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Spring 2001
CULTURE CLASH
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Q: Does the U.S., as a society, contribute to the problem?
A: We in the United States are taught to think of the international arts in terms of our own taste and values. Issues of taste can have enormous consequences. For example, the national dance companies of developing countries X, Y and Z might be created specifically to accommodate our American tastes. But their success in the international marketplace has a suffocating effect on regional diversity at home. Local artists are eager to imitate these famous companies and, as a consequence, there is a codification of style, a rigidly set repertoire and a negative effect on creativity and artistic development in those countries.

Q: What can be done to help?
A: While we have no control over the destiny of traditional culture around the world, we can build better two-way streets and find ways to break down the isolation that exists between us. We are in a position to be good, altruistic partners. International tours should not be limited to the taste of the touring circuit. An interesting and difficult challenge is to powerfully present to the American public those art forms that speak more directly about the unique values of a culture and therefore require more work to understand. A first step in trying to address this problem might be to build better presentation strategies. An evening at the theater, as it is presented today, does not necessarily lead to greater understanding or appreciation. Programs should not be seen simply as entertainment; they should be designed to include information about the people, their history, the context of their living conditions. We must stop measuring success simply by audience attendance, reviews in the press or the length of an ovation. We should look to the more important goal of understanding the deeper significance of these art forms.

One thing we can do is to reevaluate the transaction that occurs when artists tour in America. International artists know little about union protections regarding schedules and rest days. As a result, they work to the point of exhaustion. We must remember that these companies are comprised of promising youth and leading senior artists. They come wanting to share their culture with America. They also come wanting to know more about America.

Yet, they never go to a museum and they seldom see other concerts. They are seldom invited into an American home. Touring programs should be planned as educational field trips for our international guests. Lectures, demonstrations, discussions and concerts should be planned for them. Without much effort, we can put programs in place that ensure that companies return home with more than T-shirts and souvenirs or, even worse, a distorted view of America.


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