put it in the
position to be acted upon in the weeks and months ahead. And again, I want
to thank Senator Leahy and Representative Leach for being here because
they're, along with Senator Hillary, are our sort of lines of continuity to
the future -- (laughter) -- again I want to thank Senator Leahy and
Representative Leach for being here, because they're -- along with Senator
Hillary are our sort of lines of continuity to the future -- (laughter) --
This was very interesting to me and quite moving. I think we
ought to close by giving our panelists another hand. Thank you very much.
END 12:55 P.M. EST