Professor Uses Art to Promote Cultural Diplomacy

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In an effort to build bridges of global understanding, each summer, art professor Arturo Lindsay travels with Spelman students to an artist colony in Portobelo, Panama. One of 15 elite artists selected by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, Lindsay will once again leverage his artistic talents to promote diplomacy during a trip to Cairo, Egypt, scheduled in January as part of the new smARTpower.

Part of Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton’s new strategic approach to diplomacy, which she dubbed “smart power,” the program will send the smARTPower 15 and collaborative artist teams to 15 countries during the next year. The artists will spend up to 45 days in their select country engaging in people-to-people diplomacy through the visual arts. This pilot program was launched to address social issues, such as women’s empowerment, education, health, the environment and civic engagement.

An immigrant who came to the United States at the age of 12 from Panama, Lindsay considers it a tremendous honor to have been selected by the State Department from more than 900 applicants. “Artists can be really great ambassadors because art has a universal language,” he said. “When you start collaborating with artists from other cultures and countries, you are able to foster dialogue and build community.”

For his smARTpower project, Lindsay will make two trips to Egypt, partnering with local arts organizations to engage underserved youth and create community-based projects. While in Cairo, he plans to establish a contemporary art theory and practice workshop. Participants will acquire the skills needed to create a collaborative and interactive installation and performance works of art based on the concept of “bearing witness.”

Inspired by youth of the Middle East, who turned cell phones and social media into community building tools, the project will document extraordinary experiences in the lives of ordinary people. The Egyptian partner organization for his project is Medrar for Contemporary Art, which works with and supports young emerging artists in Egypt and encourages cross-cultural dialogue.

Given the current civil strife brought on by the fall of President Hosni Mubarak, Lindsay feels even stronger about his efforts in the region. “I really want to be there, especially during this unrest.   I don’t consider myself a miracle worker, but if I can help one person then it will be worthwhile.”

Building on his participation in smARTpower, in the spring Lindsay will teach Art 170 New Genre Art Forms, an introductory-level art course at Spelman. Grounded in experimentation, one of the highlights of the course will be the incorporation of his smARTpower project through creative exchanges between Egyptian youth, Spelman students, and emerging artists in Atlanta.

The second smARTpower artist  to travel abroad, Lindsay has had an extensive and distinguished career. He has collaborated on projects with members of street gangs, day laborers, intellectuals, artists, poets, architects, academics and government officials from various national and cultural backgrounds.

The first smARTpower artist traveled to Istanbul in October 2011.  Throughout 2012, other artists will travel to China, Ecuador, Ghana, India, Kenya, Kosovo, Lebanon, Nepal, Nigeria, Pakistan, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, Turkey and Venezuela. – Terrilyn Simmons is the media relations coordinator for the Office of Communications.

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  1. [...] Lindsay is using Facebook as part of his New Genre Art Forms class for his smARTpower project, “Bearing Witness.”  He has assigned his students to keep abreast of events unfolding during [...]

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