Spotlight Series: U.S. Cultural Programs and Grants Building Ties, Promoting Policies and Creating Sustainable Opportunities

By Graham Swaney, Public Affairs Intern

Every year the U.S. Embassy’s Public Affairs Section (PAS) awards upwards of 20 small grants and independently runs several cultural programs. The small grants program awards vary in size, but they all help to tell the story of the United States to Dominican audiences and build ties between the United States and the Dominican Republic. Organizations seeking grant funds identify their target audience and what U.S. cultural elements they want to incorporate into their program in their proposals to the U.S. Embassy. When needed, the Public Affairs Section also helps organizations network with American artists and experts to get approved projects moving.

In addition to creating relationships and strengthening ties, PAS Small Grants awards and programs are tools the Embassy uses to promote its mission goals. The “Next Level” program exemplified this unity of culture and policy. Next Level brought American hip-hop artists from various disciplines to lead workshops for vulnerable youth at the Mauricio Baez Cultural Center in Villa Juana, Santo Domingo. The program gave youth with limited access to American culture an opportunity to learn not just about music, dance, and visual arts, but also about the monetization of talent, entrepreneurship, and conflict resolution. In short, the program used American values and culture as a vehicle to teach these youth skills that will be useful professionally and personally in their communities.

Two women speak on microphone, while several other people watch while sitting on chairs.
Next Level Artist Educator Divinity Roxx leading a MC/Rap workshop with youth at the Santo Domingo binational center.

Another good example of foreign policy promotion through U.S. culture was the 2016 visit of Gina Chavez, Michael Romero and Sammy Foster (The Gina Chavez Trio). The U.S. Embassy in Santo Domingo invited the group in collaboration with the American Voices Abroad program to share their Latin-folk-pop fusion music with Dominican youth. The group focused on its music; however, the presence of Gina Chavez, who is a successful LGBTQI artist, helped build awareness of LGBTQI issues in the Dominican Republic. This gesture of support for LGBTQI rights in the Dominican Republic helped promote the American value of protecting human rights for all minorities around the world.

A group of men and women smile, while some of them hold microphones or musical instruments.
Gina Chavez (left), Michael Romero (center) and Sammy Foster (second to last on the right) interact with music students at Centro Leon in Santiago de los Caballeros.

The Public Affairs Section Small Grants Program frequently helps to pay for travel and accommodations for American cultural visitors coming to do educational and outreach programs. American artists are often eager to share their craft and create links with the Dominican Republic. U.S. Embassy Cultural Affairs Officer Luke Schtele said, “A lot of Americans whether it’s in art, music, dance, fashion or design, have a yearning to share their talent, experience and knowledge with foreign audiences. Many of these talented people jump at the opportunity to come to the Dominican Republic because they think these cultural programs are interesting,and worthwhile, and they truly want to help out and connect.”

The PAS Small Grant awards and cultural programs are also incredibly diverse, striving to support every aspect of U.S. foreign policy. To do this the Embassy does not limit cultural exchange to musicians and visual artists. The Embassy also funds programs that share American business culture, political culture, academic culture and more. These speaker programs invite American experts to interact and engage with members of the Dominican Government and civil society on topics such as democracy, good governance, disaster preparedness, diversity, and more.

A group of men sit at a table while one of them talks.
American experts on open government and fiscal transparency participated in a series of meetings with members of the Dominican government and civil society.

Sustainability is another key tenant of the PAS Small Grants awards. Grants are awarded for programs that are designed to develop participants with new skills, knowledge, or awareness that they can share and multiply within their wider community. “Next Level” once again exemplified this approach by offering at risk youth positive options for how to make a living. Some program alumni have already fulfilled this vision. They have used their skills to set up successful local dance schools and recording studios taking their craft to the next level.

Cultural exchange helps strengthen the ties between our two nations by making people-to-people connections via music, culture, education, governance, and more. The U.S. Embassy and the Public Affairs Section are proud to facilitate cultural exchange, and look forward to fostering further good will and mutual understanding going forward.

For more information on how to apply for public diplomacy grants, visit the U.S. Embassy’s funding opportunities webpage here.