Arts exchange programme expands into Middle East

CEC ArtsLink is offering artists from the region the chance to live and work in the US.

Collapses by Mariam Ghani, a previous recipient of a CEC ArtsLink award. Courtesy Mariam Ghani
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Albert Einstein said: "Peace cannot be kept by force. It can only be achieved by understanding." It seems an apt way to describe the American arts programme CEC ArtsLink, which organises cultural exchanges between arts professionals.

In the run-up to the 50th anniversary of the organisation, Fritzie Brown, the executive director of CEC ArtsLink, announced that the organisation will for the first time offer awards to artists from the so-called Eastern Mediterranean: Egypt, Lebanon, the Palestinian Territories, Israel and Syria. Brown explains what those who apply before the October 15 deadline can expect.

How does CEC ArtsLink work?

We have a small office in New York and one in St Petersburg. The organisation started in 1962 as a citizen exchange between the Soviet Union and the US. The organisation has morphed into a citizen artist exchange that aims to promote understanding in a number of countries.

Why expand into new territories this year?

It's always been my goal to step away from the historic link to Cold War countries because I think we should include other countries with whom understanding could be bettered. We have perfected an excellent model of exchange and it seems appropriate to bring those into play in new regions.

Can art affect political change?

I'm not sure that there is an immediate benefit, but I believe that art is the business of communication and by working together and sharing a cultural matrix between countries, artists can affect understanding. I've seen this over a number of years, how exchange programmes can bring understanding in a way that political dialogue really cannot.

How does someone get an award?

Residencies are an open call. There are application forms online, which are reviewed by an ever-changing panel of US arts professionals, curators and museum directors, and they are reviewed competitively against one another. The top ones are selected for residencies and they come to the US together in the fall of every year and are placed in residences at organisations throughout the US.

Could this be based anywhere in the US, or in specific areas?

We match the goal of the fellow, as they are called, to the resources of the institutions, and we have a healthy roster of institutions throughout the US that are good hosts, that are willing to do the fairly daunting task of incorporating an artist from abroad into their programme and integrating them within their organisation. We encourage not only artists but arts managers in the various artistic disciplines to apply.

Is your definition of art limited or is it fairly broad?

It's fairly limited. We alternate disciplines every year. For instance, the applications this year will be open to artists and managers in the performing arts and literature. There will be standard theatre, dance and music. In the visual arts category, which we will look at next year, there is more latitude in what that might mean. But I would say there needs to be a healthy CV that indicates that these are artists with the potential to bring the benefit of the experience back home. It can't smell like a vacation.

The deadline for applications from artists and managers in performing arts and literature for the ArtsLink Residencies is October 15. For more information, visit