The United States is a world leader in providing a safe haven to political activists fleeing oppressive dictatorships.
But what if your only crime is that you are an artist whose work is viewed as critical of your government? What happens if, as a professor of art or literature, you use creative expression to give voice to an oppressed people? How do you preserve your country's rich cultural heritage when you become the target of death threats?
Totalitarian regimes are increasingly targeting scholars of art, seeking to silence them and their ideas. Many of these individuals have worked for years in respected institutions only to find themselves and their families suddenly under threat of physical attack, or they are intimidated into fleeing their homes and countries. Consider these examples:
- A well-known painter and professor with three decades of experience teaching in Iraq's colleges of art became the target of militants. In 2010, he found a bullet in an envelope on his doorstep -- a common warning used by extremist factions to silence and frighten their victims. Knowing the risks, he and his family fled the country.
In a perfect world, scholarship would be judged only on things like originality of thought, depth of research and the ability to put forth a cogent argument. But these scholars are being attacked for the simple reason that they are using creative expression to give a voice to an oppressed people.
Recognizing the contribution of these scholars to world culture, the Institute of International Education has established the Janet Hennessey Dilenschneider Scholar Rescue Award in the Arts as part of IIE's Scholar Rescue Fund to protect free expression and creativity. Jan is a visual artist and her husband Robert, together with our trustee Mark A. Angelson, have created this award that will allow IIE to rescue 10 art scholars.
Threatened scholars in fields such as painting, dance, music, architecture, theater and archeology will be able to apply. They will receive financial assistance to relocate and a position at a host institution of higher learning.
The freedom of artistic expression we cherish in the United States is under attack around the world. Rescuing scholars of art guarantees that their voices will be heard and their artistic contributions preserved -- to be shared with future generations in their homelands, and with people everywhere who value the treasure that is human creativity.