Last summer, I took the U.S. Foreign Service Exam. A very difficult test due to its breadth. I studied for months. And I passed all sections with good scores.

Except for the last section, the essay, which is not even looked at unless you pass all other sections. The essay prompt was regarding blame and solutions for climate change. I scored a 5. To pass, a score of 6 or higher is required. 1 mere point and no foreign service duty for me. At least not yet.

But that decision will come later. In the course of Fulbright, my social circle, and work at AMIDEAST EducationUSA; I have befriended plenty of folks in the U.S. foreign service. They are posted here in Cairo, but also in Azerbaijan and Afghanistan and Russia and back in DC. I am not 100% sure that foreign service life is for me yet I have learned a lot from this crew.

From these diplomats, I have learned a lot about my own self-defining career path as an artist.

A student of mine dancing in the former war fields of Northwest Bosnia.
A student of mine dancing in the former war fields of Northwest Bosnia.

My degree was a Masters of Arts Management with a concentration in Arts in Youth and Community Development. I have a post-graduate certificate in Youth and Community Arts Development. Yet, I travel. I am not so much community-based, well not for more than a couple years. Some of my best work has been with short projects and visits. That is not the sustainable community-based model. What I do I define as social practice art, and variations thereof.

In a recent debate at the Creative Times Summit, the topic came up, “IS SOCIAL PRACTICE GENTRIFYING COMMUNITY ARTS?”  My friends tagged me and asked me to comment.

The problem is that I have been away from the U.S. just long enough to avoid defining myself through buzzwords and jargon. When the article talks of the big divides between community arts and creative place-making, I can not see those distinctions or tensions as clearly. I am not a teaching artist, exactly. I am not solely an arts educator.

My work as a social practice artist, on the other hand, lives between all these definers. I am starting to think what I am aiming for more closely resembles the model of the U.S. Foreign Service.

  • Foreign Service employees are considered diplomats .
  • Post assignments are 2-4 years. Tense/unsafe posts come with shorter assignments of 6-12 months
  • American foreign service officers work alongside local staff who have been or intend to be in the community for a long time. The organizational structure is based on diverse, short-team, quasi-decentralized, somewhat-flat teams.
  • Foreign service officers provide some expertise and new ways of trying things, but the local staff  have final say to plan for  implementation, dissemination or outreach/inreach.
  • Foreign Service employees bid for where they want to go but priority is given to those who know the local language or have a needed skill for the post.
  • Foreign service officers are not posted where they have family or conflict of interest.
  • The strategic plan for activities is tied closely with the strategic plan for the area/city.
  • Employees rotate roles between administrative, creative, curatorial, and direct service positions.
  • Foreign service officers are considered Generalists with five choices for a career track:
    • Consular Affairs
    • Economic Affairs
    • Management Affairs
    • Political Affairs
    • Public Diplomacy
  • No diplomatic programs can charge for their services.
  • Resources go to exchange programs and development of local leaders.
  • (Some of the elements of the foreign service do not make a good metaphor: I did not include those.)

Now, think about applying some of those elements to the arts. Gets me thinking. What are your thoughts?

 

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