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Art can be an effective and valuable medium in the facilitation of cultural diplomacy. It transcends human barriers such as language and generates empathy. On an international level it can be an effective tool in the promotion of soft power and formulation of attitudes towards other countries. Coincidentally, the places and organizations that store the art, ranging from nonprofit organizations to museums, play a crucial role in promoting cross-cultural understanding and illustrating the power of arts as a public good in bringing diverse communities together. Lyndon Johnson famously stated back in 1965: “Art is a nation’s most precious heritage. For it is in our works of art that we reveal to ourselves, and to others, the inner vision which guides us as a nation. And where there is no vision, the people perish.” Unfortunately, the current Trump administration does not share this sentiment in regard to the arts and culture, which is even more evident with its current defunding and plans to completely dismantle influential art and cultural federal agencies such as the National Endowment for the Arts and Humanities.

As we witness a decline in government support for culture and the arts, and subsequently in cultural diplomacy, cultural institutions of civil society throughout cities have momentous opportunities to engage and act as credible nontraditional actors in support of the arts and diplomacy. In Los Angeles, three nonprofit organizations, Building Bridges Art Exchange, The Mistake Room and LA Artcore, have made cultural diplomacy part of their core mission through nuanced exhibitions and exchanges. Through these cross-cultural collaborations and exchanges, new forms of artistic works and skills are often produced, which can be thought-provoking and help us imagine new viewpoints and possibilities.

Such exhibitions provide their audiences with what political scientist Joseph Nye describes as “contextual intelligence,” the intuitive diagnostic skill that helps align tactics with a strategy that fits a given context. Understanding cultural context and emotional intelligence is central to acquiring contextual intelligence and can be achieved through cultural and historic context, case studies and research-based curated exhibitions.