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  • Frank Malina and UNESCO:Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow
  • John E. Fobes, Leonardo Honorary Editor

A recent visit to Frank Malina's home in the Paris suburb of Boulogne sur Seine stimulated such reflections and questions as, "What would Frank be doing if he were still with us?" His widow and longtime partner, Marjorie, is still there and as bright as ever, although she walks with a cane. The walls remain covered with examples of Frank's kinetic art, finished or in development, much as I remember them in the 1960s and 1970s.

The founder of Leonardo was associated with UNESCO from its earliest days (from 1947 to the late 1950s). He brought to the setting-up of its science sector staff his combined talents in space and other research as a technological inventor and an engineer. After leaving his UNESCO assignment, he remained in Paris and continued his interest in and contacts with the work of the organization through his many friends until his passing in 1981.

Sometime in 1946, Frank had been sent from America on a mission to the U.K. and other European countries to survey and report on the latest developments in rockets. For this mission, he was given the assimilated rank of U.S. Army colonel. Marjorie recalls that, after seeing a poster in London, he attended a lecture on UNESCO and postwar scientific cooperation delivered by Julian Huxley. This was probably after Huxley had assumed the post of executive secretary of the Preparatory Commission for UNESCO in March 1946, succeeding Alfred Zimmern. The task of the commission was to prepare the agenda, the program and an approved budget by the time of the first General Conference of UNESCO. Frank was excited by the prospects outlined by Huxley and told him so. The latter suggested that Frank consider joining the international secretariat in Paris (already designated to be headquarters of the new organization). The first General Conference met there in November-December 1946 and formally launched UNESCO. As expected, the Executive Board nominated Huxley its director-general. He accepted, but only for a period of 2 years.

Frank arrived in Paris in June 1947 on Huxley's invitation and was appointed deputy to Joseph Needham, to whom Huxley had assigned the tasks of designing the first science program and recruiting its staff. Meanwhile, Marjorie had been demobilized from the British Women's Auxiliary Army Corps. Her supervisor suggested that her experience fitted her for a job in the personnel office of the new UNESCO international secretariat being organized in Paris. She applied and took up her duties in April 1947. In June, a very dynamic Frank Malina came to her office, eager to hire scientists immediately and impatient with administrative procedures. They were married in 1949.

Frank had plenty to keep him occupied on UNESCO business in those formative years. For example, he helped organize international conferences on science abstracting and the first major world initiative on the environment (sponsored jointly with the International Union for the Protection of Nature), both in 1949. In 1950, UNESCO convened a meeting to establish a Union of International Engineering Organizations (later to be known as the Union of International Technical Associations). That was followed by adoption in 1951 of a major program on arid-zones research.

But changes were in the air for UNESCO and for Frank's "outside" interests. Tension with governments over what Huxley's successor, Jaime Torres Bodet of Mexico, considered to be an inadequate budget led Bodet finally to resign in 1952. During this period, Frank's interest [End Page 351] in art was blooming, and friends from that field were frequent visitors to his home. Discussions often centered on the potential role of art in guiding and interpreting scientific discovery, and the interactions among the arts, science and technology, interactions that could influence the ways in which humans create and communicate. Marjorie recalls Frank's excitement over UNESCO's initiative calling for a conference in Venice in September 1952 to consider the situation of the artist in the contemporary world and the conditions that hamper or encourage creative art (which led to an important UNESCO publication in 1953, "The Artist in Modern Society...


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