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Creative Solutions for World Problems: WPI and the Arts

(This is Part V in a series of articles on the history of the World Policy Institute leading up to World Policy Around the Table: A 50th Anniversary Celebration and Conversation.)

By Amanda Dugan

Throughout its history, the World Policy Institute has worked to promote creative solutions to global issues. As part of this effort, the Institute has turned to alternative means and ways of approaching the issues and the audience—namely, through art and media. As early as the 1960s, the Institute led the way in recognizing the importance of these mediums as a way to reach a wider population and to engage audiences at all levels. To this end, the Institute has cultivated a strong tradition of linking the arts and policy in a way that both educates and challenges audiences to think critically about the materials presented.

The goal of the Institute’s earliest Creative Arts projects was to prepare citizens to participate meaningfully in the democratic process—especially in the effort to prevent war and deter further military developments. Concerned that issues of war and disarmament were not receiving the same attention as other social and political problems, the Institute attempted to provide materials to fill the void in educational programming regarding the “task of eliminating war.” These efforts resulted in a joint project with the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) in 1964, as well as the development of a radio series with WINS, the Westinghouse station in New York City. 

When the Institute first approached PBS to discuss an educational series, their goal was to use mass media as a way to educate and engage adults that had not been exposed to the values of world order, which at this point were developing through the primary and secondary schools, as well as universities around the country. Acting as the vanguard in the effort to establish a place for these issues in mass media, it attempted to “identify the obstacles to [the] use of educational television, and by doing so, help to overcome them… [acting] effectively as a catalytic agent with respect to one of the most important vehicles for effective adult education.”

The obstacles in developing this type of educational program, however, proved insurmountable and the program ultimately folded. Yet, while the attempts to develop a program with PBS were stalled, the Institute’s use of radio proved to be much more successful.

Using An Introduction to Peace: the Control of National Power, as its starting point, the Institute developed a series of 10 half-hour discussions with WINS in 1963. At this point, An Introduction to Peace, was also being used by the Institute in its educational programs as an accessible guide for citizens on issues of disarmament and strengthening the United Nations. After airing in the fall of 1963, the series ran again the following fall on WINS, and was also broadcast by Armed Forces Radio, along with 64 other stations around the country. Following the success of this programming, the Educational Broadcasting Foundation invited the Institute to participate in a series of weekly radio programs in celebration of the “International Cooperation Year.”

While the Institute was successful with its mass media programs, it believed that informing the public was only part of the process. As Senator Hubert Humphrey wrote in the preface to An Introduction to Peace, “it is only half true to say that in a democracy the politicians must listen to the people… they must listen—but the people must have something to say. Participation is the responsibility of every citizen.” And, as he continued, the prerequisite for this participation was “sustained study and discussion.” In an effort to encourage citizens to fully engage in the necessary study and discussion, the Institute’s next step was to challenge the public to produce their own materials dealing with issues of war prevention and international law.

Beginning in 1965, the Institute launched a number of student competitions—both domestically and internationally—to encourage students to write, direct, and produce films relating to disarmament. But, perhaps a more notable example of the Institute’s media projects was the 1982 “Disarmament Video Survey,” which enlisted aspiring directors and filmmakers from around the world to interview individuals on issues of peace and disarmament. With over 3,000 interviews conducted during a massive 1982 rally in support of the UN Conference on Disarmament, variations of the film were produced in the form of eight hour-long compilations. These videos were then shown at public forums, along with closed circuit media vans, around New York City in an effort to mobilize the public and rally support for the conference.

Through projects, such as the Disarmament Video Survey, and Educational Radio Programs, the World Policy Institute placed itself at the forefront of a movement recognizing the political potential of art and media. Today, the World Policy Institute continues this tradition working on both sides of the Art-Policy divide; with senior fellows like Todd Lester and Susan Benesch, supporting and promoting the work of political artists and working to understand the media’s influence in our daily lives.

The next post in our series will highlight WPI's collaborations with Dizzy Gillespie and the Hubleys.

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Amanda Dugan is a Research Consultant for the World Policy Institute.

[Image via Flickr] 

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