Iowa City remains City of Literature after U.S. cuts UNESCO support


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Iowa City will keep its title as a UNESCO City of Literature despite the United States' decision to cut its UNESCO backing.

The United States put a hold on a November deposit of $60 million into the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization accounts after Palestine was admitted as the 195th member state of the organization on Monday, according to a press briefing by the U.S. State Department.

"What we've been advised is that the U.S. can still hold the membership in UNESCO for at least two years [without funding the organization]," said Jeanette Pilak, the executive director of Iowa City UNESCO City of Literature. "In that time, if there is a scenario where the United States loses that membership, we are not aware of any reason that a creative city would lose its title [as a UNESCO City of Literature]."

Christopher Merrill, the director of the University of Iowa's International Writing Program, said Iowa City will not be financially affected by the funding cut.

"In my conversations with the State Department and the national commission of UNESCO … [the fund cut] doesn't have any bearing [on Iowa City]," said Merrill, who was a part of the original proposal for the designation. "Iowa City doesn't receive any money from UNESCO."

He said the Iowa City office is funded by both public and private sources.

Hugh Ferrer, the associate director of IWP, said that overall, virtually no changes will be made in the Iowa City office.

"If, in two years' time, the U.S. federal government withdraws its membership and divorces itself from [UNESCO], then Iowa City may find itself in an odd position," Ferrer said. "For Iowa City, nothing has changed. For UNESCO, a big thing has changed."

State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland stated in a press briefing on Monday that due to "long-standing legislative restrictions," the United States must refrain from financially contributing to UNESCO as a result of Palestine's admittance.

"U.S. engagement with UNESCO serves a wide range of our national interests on education, science, culture, and communications issues," she said. "The United States will maintain its membership in and commitment to UNESCO, and we will consult with Congress to ensure that U.S. interests and influence are preserved."

Iowa City was selected in November 2008 to be the third of the now five UNESCO Cities of Literature.

According to the UNESCO website, Iowa City was selected due to the city's "thriving literary culture" and renowned reputation as home to famous writers such as Flannery O'Connor, Kurt Vonnegut Jr., and Wallace Stegner.

The UNESCO Cities of Literature are part of a network of Creative Cities located across the globe. Iowa City and Santa Fe, N.M., are the only two cities in the network located in the United States.

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