public diplomacy

Street art as a form of public diplomacy

By Devan Cole, Jazmyn Strode and Ali Oksner

Street art, which is defined simply as visual art that is created in public places, is seldom
considered a form of PD. But, if thought about carefully, one can easily see how street art can be a powerful and effective form of public diplomacy. Our presentation was centered around several examples of street art that Jazmyn and Ali saw (and in one case, painted) during their study abroad trips last year, that serve as prime examples of how this form of art can send cultural and political messages to both visitors and citizens of other countries.

In Italy, Jazmyn snapped photos of a series of paintings in a town she visited. The paintings were
of people who appeared to be torn from classical Italy but wore scuba diving masks and were positioned underwater. While the message they sent wasn’t exactly political, it was indeed cultural as it gave people (tourists) passing by a glimpse at Italian art without having to go into a museum that likely has an entrance fee. With the paintings being on the street, accessibility is at the heart of their purpose because you don’t have to chump up euros to experience this form of cultural diplomacy. In Chile, Ali saw a message spray-painted in Spanish that translates to “You have to be asleep to live the American dream.” This message, which can be considered street art, was presumably written by a local who wanted to express their thoughts on what they saw as an unattainable foreign fantasy. The audience: both Chileans and Spanish-speaking visitors. The interesting thing here is that the artist was attempting to relay a message about another country’s beliefs, not their own.

Nonetheless, this example of public diplomacy proves is just as interesting as any other because it promotes a citizen’s socio-cultural beliefs about a country. Ali also painted a mural of her father on the side of an abandoned house in Chile. When she
asked if she could paint somewhere, city officials shrugged off her request and told her she was free to paint on the side of the building, proving once again that this form of public diplomacy is extremely accessible. Her painting was a way for her to promote American art technique and form in another country, which can be seen as a form of public diplomacy. All of these examples and more serve as a testament to the fact that street art is an important form of public diplomacy that allows individuals to promote political and cultural messages through art that is easily accessible to anyone who wants to be on the receiving end of that messaging.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author(s). They do not necessarily express the views of either The Institute of Public Diplomacy and Global Communication or The George Washington University.


About Take Five

Take Five seeks to invigorate the Public Diplomacy discussion with contributions from a wide range of authors, from experienced Public Diplomacy figures to scholars and young professionals newly venturing into the field. We are venue for fresh ideas about the way that America conducts its diplomatic relations abroad and about the impact of current policies. Social Media, Digital Diplomacy, and other aspects of Global Communication are also a central focus.


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