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History, Cultural Policy, and International Exchange in the Performing Arts Stanley Katz Certainly the major event that has influenced all of our [American] playwriting, directing, acting and audiences-the whole theatre we have now-was the visit of the Moscow Art Theater [to New York] in 1924, when suddenly we discovered Stanislavski. From that came the American Laboratory Theater and the work of Boleslavsky, and from that the Group, and from the Group, the Actors' Studio and other manifestations-a very simplified version of history, but nevertheless fairly accurate. Alan Schneider in Joseph F. McCrindle, ed., Behind the Scenes Most history is "very simplified." The question is what we mean by "fairly accurate." Schneider went on to suggest that "if the political situation had not been such that the Berliner Ensemble was prevented from coming over here, the whole situtation would have been different. If the Berliner Ensemble were to come here tomorrow, or had come here then [in the 1950s], our whole orientation would be toward theatricality rather than reality." One wonders? But the interesting assumption director Schneider makes is that international cultural exchange makes a decisive difference: Moscow Art came, Berliner Ensemble did not, thus realism in American theatre. Whether or not one's history is thus simplified, most current observers of the performing arts share the assumption that cultural transfer is essential to the international development of performing art, or, even more simply, that art is international. I share the premise, though I am not professionally qualified to demonstrate it. 76 Contemporary observers also agree that international exchange in the performing arts is now endangered; most attribute the crisis to a failure of United States' arts policy. The argument runs that vigorous artistic exchange in the post-World War II period, almost entirely financed by European governments, led to a flourishing of the performing arts and, especially , to the burgeoning of American artistic talent abroad. The importation of American performers to post-war Europe created a market for American artists , exposed Europeans to new American performing styles, and, to a lesser extent, opened the American market to the best-known European performers . Direct state grants and festival sponsorship enabled Americans, often ignored at home, both to survive and to find a receptive environment for their art. Americans responded, when at all, through the efforts of a handful of entrepreneurs of the Sol Hurok type, who imported sure-fire crowd pleasers from Europe. As the demographic and financial imbalance continued, so the argument goes, Europeans became impatient with American reticence and now, with the European financial situation and political turn to the right, European government sponsorship of artistic exchanges seems likely to wither. The situation is only exacerbated by stirrings of European cultural nationalism. If the assumptions of cultural internationalism are correct, then, artists and lovers of the performing arts confront a crisis situation. As Martha Coigney (Director of American ITI) has said, "As a U.S. citizen I would like to be known in the world by the culture of my country. I am not. ... We have to find ways to share our arts with the same generosity that characterizes us as a people. Somehow, those of us who consider the arts a necessary human nourishment must begin to insist that our need be met." ("Yankee, Stay Home?!," PAJ 18). The task of this essay is to show how difficult the challenge is, and, in particular, how intimately the potential answers are related to American conceptions of "generosity." In order to develop the historical dimension of international cultural exchange , it is necessary to set the problem in the context of traditional American public policy formulation. I want to argue that the United States does have a set of public policies with relation to culture, but that it does not have a single policy. Furthermore, many of these "public" policies are created in the so-called "private" sector and display important regional variation. Finally, insofar as we do have a general policy or attitude toward culture, it is in fact the result of the push and pull of a multitude of conflicting public and private policies, most of which were never specifically intended to impact upon the arts...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1537-9477
Print ISSN
1520-281X
Pages
pp. 76-88
Launched on MUSE
2018-01-03
Open Access
No
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