At the height of the Cold War in 1954, President Eisenhower inaugurated a program of cultural exchange that sent American dancers and other artists to political "hot spots" overseas. This peacetime gambit by a warrior hero was a resounding success.
Among the artists chosen for international duty were José Limón, who led his company on the first government-sponsored tour of South America; Martha Graham, whose famed ensemble crisscrossed southeast Asia; Alvin Ailey, whose company brought audiences to their feet throughout the South Pacific; and George Balanchine, whose New York City Ballet crowned its triumphant visits to Western Europe and Japan with an epoch-making tour of the Soviet Union in 1962. The success of Eisenhower's program of cultural export led directly to the creation of the National Endowment for the Arts and Washington's Kennedy Center.
Naima Prevots draws on an array of previously unexamined sources, including formerly classified State Department documents, congressional committee hearings, and the minutes of the Dance Panel, to reveal the inner workings of "Eisenhower's Program," the complex set of political, fiscal, and artistic interests that shaped it, and the ever-uneasy relationship between government and the arts in the US.
CONTRIBUTORS: Eric Foner.
About the Author
NAIMA PREVOTS is Professor of Dance at American University and the author of American Pageantry: A Movement for Art and Democracy (1990) and Dancing in the Sun: Hollywood Choreographers, 1915 - 1937. (1987).
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In a letter written on 27 July 1954 to the House Committee on Appropriations, President Dwight D. Eisenhower announced: "I consider it essential that we take immediate and vigorous action to demonstrate the superiority of the products and cultural values of our system of free enterprise." He requested five million dollars "to stimulate the presentation abroad by private firms and groups of the best American industrial and cultural achievements, in order to demonstrate the dedication of the United States to peace and human well-being [and] to offset worldwide Communist propaganda charges that the United States has no culture and that its industrial production is oriented toward war."
The 83rd Congress approved President Eisenhower's request on August 26; Public Law 663 was passed, and thus the President's Emergency Fund for International Affairs came into existence. The Fund was allocated in three categories: the Department of Commerce received $2,592,000 to develop and facilitate U.S. involvement in international trade fairs; the State Department received $2,250,000 for presentations of American dance, theater, music, and sports abroad; finally the United States Information Agency (USIA), which had been created in 1953, was granted $157,000 to help publicize performing arts and sports events.
This was the first time in the history of American public policy that choreographers, composers, playwrights, and their works were systematically funded for export. Indeed, the performing arts, rather than sports, was the chief beneficiary of the $2,250,000 allocation during 1954-1955. The small sum of $83,000 was utilized for sports and various athletic events. Government funding was not meant to pay the full costs of exporting the performing arts. It was expected there would be commercial bookings and private support.
What was it that might have prompted Eisenhower's decision to increase our peacetime visibility through a policy of arts export? Nationally and internationally, the political climate was tense in the 1950s. The Cold War, McCarthyism, violence over civil rights, wars for independence in the Third World, the Korean War, the bomb: these were some of the issues that clouded the American image abroad.
Not long after Eisenhower was sworn in as President in March 1953, Joseph Stalin died in his dacha outside Moscow. His death ushered in the period that novelist Ilya Ehrenburg called "the thaw." The Soviet secret police chief, Lavrenti Beria, was arrested in June, and Georgi Malenkov, Nikolai Bulganin, Vyacheslav Molotov, along with a then-unknown Nikita S. Khrushchev organized a collective leadership. In a speech to the Supreme Soviet in August 1953, Soviet premier Malenkov talked about "peaceful coexistence." Eisenhower himself, in a speech the previous April to the American Association of Editors, had talked about the possibility of normalizing relations now that Stalin was dead. Stalin's death had also brought about an increase in cultural diplomacy on the part of the Soviet Union; the amount of money spent on sending artists, writers, and performers to other countries escalated considerably.
During the same period of time, America's attention was riveted on the Korean War, which the U.S. had entered in 1950 during Truman's administration. Eisenhower supported the war until October 1952, when he promised, if elected, to end it. The Korean War armistice was signed in July 1953. The key issue at the time was North Korea's insistence on the forced repatriation of approximately 100,000 prisoners of war. On July 27 United Nations and Communist representatives signed an armistice agreement, and North Korea accepted voluntary repatriation of prisoners. Communist China's aid to Korea during the war raised cries for a U.S. blockade of China. Eisenhower refused, calling a blockade an act of war that he was not ready to initiate.
That same year Eisenhower appointed an old friend, Charles Douglas Jackson, as Special Assistant to the President. An executive with Time-Life Publications before and after his one-year appointment, Jackson had been head of psychological warfare in North Africa during World War II. A strong supporter of the arts, he had served on the Metropolitan Opera Board and was instrumental in the development of Lincoln Center.
Jackson's view of psychological warfare was to fight for the minds and souls of the enemy, thus potentially avoiding military combat and destruction. In early 1951, with help from the CIA, he organized the National Committee for a Free Europe. The Committee's chief activity was Radio Free Europe, whose broadcasts to Eastern Europe carried news of freedom and democracy in America as well as anti-Soviet propaganda.
On the first day of August 1953 the United States Information Agency (USIA) came into existence. An independent agency reporting through the National Security Council to the President, the USIA was intended to strengthen American informational and propaganda activities by consolidating a variety of previously existing offices into one institution. C.D. Jackson's interest in psychological warfare had been reinforced by Stalin's death and the Korean armistice. As the President's advisor, Jackson would have encouraged nonmilitary approaches to combating Soviet influence and power.
The mission of the USIA, explained its first director, Theodore C. Streibert, was not "to get foreign people to support the United States, or to sell our ideas abroad." Quite the reverse. "Our mission is to show the peoples of other lands by means of communication techniques ... that our objectives and policies are in harmony with and will advance their legitimate aspirations for freedom, progress and peace, meaning that we are trying to identify ourselves with the aims and aspirations of these other people so as to establish a mutuality of interests."
When Eisenhower's Emergency Fund was initiated only a year later, the USIA played an important and key role. An Operations Coordinating Board was established; members included the head of the USIA, the Undersecretaries of State and Defense, representatives from the CIA and the National Security Council, and the Special Assistant to the President (initially Jackson, followed in 1955 by Nelson A. Rockefeller). When artists went abroad under auspices of the Fund, USIA staff on site (known outside the U.S. as USIS) were responsible for coordinating activities and public relations.
There were definitely mixed messages coming from the White House during this period. In September 1953 Eisenhower unveiled his "Atoms for Peace" program, known also as Operation Candor. The basis of the program was that scientific knowledge, particularly atomic energy, could not be confined within national borders forever. Between 1953 and 1956, more than a score of cooperative bilateral atomic research agreements were signed.
At the same time Eisenhower's Secretary of State, John Foster Dulles, made deflecting Communism the cornerstone of his foreign policy. Dulles, historian Martin Walker has written, "would go to almost any length to challenge the Soviet threat." In his 1954 speech to the Council on Foreign Relations, Dulles insisted that "the way to deter aggression is for the free community to be willing and able to respond vigorously at places and with means of its own choosing."
The notion that Communists were everywhere lying in wait to destroy America was given new impetus by Senator Joseph R. McCarthy, in a 1950 speech made in Wheeling, West Virginia. McCarthy explained: "The reason we find ourselves in a position of impotency is ... because of the traitorous actions of those who have been treated so well by this Nation. ... It has not been the less fortunate or members of minority groups who have been selling this nation out, but rather those who have had all the benefits. This is glaringly true in the State Department." He went on to imply that large numbers of individuals working for the government were subversives: "I have in my hand fifty-seven cases of individuals who would appear to be either card-carrying members or certainly loyal to the Communist Party, but who nevertheless are still helping to shape our foreign policy." The list was a fiction and had been created by the Republican Senator from Wisconsin as an attention-getting scare tactic. "McCarthyism" was launched, bringing with it fear, hatred, and ruined lives. McCarthy wildly pointed fingers, and thousands joined him. Dissent became suspect, and many lost their jobs because they had supported various liberal causes during the 1930s and 1940s. It was known that Eisenhower disliked McCarthy; still he failed to stop him. Finally, on 9 March 1954, the reporter Edward R. Murrow courageously aired "A Report on Senator Joseph R. McCarthy" on CBS television's See It Now. The report provided a powerful review of McCarthy's destructive attacks, unfounded lies, and damaging claims.
Only six weeks later, the Army-McCarthy hearings were held. These were meant to investigate McCarthy's charges that Secretary of the Army Robert T. Stevens and Army Counsel John G. Adams were hampering efforts to uncover Communists in the military. Stevens and Adams countercharged that McCarthy and his assistant Roy Cohn had tried to get preferential treatment for a former staff member, Private G. David Schine. The hearings were carried live on ABC television for nearly two months. The historian David Halberstam would later write: "The nation watched, and when it was over, McCarthy had done himself in with his ugliness." On July 30 a resolution of censure against McCarthy for conduct unbecoming a Senator was introduced by Senator Ralph E. Flanders, Republican from Vermont. A select committee of the Senate voted to censure McCarthy on two counts. Finally, on December 2, McCarthy was condemned in a special session of the U.S. Senate for his public conduct. When on July 27 Eisenhower had requested funds for peaceful representation of the United States abroad through industrial and cultural exchange, he was certainly mindful of McCarthy's demise as a strong political force. It is somewhat speculative to tie together the Army-McCarthy hearings with the Emergency Fund of 1954, but it could certainly have been a factor encouraging Eisenhower's move in that direction.
McCarthyism did not evaporate with McCarthy's censure. Many on the far right cried out against imagined Communist infiltration of all areas of American society. Not too long after the Symphony of the Air was sent abroad to great acclaim, Congressional hearings were initiated to censure both the artists and the exchange program because of supposed Communist infiltration. Although the orchestra received no further bookings, the climate had changed sufficiently so that the program itself was not harmed.
Just two months following Murrow's television exposé of McCarthy, Chief Justice Earl Warren presided over the unanimous Supreme Court ruling in the case known as Brown v. Board of Education. "We conclude that in the field of public opinion the doctrine of 'separate but equal' has no place. Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal." This landmark decision, legally ending segregation, marked the beginning of numerous civil rights battles, thus significantly changing political action and public awareness.
Decision-makers on the Dance Panel and in the State Department responded to the events surrounding them. In order to combat criticism of the conflict between democratic ideals and racial iniquities, it was important to send African-American artists abroad under the auspices of Eisenhower's Emergency Fund. Legal desegregation helped pave the way; later, sit-ins and bombings made it even more imperative to seek out and acknowledge African-American artists before the rest of the world.
Support for a production featuring African-American artists came quickly under Eisenhower's Emergency Fund. George Gershwin's musical Porgy and Bess toured from December 1954 through February 1955. The world was watching America; how could the government claim racial equality when they knew about increased civil rights activities? In 1955, Emmett Till, an African-American teenager, was killed in Mississippi for whistling at a white woman; an all-white jury found his murderer not guilty. That same year seamstress Rosa Parks was arrested in Montgomery, Alabama, for not moving to the back of the bus. Governor Orval Eugene Faubus of Arkansas ordered the state National Guard to enforce segregation at Little Rock High School in 1957; Eisenhower responded by sending U.S. Army troops to safeguard entry of nine black students.
In 1960, students from North Carolina A & T College in Greensboro protested segregated dining areas by staging the first "sit-in." In 1963, four young girls were killed by a Ku Klux Klan attack on a Birmingham, Alabama, church; Medgar Wiley Evers, field director for the NAACP in Mississippi, was killed by an unknown assassin outside his own home. Still, there was hope in the air when a quarter-million people marched peacefully on Washington and listened as Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his "I Have a Dream" speech.
Selma, Alabama, in 1965 was the focus of significant large-scale civil rights activity. On March 7, a group of about 600 began a march from Selma to Montgomery, protesting segregation and a lack of voting rights for African-Americans. They never made it to Montgomery; Alabama state troopers struck the marchers with clubs and fired tear gas canisters into the crowd. On March 9, a group of whites attacked three ministers from Boston who had come to Selma for the march. One of them, the Reverend James J. Reeb, was hit in the head with a pipe and died two days later. A third march from Selma to Montgomery started on March 21; 3,200 black and white marchers began the fifty-four mile journey under the protection of 4,000 Alabama National Guard troops mobilized by President Lyndon B. Johnson. On March 25 the march ended peacefully, but that evening two civil rights workers were attacked by a Ku Klux Klan group, and one of them died instantly. The events in Selma helped speed the passage of the Voting Rights Act, signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson on 6 August 1965.
It would appear that the export of some of our best African-American artists in fairly substantial numbers was directly related to the tremendous amount of civil rights activity in the 1950s and 1960s. Even Lincoln Kirstein, General Manager for the New York City Ballet and dance panelist for Eisenhower's Fund, participated in the 1965 Selma marches. Subsequently, he wrote a moving poem in commemoration of the events. During the period 1955-1965, the African-American artists and attractions that received State Department sponsorship for one, if not several tours abroad, included Porgy and Bess, the Jubilee Singers, Marian Anderson, Louis Armstrong, Dizzie Gillespie, William Warfield, Camilla Williams, the Alvin Ailey dance company, and the Howard University Choir.
Eisenhower's Emergency Fund was also shaped by a long history of private involvement in cultural and educational exchange — what we know now as cultural diplomacy. At the beginning of the twentieth century, Andrew Carnegie took the position that the exchange of ideas and individuals could be an important factor in eliminating conflict between nations. In keeping with the American idea that private initiative rather than government control was the path to follow, he created in 1919 the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. The emphasis was on sponsoring exchanges of professors, students, and publications, stimulating translations and the book trade, and encouraging the teaching of English. Much of the activity was aimed at Latin America with the idea of spreading knowledge about us as a neighbor, thus fostering friendly relations.
Two other private initiatives date from the early decades of the twentieth century. The Rockefeller Foundation, established in 1913, became involved in cultural exchange during the 1920s. The International Institute of Education, founded in 1919 to achieve peace through international understanding, focused primarily on student exchange. These early efforts in cultural diplomacy were characterized by Frank Ninkovitch as "a form of statecraft concerned with the management of intellectual influences on international politics." They reflected a belief in volunteerism and the avoidance of government control to spread the values of moral rearmament. The emphasis was not so much on putting forward the idea of the superiority of American capitalism or our particular way of life, but rather the premise that leaders could institute a meeting of the minds that would avoid and prevent misunderstandings by many in the political, educational, and artistic arenas.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Dance for Export"
Copyright © 1998 Naima Prevots.
Excerpted by permission of Wesleyan University Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
ANTA, the Dance Panel, and Martha Graham
The Avant-Garde Conundrum
Ballet and Soviet-American Exchange
How Broad a Spectrum?
On the Home Front
What People are Saying About This
"Prevots mines the wealth of primary source documents available, from accounts of Congressional hearings and foreign service dispatches to Boston Symphony archives, to unearth a wealth of information on the creation of American cultural diplomacy through dance. Her clear, concise, and accessible book integrates appropriate historical material relating to the artists and key players which gives the text a deep contextual richness." Shelley C. Berg, Southern Methodist University
"Dance for Export provides a wealth of primary source material documenting the role of the State Department in promoting American artists and raises issues regarding the ways in which 'American' dance came to be defined in the 1950s. A significant contribution, it is particularly timely as battles over Federal aid to the arts and issues of government censorship loom large."Ellen Graff, author of Stepping Left
"Prevots mines the wealth of primary source documents available, from accounts of Congressional hearings and foreign service dispatches to Boston Symphony archives, to unearth a wealth of information on the creation of American cultural diplomacy through dance. Her clear, concise, and accessible book integrates appropriate historical material relating to the artists and key players which gives the text a deep contextual richness."
"Dance for Export provides a wealth of primary source material documenting the role of the State Department in promoting American artists and raises issues regarding the ways in which 'American' dance came to be defined in the 1950s. A significant contribution, it is particularly timely as battles over Federal aid to the arts and issues of government censorship loom large."