By Richard Kamenitzer, program director, Arts Management, College of Visual and Performing Arts
I received a call in late May from the U.S. State Department. They asked me to consider being the cultural envoy to the Kingdom of Swaziland during July and August. Honored to receive the consideration, I said yes.
After first reporting to the U.S. embassy in Swaziland in July for a briefing, I spent an intense two weeks in the tiny African nation.
First I met with officials of the government’s arts sector. I also met with the national curriculum executive for kindergarten through grade 12 schools and officials at the University of Swaziland. Then I interviewed artists, artist managers, promoters and events planners, and was later interviewed on both national radio and television. All of this was in preparation for three full days of workshops and a half-day seminar that I was to facilitate the following week on the subject of “The Arts and the Artist − A Partner in the Economy.”
What followed was more than 65 participants (professional artists, artist managers, promoters and planners, as well as several educators) each day working on a variety of topics and culminating in a seminar that developed a series of findings and recommendations that I would later present to Prince Lonkokhela, who serves as chairman of the National Council of Arts and Culture Board; Hlobsile Ndlovu, minister of sports, culture and youth affairs; and Stanley Dlamini, CEO of the National Council. This was done on both radio and television.
After our seminar period on the fourth day, I was surprised by an impromptu concert put on by some of the leading artists in the country in my honor, and later that evening with a special party given in my honor at one of the residences of the U.S. embassy. Needless to say, it was an uplifting experience. The artists are being heard and they have come together to ask not for government help but rather a seat at the table to improve their country’s economy. The education and higher education community responded in support of a need for arts education at all levels and promised to do their part in making some of the recommended improvements.
As for me, my last official moment was being “robed” by the prince in traditional Swazi attire and given a Swazi name (Dlamini) and invited to return. This was followed by U.S. Ambassador Earl Irving publicly praising the seminar, its result and me on national television. I felt a strong sense of pride in being able to represent the United States, George Mason University (which was often referred to by the press as the University of George Mason) and the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.
In the two weeks that have since followed, I received numerous news articles and personal notes from those who participated ― which further brought a deep sense of how powerful the arts are and can be in communities, nations and in the lives of individuals ― and how the arts have brought two nations even closer together.