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Open World Cultural Leaders Program Links U.S. and Russian Cultural Institutions
November 5, 2003

For Immediate Release
PR: 03-037

Washington, DC – Four Russian cultural leaders, ranging from the director of a major arts festival to an administrator at one of Russia’s most important regional art museums, will visit Grand Rapids Nov. 8–18 on the first exchange under the new Open World Cultural Leaders Program. The program is administered by the Open World Leadership Center, an independent legislative branch agency located at the Library of Congress.

The Center’s Open World Program has brought more than 7,000 Russian political and civic leaders to all 50 U.S. states to build mutual understanding between the United States and the Russian Federation. Congress directed Open World to launch the new Cultural Leaders Program in legislation passed earlier this year. The inaugural Open World cultural exchange is being hosted by the National Peace Foundation (NPF) in Michigan and North Carolina. NPF has organized numerous Open World visits and has strong local networks in both states.

"It is my honor and pleasure to welcome these cultural leaders from Russia to Grand Rapids in the spirit of international cooperation and cultural exchange," said Congressman Vernon J. Ehlers, who has participated in other cultural and legislative exchange programs in the past. "When it comes to well-run cultural institutions, Grand Rapids and the West Michigan area have a lot to offer. I'm sure the leaders of our institutions are looking forward to meeting with these visitors to share ideas about how to serve their communities better."

The cultural leaders visiting Grand Rapids are from the Volga Region in central Russia. In addition to the festival organizer and the museum administrator, the delegation includes a curator at a government agency that supports and promotes contemporary visual art, and an artist. “Russia’s cultural leaders and traditions have played a disproportionate role in shaping and directing Russia’s history and politics,” emphasized Librarian of Congress James H. Billington, a Russia scholar who co-founded Open World and chairs its governing board.

Top officials of the Grand Rapids Art Museum and the Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park will brief the Russians on how their institutions fundraise, recruit volunteers, conduct public relations, and develop public programs. Delegates will learn how the Arts Council of Greater Grand Rapids helps build the capacity of area cultural institutions and arts organizations, and will get an in-depth look at two of the Arts Council’s member organizations: the Festival of the Arts and the Urban Institute for Contemporary Art. Tours of the Grand Valley State University Department of Art and Design, the Gerald R. Ford Museum, and the Grand Rapids Public Library are also on the agenda, as are several brainstorming sessions with local arts professionals. The program was organized by Barbara Van’t Hof, who has been active in West Michigan–St.Petersburg, Russia exchanges.

Another four cultural leaders from the Volga Region will simultaneously visit Traverse City, Interlochen, and Ann Arbor. The two groups will then reunite for a short stay in Detroit.

Before arriving in Grand Rapids, the four Russian cultural leaders will take part in a Washington, DC orientation session for all the Michigan and North Carolina delegates that will include meetings with National Endowment for the Arts Chairman Dana Gioia and other arts leaders. Their U.S. program concludes with a trip to New York City, where the entire delegation will have working meetings at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Juilliard School of Music, and downtown cultural institutions and organizations, including the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council, which is involved in rebuilding the downtown’s art and cultural communities.

“Having the cultural exchanges last three weeks, rather than the 10 days that is typical of our civic exchanges, is designed to provide ample time for both U.S. and Russian partners to learn about how arts organizations are developed in each other’s country; how these organizations serve their communities; and also how cultural activity in the United States is funded – a topic of special relevance to Russian cultural institutions adjusting to reduced government support and a market economy,” stated Open World Executive Director Geraldine M. Otremba.

Open World enlisted the Likhachev Foundation and CEC International Partners to help identify potential candidates for this program, and has been working closely with the Russian Ministry of Culture, the National Endowment for the Arts, NPF, and the U.S. host institutions on the design of the first three-week residencies. Both traditional high culture and popular culture in the United States will be explored, and Russia’s immensely important folklore traditions will also be a focus of the exchange.

The Open World Program brings emerging political and civic leaders from all 89 regions of the Russian Federation to communities across the United States. Delegations experience American community and cultural life while learning about the responsibilities of and interrelationships between the three branches and different levels (federal, state, and local) of the U.S. government. Program participants also explore how the U.S. private and nonprofit sectors help meet social and civic needs. Participants engage in hands-on experiences, direct observation, and substantive exchange with their professional counterparts.

For more background on Open World, please contact Katya Sedova at 202-466-6210 or visit