Culture » Overview

Exploring the transformative power of the arts – building bridges across cultures – supporting young cultural innovators

The Salzburg Global Seminar’s Culture and the Arts Program focuses on the transformative power of the arts, facilitates cultural exchange at multiple levels, and provides capacity-building opportunities through the annual Young Cultural Innovators Forum. Through multi-year projects and strategic convenings, the Culture and Arts Program seeks to secure a more prominent role for the arts on policy agendas and to support the continuously evolving needs of the creative sector – as a major driver of sustainable economic development and social improvement – through the multi-year Salzburg Global Forum for Young Cultural Innovators.

Sessions in 2018:

The Shock of the New: Arts, Technology, and Making Sense of the Future - February 20 to 25, 2018

Salzburg Global Forum for Young Cultural Innovators V - October 16 to 21, 2018

For past sessions, click here

The Shock of the New - Arts, Technology and Making Sense of the Future
The Shock of the New: Arts, Technology and Making Sense of the Future
The Shock of the New - Arts, Technology and Making Sense of the Future
Carly Sikina 

Over the past 20 years, humans have seen more drastic and rapid technological change than ever before. For some, these advancements yield optimism, due to improvements such as the increased availability of information as a result of the Internet.

However, for others, especially for those who did not grow up in the digital age, these changes can cause an immense amount of uneasiness and anxiety, stemming from the uncertainty around  technology's effects on the world. We, as a society, are entering a time where the future of our planet raises immense questions and the arts can help us better imagine a future we want.

Salzburg Global Seminar’s session, The Shock of the New: Arts, Technology and Making Sense of the Future, which takes place at Schloss Leopoldskron, from February 20 to February 25, is part of the multi-year series, Culture, Arts and Society.

During the session, an international group of 50 artists, technologists, scientists, educators, policymakers and cultural practitioners will partake in creative, serious conversations about our world’s future.

Some of the questions that will be explored during the session include: how accurately have artists in the past been able to “predict” the future? What utopian and dystopian views of the future are currently emerging in different art forms and technology? How can collaboration between diverse fields reshape the future of our planet? How can we preserve humanity in the face of an increasingly technological world? And lastly, what do we want the future to be like and how can we work toward making this idealized future a reality?

This session will combine various presentations, performances, discussions and small group work to stimulate and inform public deliberation as well as cross-sectoral collaboration. It combines theory, policy and practice across various disciplines, generations and sectors in order to include more diverse perspectives and worldviews in decision-making processes.

Martin Bohle, a participant of the session who has over 25 years of experience in STEM-related fields, understands the importance of active collaboration between the arts and technology, as he believes that his own “knowledge is limited”.

“I think what we need at many interfaces, is more capability to imagine. More capability to relate bits and pieces, which normally are not related to each other. I hope to come back richer with ideas [of] how one can get people more imaginative, more creative…."

This session strives to broaden the foundations for creative future thinking through active collaboration between diverse fields. A further aim of this seminar is to raise awareness regarding the powerful role that the arts play in accelerating sustainable, social change.

This year's program will build on previous sessions from the Culture, Arts and Society series, including The Art of Resilience: Creativity, Courage and Renewal as well as Beyond Green: The Arts as a Catalyst for Sustainability.

This series aims to enable artists to play a more central role in decision-making processes and to encourage seemingly diverse fields to cooperate and engage in new conversations with one another.

Susanna Seidl-Fox, program director at Salzburg Global Seminar says, "This session is a truly groundbreaking and forward-looking session for Salzburg Global. As part of our multi-year series Culture, Arts, and Society, this session aims to launch an unusual voyage into the future.

"Mobilizing intellectual and artistic resources from around the world, Salzburg Global will provide a generous space for exceptional conversations and hard questions: What will our world look like in 2050 or 2100? Who or what will control our lives? What will it mean to be human? With their ability to push the boundaries of the human imagination, how can artists and cultural practitioners influence the way in which decision-makers and innovators plan and implement our shared future?"      

The Salzburg Global program The Shock of the New: Arts, Technology and Making Sense of the Future is part of the multi-year Culture, Arts and Society series. The session is supported by the Edward T. Cone Foundation. More information on the session can be found here. You can follow all of the discussions on Twitter by following the hashtag #SGSculture.

Linell Letendre - Justice Requires a Culture of Leadership, Professionalism and Respect
Linell Letendre - Justice Requires a Culture of Leadership, Professionalism and Respect
Oscar Tollast 

As Colonel Linell Letendre spoke in front of her fellow participants at the 15th symposium of the Salzburg Seminar American Studies Association (SSASA), her charge was to discuss how the concept of justice and diversity has changed in the United States military over the past 70 years.

Letendre, permanent professor and head of the Department of Law at the United States Air Force Academy, reflected on integration efforts concerning race, gender, and sexual orientation. This approach was to see if any lessons could be learned for society-at-large – both the good and the bad.

In March 2010, then-US Secretary of Defence Robert Gates issued a directive for a working group to conduct a comprehensive review of the issues linked to repealing the policy “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT). The policy had prohibited military personnel from discriminating against or harassing service personnel and applicants about their sexual orientation (“don’t ask”) – but it had in turn also prohibited all servicemen and women from being open about their sexual orientation on threat of dismissal (“don’t tell”). Letendre was a part of this group, working as a legal advisor and as an editor for the subsequent report.

During their research, Letendre and others looked at integration efforts involving race and gender and the responses from serving personnel interviewed about it at the time.

Speaking to Salzburg Global during the symposium, Letendre says, “In the mid-‘40s to the late ‘40s, when the service members were interviewed, over 80 percent were violently against any sort of racial integration of the services. We saw similar percentages with respect to gender when we began more gender integration across specialities and particular jobs across the service.

“In contrast, in 2010, when a very large survey [on DADT] was done of the Department of Defence, we saw almost a complete reversal of that [percentage]. Approximately, 70 percent of the service members essentially said, ‘Well, this isn’t  going to be that big a deal,’ and only 30 percent had any sort of concerns about open service of gay and lesbian service members.”

In July 2011, after receiving recommendations from military leaders, then-US President Barack Obama certified to Congress that the US armed forces were prepared for the repeal of DADT. On September 20 that year, the policy was successfully repealed and no longer in effect in the Department of Defense.

Letendre admits there is speculation as to why the survey responses differ for each experience of integration. She says, “When we were racially integrating the military, that was taking place in the late ‘40s, early ‘50s, and we still had Jim Crow laws across the South that had a required societal segregation as opposed to integration. The repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ in contrast was coming at a time when LGBT rights were an integral part of society. It’s just a very different aspect when you think about the civilian versus military and where each was at the time of integration efforts.”

From a military perspective, Letendre says there are three things which are fundamental for justice to take place. She says, “It requires a culture and a climate of leadership, professionalism, and respect. If you can foster that climate where everyone – from the private soldier or the young airman all the way up to the senior leaders – is demonstrating those three attributes... I think it goes a long way toward achieving that ideal that we talk about, the American Dream: that ideal of justice and fairness and an equal opportunity for all to succeed.”

Last year’s SSASA program – Life and Justice in America: Implications of the New Administration – was divided up into three themes: 70 years of trends and events, quality of life and opportunity, and fairness and justice.  Letendre says the conversations taking place were “critically important.”
She says, “I think conversations like the ones we’re having here in Salzburg where we think about how various disciplines are concerned about what justice means can only help us to inform and have better dialogue in the pursuit of what the American Dream is.”

In her position at the United States Air Force Academy, Letendre leads a team of staff, which is responsible for the design and teaching of 19 core and elective law courses, legal support to the administration of the Cadet Honor System, and the development of officers of character for the US Air Force.

When asked what inspires her to do the work that she does, she says, “One amazing part of being a professor is that you’re part of the education and learning of the next generation and the next leadership generation. That’s no different at the United States Air Force Academy where we take very seriously the idea of developing leaders of character.

“Being a part of  that   – to develop our nation’s future leaders who have within them a sense of purpose, a sense of character and understanding of the rule of law and the appropriate place for justice and so forth – that’s what   inspires me not only to come here and have that conversation with other individuals from around the world in Salzburg, but that also inspires me to be a professor at the United States Air Force Academy.”

Read more in our new session report


Download the report as a PDF

Colonel Linell Letendre was a participant of the Salzburg Global program Life and Justice in America: Implications of the New Administration, which is part of Salzburg Global’s multi-year series Salzburg Seminar American Studies Association (SSASA). More information on the session can be found here. You can follow all of the discussions on Twitter by following the hashtag #SSASA.

A Message from Our Vice President and Chief Program Officer
A Message from Our Vice President and Chief Program Officer
Clare Shine 

As 2018 gets underway, I would like to express my sincere gratitude for your continued engagement with Salzburg Global Seminar. In reflection of a landmark year celebrating Salzburg Global Seminar’s 70th anniversary, I wanted to look back on the journey traveled, new projects and horizons.

Our 2017 theme of “Courage” resonated throughout this turbulent year. The 1947 vision of Salzburg Global’s founders – a “Marshall Plan of the Mind” to revive dialogue and heal rifts across Europe - felt fresh as ever. Cracks widened in societies and institutions across the world, compounded by a mix of insecurity, disillusionment, and isolationism.

Yet the world should be in a better position than ever to tackle common challenges. There is an open marketplace for ideas, innovation, and invention, and opportunities to engage and collaborate are growing fast.

In Salzburg, we are privileged to meet individuals from all walks of life who have the courage to tell truth to power, confront vested interests, express artistic voice and freedom, build coalitions for change, and see through tough choices. In divided societies, people need courage to stay true to their beliefs. Leaders need courage to curb their exercise of power. Together, we need courage to rekindle our collective imagination to rebuild society from the bottom up and the top down.

Three strategies guide our own work for this purpose.

1. Given Salzburg Global’s roots in conflict transformation, our programs seek to bridge divides:

  • Our American Studies series – a discipline born at Schloss Leopoldskron – focused on Life and Justice in America: Implications of the New Administration, including the roots of economic and racial division;
  • The Salzburg Academy on Media and Global Change had its highest-ever participation on Voices Against Extremism: Media Responses to Global Populism and published an interactive playbook “Against Populism”;
  • Our Holocaust Education and Genocide Prevention series is now applying tools developed in previous years to promote pluralism and tolerance and address issues of radicalization and violent extremism. Pilot projects to test these approaches are under way in five countries (Pakistan, Rwanda, South Africa, Morocco, and Egypt) with the potential to expand to other countries;
  • The Salzburg Global LGBT Forum marked its fifth anniversary with a major report assessing the influence and personal impact of a cross-sector network that now spans more than 70 countries and has inspired new partnerships and cultural initiatives.

2. Salzburg Global Seminar aims to inspire new thinking and action on critical issues to transform systems, connecting local innovators and global resources:

3. Salzburg Global seeks to expand collaboration by fostering lasting networks and partnerships:

After six years living in Schloss Leopoldskron and meeting the most diverse and talented people imaginable, I often hear myself describe Salzburg Global Seminar as “deeply human.” 2017 brought many reminders of the special bonds forged during our lifetime and the enduring need to advance trust and openness around the key issues facing today’s world. 

Thank you again for your commitment and recognition of Salzburg Global’s importance in your professional and personal development. We hope you will consider joining other Fellows who have already made a donation to Salzburg Global this year. Please click here to learn more.

With very best wishes from everyone at Salzburg Global Seminar, and we hope to welcome you back to Schloss Leopoldskron in the near future.

Salzburg Global Mourns the Death of George W Pitcher
George W Pitcher showed his support for Salzburg Global through the Edward T. Cone Foundation
Salzburg Global Mourns the Death of George W Pitcher
Salzburg Global Seminar 

Salzburg Global Seminar is sad to learn George W. Pitcher, a dedicated supporter of our organization has passed away at the age of 92.

Pitcher died peacefully at his home in Princeton on January 12. In addition to being a successful author, Pitcher was known for being an “accomplished pianist,” “a treasured friend and mentor,” and Professor Emeritus of Philosophy at Princeton University. He authored The Philosophy of Wittgenstein, Berkeley, Theory of Perception, and the memoir The Dogs Who Came to Stay.

He joined the Department of Philosophy at Princeton University in 1956 as a faculty member. He taught there until his retirement in 1982. Before arriving at Princeton, Pitcher studied at the U.S Naval Academy, Harvard University, and Oxford University. After graduating from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1947, he was commissioned as a lieutenant and served three years’ active duty. He was recalled to active duty during the Korean War.

Pitcher was the life partner of Edward T. Cone for almost 50 years. The two are described as having “shared a love of classical music, opera, art, travel, and their dogs Lupa, Remus, Cinder, Beata, and Carla.” From 1992 until his death, Pitcher served as a trustee of the Edward T. Cone Foundation.

Salzburg Global is extremely grateful for the long-standing support it has received from the Foundation. Since 1992, the Foundation has provided funding for Salzburg Global’s culture and the arts program.

At last year’s Board of Directors Weekend, which took place in June, a special concert was held commemorating the centennial of Edward T. Cone’s birth. Cone, an esteemed music scholar, pianist, and composer, first served as a faculty member at Salzburg Global in 1953, during the General Session in American Studies. He subsequently served as a faculty member for two more sessions. He joined Salzburg Global’s Board in 1964 and served for more than 15 years.

Following Cone’s death in 2004, Pitcher continued to show his support for Salzburg Global through the Foundation and remained interested in activities and programs which took place.

T. Randolph Harris, chair of Salzburg Global’s Advisory Council on Culture and the Arts, and co-trustee of the Edward T. Cone Foundation, said, “As a trustee of the Edward T. Cone Foundation, George derived great satisfaction from the contribution to the world of arts and culture made by the annual Cone sessions supported by the Foundation for the last 25 years.”

Salzburg Global President and CEO Stephen Salyer said, "George Pitcher was devoted to his partner, composer, and former Salzburg Global Director Ed Cone, and through him to the Seminar's arts and culture work.  A distinguished philosopher, George followed our work with keen interest and was warmly disposed toward supporting it generously through the Edward T. Cone Foundation, a legacy that is ongoing.  His circle of friends, in Princeton and across the world, will miss him profoundly.  Salzburg Global will carry forward the humanistic traditions both Ed Cone and George Pitcher personified."

Susanna Seidl-Fox, Program Director of Culture and the Arts, said: “The Cone Foundation's ongoing, generous support has enabled more than one thousand artists, scholars, and cultural actors from all corners of the globe to come together in Salzburg to reflect on both the intrinsic value as well as the transformative power of the arts and humanities. Salzburg Global and its Culture, Arts, and Society Fellows remain deeply indebted to George Pitcher and the Cone Foundation for recognizing and fostering the essential role of the arts and humanities in all our societies."

To read Princeton University's tribute to Pitcher, please click here.

Lecia Brooks – Dedicated to Ending Injustice in America
Lecia Brooks speaking at the 15th symposium of the Salzburg Seminar American Studies Association
Lecia Brooks – Dedicated to Ending Injustice in America
Oscar Tollast 

The Southern Poverty Law Center, based in Montgomery, Alabama, is committed to fighting hate, teaching tolerance, and seeking justice. Lecia Brooks, the Center’s outreach director, frequently gives presentations around the United States to put this message across to others. As a faculty member of the 15th symposium of the Salzburg Seminar American Studies Association (SSASA), Brooks wanted to put another thought in her audience’s minds.

“What I wanted to convey to the participants in the seminar was that these issues that they do such a good job in chronicling for academic purposes, and they spend their time researching, have real-life consequences; that they’re representative of people’s real lives; and that the threat to civil rights and civil liberties that we’re seeing thus far under the Trump administration are affecting people already. I wanted it to be more than an intellectual discourse, but I sought to put a face to some of the story, the pictures we were painting,” she says.

A few weeks before the symposium in Salzburg in September 2017, events unfolded in Charlottesville, Virginia that grabbed the world’s attention. Hundreds of white nationalists and supremacists descended on the town for the Unite the Right rally: a far-right rally organized to oppose the removal of a statue of Civil War general, Robert E. Lee. The night before the rally, about 250 people took part in a torchlight procession through the University of Virginia campus, shouting phrases such as “You will not replace us!” and “Blood and soil.” The group clashed with counter-protesters and left following the arrival of police.

On the day of the rally, the violence continued. In the early hours of the afternoon, one person was killed and others were injured after a car went into a group of counter-protesters. A helicopter monitoring the clashes also crashed that day, killing the two Virginia State Patrol troopers who were on board.

Brooks, who also serves as director of the Civil Rights Memorial Center, chose to share images from the torchlight procession in one of her presentations. She says, “It was just so incredible, and it is just frightening that it happened in the United States and right in the open on a university campus. First and foremost, I wanted to document that it happened, remind people that it happened, and remind people that it could happen in their university as well.”

The Southern Poverty Law Center’s Teaching Tolerance project has led to the creation of anti-bias resources such as documentaries, lesson plans, and curricula, which are distributed to educators free-of-charge across the country. Brooks says the Center hopes to educate young people about the threat from the far right and “talk more about our aspirations to create diverse and inclusive communities and to make clear that those diverse communities are for everyone, including white males who are feeling marginalized at this time, [which] makes them particularly vulnerable to messages from white supremacists.”

Brooks wanted to attend the 15th SSASA symposium – Life and Justice in America: Implications of the New Administration – to have a conversation about justice, civil rights, and the issues surrounding them with a global community. She says, “I thought it would be really important, and it has been.”

On the first morning of the symposium, participants woke up to remarks from US President Donald J. Trump made during a rally in Alabama. He criticized National Football League (NFL) owners for not punishing players who protested, who he accused of disrespecting the American flag. In a series of tweets posted the following day, he said, “If a player wants the privilege of making millions of dollars in the NFL, or other leagues, he or she should not be allowed to disrespect our Great American Flag (or Country) and should stand for the National Anthem. If not, YOU’RE FIRED. Find something else to do!”

His remarks are thought to be in reference to the actions of players such as Colin Kaepernick, who first chose to sit during the anthem in August 2016. Kaepernick sat down during the anthem to protest the oppression of people of color in the US and issues with police brutality. Following a conversation with Nate Boyer, a former NFL player and US army veteran, Kaepernick chose to kneel, not sit, during the anthem from that point onward to show more respect for the armed forces.

In response to Trump’s remarks, a movement sparked on social media with people tweeting a photo of themselves kneeling using the hashtags #TakeAKnee and #TakeTheKnee. In the NFL games that followed, several teams linked arms while other teams chose to stay in the locker room during the national anthem. More players were also seen to be kneeling.

Commenting on the origin of the “Take the Knee” movement, Brooks says, “I think that it is up to us as individuals to talk about what the movement [and] what this protest is about. The narrative, unfortunately, has been switched by the president and other people. They’re trying to frame it as a protest that is disrespecting the United States flag or disrespecting the anthem, and thus the military and [what] all of America stands for when in actuality it’s a protest.

“It’s a way of protest that was used during the Civil Rights movement with Dr [Martin Luther] King [Jr.] and others on numerous occasions…. That’s what the Take the Knee protest is about, protesting injustice, in particular, racial injustice. It has nothing to do with the flag. 

“People who have participated in the protests are veterans [and] from all walks of people. What people can do is correct the narrative. Be sure to correct people when they mistakenly think it’s about something else. Talk to people about it and decide how they can support anyone – in this case NFL players – in exercising their First Amendment right to protest.”

Brooks, who grew up in Oakland, California, first joined the Southern Poverty Law Center in 2004 as director of Mix It Up at Lunch Day, a Teaching Tolerance program which aimed to help break down racial, cultural and social barriers in schools. Before this, she worked for 12 years in several roles for the National Conference for Community and Justice in its Los Angeles office.

She says, “I grew up very much aware of the racial oppression of the United States and fortunately found a way to channel that, to help advance equality and equity for African-Americans. That has, over the course of my life, exposed me to the inequities that people suffer because of who they are. So, that’s just really important to me in my life. It’s my life. It’s my work. It’s what I’m dedicated to: trying to end injustice or call out injustice.”

Lecia Brooks was a participant of the Salzburg Global program Life and Justice in America: Implications of the New Administration, which is part of Salzburg Global’s multi-year series Salzburg Seminar American Studies Association (SSASA). More information on the session can be found here. You can follow all of the discussions on Twitter by following the hashtag #SSASA.

Chris Lehmann – American Justice is Still a Model for the World – But a Flawed Model
Chris Lehmann in conversation at the 15th symposium of the Salzburg Seminar American Studies Association
Chris Lehmann – American Justice is Still a Model for the World – But a Flawed Model
Oscar Tollast 

Chris Lehmann, executive director of the Central and East Europe Law Institute (CEELI), is inspired to improve the world and spread justice. Speaking at the 15th symposium of the Salzburg Seminar American Studies Association (SSASA), he says, “My father was an Episcopal priest, and I think he just had a very clear idea of what was right and wrong. I think you can either spend your life trying to make the world a better place or not.”

Lehmann’s decision to attend the 15th SSASA symposium – Life and Justice in America: Implications of the New Administration – was in part thanks to Salzburg Global Program Director Charles Ehrlich. Lehmann says, “Charles has been up to Prague several times to my Institute and had been wanting to get me down here, which I was eager to do. This session seemed particularly relevant, partly because there would be quite a bit of focus on transatlantic legal issues –, European perspectives of America –, but with a lot of that focus being on our criminal justice system. So, it was kind of a perfect fit for me.”

The CEELI Institute, based in Prague, was established to advance the rule of law in the world. Lehmann, who previously worked for the US Department of Justice, has served as its executive director since 2014. The Institute works with judges and lawyers from around the world on matters relating to comparative law, judicial issues, and human rights. Reflecting on justice in the US, Lehmann says, “The US, obviously, in some ways continues to be a model for the rest of the world, but it is a very flawed model.”

Lehmann highlights the “extensive use of plea bargaining” and “police issues” as two areas in the US that require further attention. His hope in attending this symposium was to see how others around the world viewed these issues, which would help him assess where the US is today, whether the country still  has a system viewed as worth emulating.

As of September, Lehmann believes this view is a “very mixed bag.” He says. “There are theoretical aspects of the US justice system which continue to be aspirational, but I think there are some deep flaws that are making a lot of people in Europe skeptical of US solutions.”

The CEELI Institute is based at the Villa Grébovka, a historic building that dates back to 1871. The Institute was founded in 1999 and has provided post-graduate legal education and exchange to more than 5,000 legal professionals. Lehmann says the Institute has found it very valuable to bring people together for several days and allow them to step out of their lives and focus on the topic at hand.

Noting the similarity with Salzburg Global Seminar, Lehman says, “I think you’ve recognized that some of the best discussions go on at the coffee hours, at the meals, and in the evenings, and in strolling around the parks. It’s not just what takes place in the sessions.

“If you go to a conference somewhere at a hotel, you don’t necessarily have quite that sense of convening. There’s just a huge value to a serene setting like this. It puts people at ease, it relaxes them, and it just allows this sort of dawn till dusk conversation to go on in and out of formal settings.

“There are lots of different learning styles. Some people will be on their feet in the classroom, and there are other people that are much more comfortable having a quiet conversation over a cup of coffee after the session is over. This really enables everybody to kind of be drawn into the discussion.”

Chris Lehmann was a participant of the Salzburg Global program Life and Justice in America: Implications of the New Administration, which is part of Salzburg Global’s multi-year series Salzburg Seminar American Studies Association (SSASA). More information on the session can be found here. You can follow all of the discussions on Twitter by following the hashtag #SSASA.

Elaine May - Despite Being Preoccupied with Safety, Americans Have Made Themselves Less Secure
Elaine May at the 15th symposium of the Salzburg Seminar American Studies Association
Elaine May - Despite Being Preoccupied with Safety, Americans Have Made Themselves Less Secure
Oscar Tollast 

Elaine May is no stranger to the Salzburg Seminar American Studies Association (SSASA), nor is it her first time at Schloss Leopoldskron. The professor and author last attended a SSASA symposium in 2012 – Screening America: Film and Television in the 21st Century, which was her fourth time at the Schloss. She says, “I’ve been here before, and I’ve always found it very exciting, intellectually stimulating, beautiful, luxurious [and] delicious. It’s always a wonderful experience. I especially love having the opportunity to discuss issues that pertain to the United States with people from other countries, because I learn so much from their perspective.”

May was speaking having returned just under five years later for her fifth visit for the SSASA symposium, Life and Justice in America: Implications of the New Administration to hear how other countries’ citizens perceived the new American administration under President Donald J. Trump. She also provided the key note presentation on the first evening of the symposium, titled, “The American Dream and the Quest for Security – the Promise and the Perils.”

Among the points May made was that the United States had a “crisis in democracy,” and that the American Dream has been problematic since the beginning of the Second World War. While it’s since been possible for members of the middle class and working class to achieve material aspects of the American Dream, they live in fear that dream could be taken away from them in an instant, she says.

May, Regents professor of American studies and history, and chair of the Department of History at the University of Minnesota, says, “That level of anxiety and fear – that was first manifest in the atomic age and in the Cold War – has taken various forms over the rest of the 20th Century, and now into the 21st. That has kind of conditioned Americans to live in a world in which they always feel that they are in danger. That leads to a breakdown of belief and investment in the common good, and in a kind of mistrust in the government to work on behalf of all citizens, and in a fear and suspicion of strangers – whoever those strangers are.”

This fear has changed the way Americans live their daily lives, according to May. It changed the way citizens vote and how they envisage their nation’s identity. In short, May says this has had a long-term effect on undercutting democracy. She adds, “Americans have become quite preoccupied with issues of safety and security since the early Cold War… Everything they have done to try to make themselves more safe and secure has made them less safe and secure.”

Expanding on this point, May says US citizens have become so preoccupied looking over their shoulder that they’ve failed to notice what is happening in front of them and the growing influence of the country’s elite one percent. She says, “Keeping a gun in their pocket wasn’t going to prevent [people] from metaphorically losing their shirts to Wall Street and other big money financial institutions that are really robbing them – not somebody walking behind them on the street.”

May’s keynote drew several responses from participants, one of whom suggested a hate narrative was more dominant in the US than the fear narrative. Responding to this suggestion, May says, “I think the two are very related. I think that the hate comes out of fear. If we really knew each other, you wouldn’t fear each other. Hate is a stronger more aggressive stand than fear. Fear feels weak, and hate feels strong.”

As a past president of the Organization of American Historians and the American Studies Association, May’s interest in her country’s history cannot be questioned. Her interest in US history first bloomed when she lived in Japan as a student in 1968. She says, “I hadn’t really understood how important it would be for me to know my own national history until I lived abroad as an American, and I had to speak as an American, and I had to represent a country that I was profoundly alienated from in 1968 between the Vietnam War and all the other horrible things that were happening at the time. I had to speak for my country – not just as a person who saw herself as among the dissenters within the country but as the citizen of the United States that was wreaking havoc all over Asia, including Japan.

“I thought I better learn something. I went back to the US and started taking US history courses, which I hadn’t really done much of. When I graduated a year later, I felt I didn’t really know enough. I had applied for the Peace Corps and got in but realized I had nothing to teach anybody until I knew more. I thought I better go to graduate school. Then I went to graduate school, and then I kind of just got on the train.”

Her graduate school days are now long behind her and she certainly now has a lot more to teach people. In addition to her work as a professor, May has authored several books, most recently Fortress America: How We Embraced Fear and Abandoned Democracy (2017) and America and the Pill: A History of Promise, Peril, and Liberation (2010). Alongside multi-time Salzburg Global Fellow Reinhold Wagenleitner, she also co-edited Here, There, and Everywhere: The Foreign Politics of American Popular Culture (2000), a collection of essays that originated at a Salzburg Global session.

Elaine May was a participant of the Salzburg Global Program Life and Justice in America: Implications of the New Administration, which is part of Salzburg Global's multi-year series Salzburg Seminar American Studies Association (SSASA). More information on the session can be found here. You can follow all of the discussions on Twitter by following the hashtag #SSASA

Displaying results 15 to 21 out of 144


How should cultural institutions approach the creation and articulation of value?
Albino Jopela, archaelogist and lecturer at Eduardo Mondlane University in Mozambique suggests that considering the values of all of the stakeholders in a community will help ensure relevance and sustainability.

Why is it important for arts leaders to engage in cross-cultural conversations?
Jimena Lara Estrada, program coordinator for the Mexican Cultural Institute of New York, talks about connecting with other leaders and the hope that it instills.

How do you articulate value of arts in a society where it is largely seen as a commodity?
Eyad Houssami, founding director of Masrah Ensemble in Lebanon, talks about the challenges of making a case for the arts in a society where the concept of public value is very limited.

What role should orchestras play in their communities?
Mark Gillespie, general and artistic manager of Orchestra of the Americas and Salzburg Global Forum for Young Cultural Leaders Fellow, suggests that orchestras should connect with youth at a very early age so that musicians grow out of the community.