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Arts Seen as Part of Post-Terrorism Landscape - 2002-05-28

From Michael Jordan to Madonna, from Starbucks to McDonalds, for better or for worse, American culture resonates in every corner of the globe. At a news conference Tuesday, U.S. arts and tourism industry experts say culture is one of the strongest things the United States has going for it, but not all countries so readily embrace it.

According to Robert Lynch, president of Americans for the Arts, the leading U.S. nonprofit organization for advancing the arts in America, brainpower is not only one of America's greatest strengths, but also a target for hatred.

"The arts in America, the freedom of the arts, the diversity of the arts, the culture of America, as exemplified through the arts, is exactly what some people, like the terrorists, have come to hate and come to want to attack," said Mr. Lynch. "And so, the arts are central to the question of how America is going to fare in the future. And at the same time, if you look at what terrorists are attacking in their own havens, the bombing of the statues, the great statues of Buddha in Afghanistan, they're attacking the arts as symbols of freedom, of learning, of ideas, of difference."

Mr. Lynch says the September 11 terrorist attacks have had a negative impact on some arts organizations in the United States, but he said the economic slowdown that preceded September 11 had an even bigger effect.

"What we've discovered with disaster events of any kind ... is that there's a short-term problem and then people bounce back more quickly, in terms of returning audiences and so on. The economic problem is a longer-term difficulty, and it slows things down for a longer period of time," he said.

The executive director of the Washington, D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities, Tony Gittens, agrees that terrorism hurt the capital's tourism industry in the short-term.

"The September 11 tragedy was just devastating for tourism in the District of Columbia. As you know, tourism - after the federal government - is our biggest moneymaker, and it was just devastating," said Mr. Gittens, who went on to note that Washington is rebounding. "But what we're seeing now is that it's coming back. Hotel occupancy is back to at least where it was, and in some hotels, higher than it was this time last year. People are feeling more comfortable coming to the city."

But the Washington city official did acknowledge some concern about the negative effects on tourism that could result from the continued terrorist threat warnings issued by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

"Well, it's always a problem. I know with my family, I'm going to think of safety for my family first. So, it's always a problem," conceded Mr. Giddens.

Following the September tragedies, Wendy Rosen, publisher of AmericanStyle magazine, said the arts played a public role in U.S. cities outside of Washington.

"People, of course, were concerned about going into national facilities, but in most towns, the art museums stayed open on days when they weren't normally open for longer hours than they ever were because the community went to the art museum, just as they went to their local church, and it was a sanctuary for them," he said.

Ms. Rosen adds that in times of conflict, art also has its place. She says when people want to feel good or be comforted, they often look for an arts event.