I watched a lecture the other night by Ryan Crocker, recently appointed U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan, previously ambassador to Iraq, Pakistan and other middle-Eastern countries. I was riveted because you know what he said, he said and I seriously paraphrase here...that all of our misunderstandings in that part of the world can be directly related to cultural misunderstandings, that the rise of terrorist groups is directly related to cultural misunderstandings. If you haven’t read The Forever War by Dexter Filkins (a New York Times reporter in Iraq and Afghanistan), I strongly recommend that you do so because he also says that our efforts in the middle east are seriously hampered because we don’t understand the culture.
That’s culture with a capital C and a very broad meaning but man, are we in the right business or what? We have the opportunity every day to deepen what it means to understand our own culture or another culture. We have the opportunity to reach audiences that might not otherwise seek out the understanding we can provide. Or maybe we open the door to someone who says I never knew that… and does more research…and pretty soon they’re the ambassador to Iraq. I majored in Art History in college and the reason I did that was because it seemed to me like it was about everything, in understanding a piece of art you had to understand the historical and cultural context in which it was made.
Cultural understanding is critical to world peace. I don’t think it’s a stretch at all to say that by making and disseminating art we foster cultural understanding among our neighbors and across our city and throughout the world.