Cultural diplomacy reimagined: The Cyrus Cylinder Exhibition

* This article and photo spread by Brett Van Ort originally appeared in the Winter 2013 edition of the "USC Annenberg Agenda" magazine, which is available online . *

By Professor Jay Wang
USC Center on Public Diplomacy Director

Cultural exchange has always been, and still remains, a pillar of public diplomacy. That’s unlikely to change. What has changed, however, are the innovative ways in which non-state actors are engaging in cultural diplomacy.

The British Museum, for example, has proven itself an adept force in cultural relations with its recent international exhibition “The Cyrus Cylinder and Ancient Persia: A New Beginning for the Middle East.” In partnership with the Iran Heritage Foundation, the Museum brought the Cylinder to five major U.S. museums.

An ancient clay tablet noted for its account of a Persian king allowing exiled peoples to repatriate, the Cylinder could easily have attracted a narrow audience of scholars and experts. The British Museum, however, was able to enhance the Cylinder’s colorful past and status as an iconic object with skillful outreach and communication. By framing the exhibition as relevant to the general public, the museum facilitated a global dialogue of cultural linkages and connections.

As part of its efforts to examine innovative practices in cultural diplomacy, the USC Center on Public Diplomacy at the Annenberg School spotlighted the exhibition with several multimedia features on the Cylinder’s journey this fall, including an interview with John Curtis, Keeper of the British Museum; a roundtable discussion with Timothy Potts, Director of the J. Paul Getty Museum (above, left, in photo); an article by Nasser Manesh of the Iran Heritage Foundation; and various blog posts. CPD will continue to explore trends and developments in cultural diplomacy with a research conference on soft power in emerging economies in Spring 2014.

* See the digital version of the "USC Annenberg Agenda" magazine here . Stay tuned for more Agenda articles being released online this month. *