UI officials discuss music diplomacy


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The University of Iowa took part in a national discussion Monday to relate culture, specifically music, in strengthening relations with other countries.

Hancher Programming Director Jacob Yarrow said he wants to bring a sense of empathy and perception to the UI, something that comes with these kinds of conversations.

“Hancher Auditorium is still valued as an asset to the Performing Arts group even though the building was wiped out in the 2008 flood,” he said. “Performing Arts centers don’t always have facilities, and this helps to tailor more musicians into art programs all across the country.”

Yarrow met with Evan Ryan, the U.S. assistant secretary of State for educational and cultural affairs, along with other programs and groups dedicated to the cause through a Google+ Hangout.

Yarrow said the artists’ performances at the university serves as a way to explore, have discussions, and be entertained.

“It’s the strong dedication that is shown outside of performance and smaller interactions that bring out the best in student artists,” he said.

Yarrow said he saw an example of how music influences cultural diplomacy when he traveled abroad.

“When I was in Greece, I listened to a Ukrainian band named Dakha Brakha during the conflict in Ukraine,” he said. “I loved their music. It showed me that if you get to know people from another place, you suddenly care more about that place.”

Yarrow said music plays a big part in cultural engagement.

“Art contributes to the fabric of our community, and it strengthens it,” he said. “That’s why this is so important.”

Marc Thayer, the director of Education for the American Voices Association — a nonprofit organization that has been conducting cross-cultural engagement with audiences in more than 110 nations worldwide since 1993 — also took part in the discussion.

Thayer said members of his group work with U.S. embassies and offer support whenever they can.

“They’re often surprised that our members want to be involved and of the level at which they give assistance,” he said.

Thayer said he finds it amazing to see how art survives no matter what is going on politically, and he credited its successful in diplomacy to its being free from religion and politics.

“Music is one of the best vehicles in diplomacy because art is away from political agendas,” he said. “We like to share American music as well as draw from others, and this helps to break harsh stereotypes that are shared internationally.”

Thayer said cultural diplomacy has relevance in many situations.

“Cultural diplomacy is not just far away,” he said. “It’s in your own community, and it helps to find ways to collaborate with people.”

Thayer said the United States is a great example of cultural engagement.

“African, Caribbean, and jazz music were all influenced from different cultures, and they help show that we accept them as they have influenced us,” he said.

Ryan hosted the Google+ Hangout discussion, advocating the efforts of the American arts community.

Ryan said the government is doing what it can to support U.S. and international arts.

“Music is a universal language,” she said. “What I want is to make the network stronger to help reach out to people and learn from other cultures.”

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