Culture, education and science provided the battleground for an escalating skirmish that pitted the United States and the West against the Soviet bloc and the third world, as the deadline for the threatened U.S. withdrawal from the United National Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization approached at the end of December.
Accusing the U.S. of “psychological warfare,” Amadou Mahtar M’Bow, UNESCO’s Senegalese secretary general, lashed back at a highly critical report on the organization’s operations released in September by the General Accounting Office, the investigative arm of the U.S. Congress. According to New York Times reports, the Soviet Union opposes efforts to curb the organization’s political activities.
Moscow labeled the GAO report “a noisy propaganda campaign” designed to bend UNESCO to suit American interests and accused the U.S. of “distorting [UNESCO’s] noble image” and of “undermining its ability to contribute to the solution of world problems.” Western officials termed the Soviet position an open declaration of war against the West’s campaign for change, and Britain, the Netherlands, Denmark and West Germany threatened to reconsider whether to continue their memberships. Observers called the whole affair evidence of the general deterioration of U.S. Soviet relations.
The U.S. had announced earlier in the year that it would pull out of UNESCO at the end of 1984 unless the organization improved management, controlled spending and terminated “anti-Western” activities, including disarmament studies, attempts to put the rights of governments over those of individuals and controversial measures seen in the West as an attempt to impose international restrictions on freedom of the press.
Release of the 157-page GAO report coincided with a meeting of the 51-member governing board in Paris in September, where Western proposals for revamping UNESCO were to be considered. Those proposals included dismantling UNESCO’s politically controversial programs in favor of concentration on promoting literacy, preserving artistic treasures and fostering scientific cooperation.
The proposed changes appear to constitute the Reagan Administration’s conditions for retaining UNESCO membership. The U.S. delegate Jean Gerard called for a subsequent emergency meeting on the topic in November, but prospects for either a full-scale debate of the GAO report by the UNESCO executive board or the adoption of the U.S. proposals were dim, considering the position of the majority of the delegates.
UNESCO’s nongovernmental organizations, which include the Authors Guild and the International Theatre Institute, expressed concern over the situation. At a recent meeting on the Helsinki Accords, ITI/U.S. director Martha Coigney cited problems that ITI and other bodies are facing as a result of uncertainty over the future of U.S. membership under the UNESCO umbrella. Lamenting the fact that cultural concerns have fallen victim to a larger political struggle, international cultural leaders have stated that, with all its faults, UNESCO carries out many worthy programs and provides a unique international forum for cooperation.
A U.S. withdrawal from UNESCO would not only put U.S. cultural, educational and scientific interests out in the cold—UNESCO would be out 25 percent of its total funds, the portion previously contributed by the U.S. M’Bow estimated that if the U.S. pulled out, UNESCO “will continue to work even without them.”
What is not clear is, if the U.S. is no longer supplying its financial share of the UNESCO funds, what will be done with the $50 million that has been earmarked for support of international culture, education and science? Arts leaders have emphasized that the funds should not be diverted from their original purposes, and that ways should be found to use these governmental funds to support similar activities, either through the National Endowments for the Arts and Humanities, the National Science Foundation and the Department of Education, or through private agencies.
One possibility for such government support is, perhaps ironically, the resumption of cultural exchanges with the Soviets. The Administration issued a policy statement last lune announcing its intention to revive exchanges in science, education, culture and information between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. Since then, no specific timetable has been announced.
The bilateral agreements with Moscow were originally negotiated under President Nixon. Senator Spark Matsunaga (D-HA) recently introduced a resolution recommending that Congress authorize funds to implement the exchanges, and he plans to introduce a specific appropriations measure in the forthcoming session.
Such exchanges represent a departure from the UNESCO dilemma, in which culture finds itself a victim of foreign policy, toward a situation in which culture becomes a tool of foreign policy. Whatever one’s views on the value of cultural exchange—both political and artistic—it is certain that growing international artistic interaction will continue to find culture, and most especially the theatre because it deals with ideas, implicated in and affected by world politics.
The National Endowment for the Arts has announced the preliminary list of 13 individuals selected to serve on the fiscal 1985 New American Works advisory panel for the agency’s Opera-Musical Theatre Program. Panelists appointed represent artists and administrators, as well as both opera and musical theatre disciplines. The list includes Robert Ashley, com-poser, New York; Etta Barnett, singer/educator, Chicago; William Bolcom, composer, Ann Arbor, Mich.; Ellen Fitzhugh, lyricist, New York; Richard Gaddes, general director, Opera Theatre of St. Louis; Paulette Haupt-Nolen, general director, Lake George Opera, Glens Falls, N.Y; Scott Heumann, artistic director, Houston Grand Opera; Richard Maltby, Jr., composer, New York; Peter Neufeld, producer, New York; Gregory Sandow, critic/composer New York; Peter Sellars, director, ANTA, Washington, D.C.; Robert Sterns, director, Walker Arts Center, Minneapolis; and George White, president, Eugene O’Neill Theater Center, Waterford, Conn.
Individuals selected for the Opera-Musical Theater Program’s Professional Companies, Touring Services, Special Projects and Producer’s Grants panels include Anna Arr-ington, program officer, Atlantic Richfield Foundation, Los Angeles; Andre Bishop, artistic director, Playwrights Horizons, New York; Michael Price, executive director, Goodspeed Opera House, East Haddam, Conn.; stage director Gideon Schein; and Bernard Gersten, producer, New York, among others.
Congress has excused the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C. from payment of $33 million in interest payments which had accumulated on the federal loan of $20.4 million which helped finance the construction of the performing arts complex on the bank of the Potomac River.
Passed as a part of the fiscal ’85 continuing resolution in October, the move represents a major gain for the center and its chairman, Roger L. Stevens, who had been working for relief from the payment for years, contending that the facility receives none of the support accorded to other cultural endeavors. Following the congressional action, Stevens praised the lawmakers, noting that the move is “an important step toward enabling the center to launch a long-delayed endowment drive, key to its future financial stability.”
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