Newsmax Magazine Column: Art Makes World A Safer Place

Newsmax Magazine | September 2021 Issue Column

Twenty years ago this month, the September 11th terrorist attacks changed our world forever. In the years that followed we delivered justice to those who threatened our safety and way of life. But I also know many of us continue to confront the sadness of that fateful day. Each year on the 11th of September, our thoughts return to New York City, the Pentagon and Shanksville, Pennsylvania. We remember those who died, grieve alongside the loved ones they left behind and resolve to never forget.

While this solemn anniversary carries a unifying presence with it each year, we are also a nation and world that remains deeply divided. Perhaps one lesson from my time as Ambassador to Hungary in the days following September 11, 2001 offers perspective into how we can overcome and discover strength in our differences both across and between nations.

In the 1960s, at the height of the Cold War, President John F. Kennedy understood that sharing art and culture brought people together and established a powerful connection that transcended policies and politics. JFK knew then that art could go a long way toward expanding pluralism, democratic ideals and multiculturalism among American allies.

In 1963, the Kennedy administration founded the “Arts in the Embassies” program, a public/private partnership between the U.S. State Department and more than 20,000 partners from museums, galleries, collectors and others that enabled more than 4,000 artists to share and show their art in U.S. embassies around the world. Every president and secretary of state has embraced this program since. It has become an important part of American foreign policy.

Having served as the U.S. Ambassador to the Republic of Hungary from 2001-2003, I can attest to the program’s success. I have learned the power of using the arts as a tool of diplomacy.

When I arrived in Hungary in the days following the attacks in 2001, our embassy was advised that enhanced security and safety concerns would delay approvals to get American art. So instead of waiting to outfit the ambassador’s residence with American art, I invited artists from Budapest to loan their art to adorn the walls. That gesture created a bond between the art community and the U.S., and it went a long way toward gaining the appreciation of the Hungarian government.

My interest in the art and culture of Hungary also heightened my understanding of the Hungarian people and their government, and it helped me carry out my official responsibilities to strengthen ties with American allies among NATO Member States and Eastern Europe. I knew where they were coming from, and I had great success working with the Hungarian government to accomplish America’s goals. We established better security cooperation; we resolved commerce transparency issues; and we hosted the first conference on human trafficking and the exploitation of workers. We bridged divides and struck a cultural chord between nations that put people before politics.

Although I am no longer the ambassador to Hungary, my work to educate the American people about Hungarian art and culture continues. Further, a vital lesson for humanity also endures. The world, two decades removed from September 11th, would be a more peaceful place if we took the time to learn, appreciate and understand one another. Art and culture are good places to start.