2023 marked the 60th anniversary of Art in Embassies. In celebration of that milestone, the Democracy Collection initiative brought art diplomacy for democracy to every hemisphere through artist exchanges, a traveling exhibition, civic engagements, events at cultural institutions, and an outreach program to expand AIE’s diplomatic art repository.
At the U.S. Department of State Summit for Democracy in December 2021, President Joe Biden declared, “Democracy doesn’t happen by accident. We have to defend it, fight for it, strengthen it, renew it.” At that same summit, Secretary of State Antony Blinken called upon fellow democratic nations to develop action plans for strengthening democracy around the world, saying, “Democracy is facing a moment of reckoning.” The Democracy Collection initiative was a project of the Summit for the Democracy convened regularly by the President and the Secretary of State.
For six decades, Art in Embassies has put the power of visual art behind America’s foreign service imperatives. Through exhibitions, permanent collections, and artist exchanges, AIE supports hundreds of posts worldwide in advancing mutual understanding through art.
In 2023, the Democracy Collection initiated several programs to strengthen democracy: a traveling exhibition, democracy-focused artist exchanges across all regions, a worldwide competition for students, and an expansion of the State Department’s collection of artworks for democracy diplomacy. This year of celebration culminated in an artist-driven democracy celebration at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History.
There is a connection, hard to explain logically but easy to feel, between achievement in public life and progress in the arts.
The exhibition launched at the Acropolis Museum, where Ambassador George Tsunis hosted Partners in Democracy, a symposium in collaboration with the Delphi Economic Forum.
Advocacy Through Art, hosted by Ambassador Randi Charno Levine, highlighted some of America’s most respected contemporary artists and featured an academic symposium with Hank Willis Thomas’ For Freedoms, an artist-run platform for civic engagement and action.
As the summer session of the United Nations Human Rights Council opened, Ambassador Michèle Taylor hosted the exhibition at Xippas Gallery and aligned it with the Council’s focus: women’s rights.
The exhibition came home to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History for a day-long art activation in partnership with the Karsh Institute of Democracy at the University of Virginia.
In celebration of its 60th anniversary, Art in Embassies launched its traveling exhibition, A More Perfect Union: American Artists and the Currents of Our Time, at the Acropolis Museum in Athens, Greece in May 2023. The traveling exhibition was part of AIE’s Democracy Collection initiative, putting artists central to the defense of democracy. The exhibition included works by some of the most respected contemporary artists in the United States and traveled to Lisbon, Portugal; Geneva, Switzerland; and the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C.
On September 19th, artist-filled public programming kicked off the opening of the traveling exhibition, A More Perfect Union: American Artists and the Currents of Our Time. Kal Penn, Deborah Kass, Hank Willis Thomas, Sanford Biggers, Alfre Woodard, Alexis Rockman, and more participated in a variety of talks and panels. This day—which also included exhibition tours by artists, conversations about the relationship between art and democracy in the United States, and demonstrations and activities to engage museum visitors—was made possible by Art in Embassies, the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History, and the University of Virginia’s Karsh Institute of Democracy.
For five consecutive nights in September 2023, Art in Embassies presented a new light projection by renowned artist and past State Department Medal of Arts honoree Jenny Holzer. The artwork, THE PEOPLE, commemorates Art in Embassies’ 60th anniversary and its Democracy Collection initiative.
As part of the Democracy Collection initiative, Art in Embassies invited supporters, artists and lenders to participate in a video, asking them to finish the sentence “Democracy Is…” Their responses highlight the diversity and vitality of our community and the unique perspectives of artists on the essence of democracy. The video was showcased across various venues in 2023.
Art in Embassies sends artists around the globe for civic dialogues and community engagements that explore the ideals and challenges of democratic societies.
Art in Embassies and the National Art Education Association launched their student art competition on February 15, 2023. The Best in Show winner was named by the competition’s jury, which included graphic artist Shepard Fairey, and was honored at Art in Embassies’ 60th anniversary celebration at Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History.
With the help of philanthropists, foundations, collectors, artists, corporations, and nonprofit organizations, a new Democracy Collection of artworks will be ready for ambassadors who will serve during the 250th Celebration of America in 2026. Donating artworks, helping forge relationships with donors, and directly supporting shipping, handling, and support of this collection, these partners are adding to front line soft power tools defending democracy.
Press and Media
Art in Embassies thanks the organizations and individuals supporting the collection expansion and the Democracy Collection initiative; this project would not be possible without their support.
We would like to thank the following supporters and advisors:
Foundations and Non-profits
Doris Duke Foundation
The Aspen Institute
Association of Marshall Scholars
Blaire House Restoration Fund
Foundation for Art and Preservation in Embassies
The Fulbright Foundation
Grateful American Foundation
Karsh Institute of Democracy, University of Virginia
National Art Education Association
Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights
Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden
National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution
John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts
The Library of Congress
Smithsonian American Art Museum
United States Department of the Navy
Katherine and David Bradley
Don Russell Clayton
William and Karen Schuiling
Jay Lynn Gomez
Matthew Day Jackson
The Kaphar Family
Christine Sun Kim
Anna Deveare Smith
George Stevens, Jr.
Hank Willis Thomas
Carrie Mae Weems
Charlie James Gallery
Luther Brady Gallery
Marian Goodman Gallery
Mark Straus Gallery
Sperone Westwater Gallery
Sundaram Tagore Gallery
Nell Breyer, Association of Marshall Scholars
Didi Cutler, spouse, Hon. Walter Cutler, Ambassador, Ret. to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia
Hon. Jeffrey DeLaurentis, Ambassador to the United Nations for Special Political Affairs
Hon. Rufus Gifford, Chief of Protocol for the United States
Alma Gildenhorn, spouse, Hon. Joseph Gildenhorn, Ambassador, Ret. to the Swiss Confederation
Ann Hand, spouse, Hon. Lloyd Hand, Ambassador, Ret. and Chief of Protocol
Hon. Jane Hartley, Ambassador to the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland
H.E. Andre Haspels, Ambassador of the Kingdom of the Netherlands to the United States
Anne Johnson, former Director of Art in Embassies
H.E. Dina Kawar, Ambassador of the Kingdom of Jordan to the United States
H.E. Stavros Lambrinidis, Ambassador of the European Union to the United States
Hon. Randi Charno Levine, Ambassador to the Portuguese Republic
Michelle Loewinger, spouse, Hon. Howard Gutman, Ambassador, Ret. to the Kingdom of Belgium
Hon. Bobby Mandell, Ambassador, Ret. to the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg
Anita McBride, former White House Liaison, U.S. Department of State
Hon. William Moser, former Ambassador to the Republic of Moldova
Hon. Marc Nathanson, Ambassador to the Kingdom of Norway
H.E. Jacques Pitteloud, Ambassador of the Swiss Confederation to the United States, and Angelique Pitteloud
Hon. Lee Satterfield, U.S. Department of State, Education and Cultural Affairs
Hon. Ann Stock, U.S. Department of State, Education and Cultural Affairs
Ellen Susman, former Director of Art in Embassies
Hon. George Tsunis, Ambassador to the Hellenic Republic
Hon. Michèle Taylor, Ambassador to the United Nations Human Rights Council
Michael Trager, Vice Chair, Fulbright
Hon. Chantale Wong, Ambassador to the Asian Development Bank