A "World Without Walls" Doesn't Look Promising

Sunday’s election in France made most people breathe a little easier but the worldwide trend is still troublesome.

Nations are turning inward and if not building physical walls, as President Trump has proposed, they are erecting rules and new regulations that like a picket fence are designed to stop the flow of immigrants, increase personal safety, and put limits on imports of goods and services that may be cheaper than the country itself produces and thus, allegedly, killing the domestic workforce.

Fears about immigration, poverty and job loss, income inequality, gender and sex equality are not unique to the U.S. and Europe. The world over is suffering from the same ills, and the “digital divide” – the gulf between those who have ready access to computers and the Internet, and those who do not- has exaggerated the fear of being left-out, left-behind, marginalized.

The Economist Magazine recently wrote: “From Warsaw to Washington, the political divide that matters is less and less between left and right, and more and more between open and closed. Debates between tax-cutting conservatives and free-spending social democrats have not gone away. But issues that cross-traditional party lines have grown more potent. Welcome immigrants or keep them out? Open up to foreign trade or protect domestic industries? Embrace cultural change, or resist it?”

Last month at a Culture Summit in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, called “The Creative Mind of the Connected World: Culture as a Change Agent in the Digital Age,” the organizers asked how art and culture can meet these challenges the world is experiencing, pointing out that we are at a “watershed moment in human history when everyone on the planet will be connected in a single global cultural ecosystem for the first time in history.”

They billed the event as “the world’s first summit to convene leaders from the worlds of the arts, media, public policy and technology to address the role that culture can play in solving some of the greatest challenges of our time.”

In many ways art is the universal language and no more of distilled expression of a culture exist than its works of art. For in creating art, consciously or not, artists are attempting to communicate at a powerful emotional level to those within their own culture. The best work transcends its cultural matrix and speaks directly to our common humanity. Thus this idea to give birth to using art and culture as vehicles to forging a sense of community in an otherwise shattered world has merit.

The Ilan-Lael Foundation, an “arts education foundation celebrating nature and the aesthetic of the built environment for its ability to help us see ourselves and our world in new ways,” also hosted a 3-day cross border meeting in San Diego, California and Tijuana, Mexico last month, called “Art Diplomacy,” part of the Foundation’s “Gateway Conversations” program.

The Gateway program, as founder and artist Jim Hubble put it, is to convene a “conversation around the power of art to foster friendships and understanding among nations.” According to Marianne Gerdes, Executive Director of the Foundation, international representatives from “Jeju S. Korea, Kaoshuing, Taiwan, Vladivostok, Russia, and Mexico” will be coming to the event and continuing the dialogue about how art can transcend boundaries.

It’s not at all clear what the Ilan-Lael Foundation or what the Abu Dhabi Summit propose or what their meetings will yield. But it is a start to looking closely as the artist as advocate and the important role art and culture play or can play in meeting the present day malaise.

It’s barely beginning. In the coming decade, the challenge for humanity will be whether we can come to grips with the idea of world peace, world community, and the notion that despite the differences between us can find common ground.

While there are countless disciplines, which might reasonably serve as a means to understanding culture, such as history, sociology, mathematics, and science, only art lends itself to the full range of experiential capabilities offered by the new technologies. Perhaps we can develop a global web site that educates, informs and coordinates the larger art and culture community and others as concerned. The list is endless:

Support and encourage across border collaborations/ know that the new economy means new thinking skills and that the arts lead to the creative skills most in demand/ Find ways to reach young people all over the world. It could be an art appreciation program in every school, an annual contest where students from around the world are recognized/ Use the Web to be sure artists are recognized and their art explained in a way that social, political and economic issues if appropriate, are made clear/Train artists to be advocates and help them express themselves/Create a Noble prize for artists and art advocates/Establish a PR program including events showcasing issues of importance aimed at the art and culture community/ Help cities establish art and cultural districts/ Encourage Museums to embrace the political and like the Museum of Modern Art, according to the New York Times, install "works by artists from some of the majority-Muslim nations whose citizens were going to be blocked from entering the United States”/ Aggressively support and encourage the funding of national and international organizations responsible for art, culture or the humanities.

Already, the world is so inextricably interconnected that cultural and economic isolationism is unthinkable, even if it were desirable. But more needs to done, and perhaps the most effective thing that can be done is to aggressively promote multicultural understanding, and more, race, color, and gender equality. And perhaps, given the ubiquitous nature of the World Wide Web, we can use the new technologies-with their powerful capacity for shaping and delivering human interchange -as virtual bridges across the vast distances separating cultures.

The question that looms is whether we can create the world community reflective of the world economy in the making, and the real world made of nation-state political leaders taking us back to the dark ages.

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