State Department Funds World Museum Exhibits

The museum community is asking whether museums should be used to promote foreign policy in response to a new initiative funded by the State Department. The program lets U.S. and non-U.S. museums apply for grants for exhibitions that would strengthen international connections.

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Some people who run American museums are asking if they want to be used to promote foreign policy. The question comes in response to a new initiative funded by the State Department.

And we have more this morning from NPR's Elizabeth Blair.

ELIZABETH BLAIR: Under the program, American and non-U.S. museums can apply for grants for exhibitions that would strengthen international connections. Museums and community collaborations abroad is being managed by the American Association of Museums, where Eric Ledbetter is director of International Programs. He says it's just one example of cultural diplomacy funded by the State Department.

Mr. ERIC LEDBETTER (Director of International Programs, American Association of Museums): This is really building on an idea that goes all the way back to the Marshal Plan and the Fulbright scholars and this bloom of connections among peoples that came out of the wreckage of World War II.

BLAIR: What is different about this program is that U.S. diplomats have suggested a number of museums they would like to see participate, including ones in Pakistan, Bolivia and Peru. Specific themes for the programs have been predetermined, such as outreach to indigenous and minority communities and partnerships with Muslim majority societies.

Lee Rosenbaum writes for The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times. On her blog for, she claims the program co-ops museums as agents of foreign policy.

Ms. LEE ROSENBAUM (Writer, The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times): Certainly, there has been a history of government support for exhibitions going abroad. But the proposals generally and the planning and the concepts behind the exhibition should come from the museums and not be dictated by the federal government.

BLAIR: But Eric Ledbetter says the program has nothing to do with promoting an American political agenda, and that museums are in the driver's seat.

Mr. LEDBETTER: It's their colleagues, U.S. scholars, not administration officials who will make the final awards.

BLAIR: The deadline for grant proposals for the museums and community collaborations abroad is August 1st. The results will be announced in September. Eric Ledbetter says, so far, most of the submissions do not include foreign museums suggested by the state department.

Elizabeth Blair, NPR News, Washington.

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