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Diplomacy in Action

Interviews of Former American Exhibit Guides


From 1959 to 1991, the United States Information Agency (USIA) reached out to millions of Soviet people through cultural exchange exhibitions. The exhibitions sought to improve understanding and mutual trust between the American and Soviet peoples. They represented the firm conviction that cultural exchange could be the starting point for increased understanding and a more constructive relationship between the United States and the Soviet Union. The seventeen exhibitions that toured the U.S.S.R. for more than 25 years were only possible through the close cooperation of USIA, the American private sector, and the tour guides who brought the exhibits to life.

Exhibits were the centerpiece of America's cultural exchange agreement with the Soviet Union for nearly three decades. Beginning with the American National Exhibition in Moscow in 1959, USIA mounted 66 separate showings of 17 exhibitions in the U.S.S.R. on subjects ranging from graphic arts to agriculture, from outdoor recreation to medicine. Millions of Soviet citizens saw USIA exhibitions and were especially touched by the opportunity to speak openly with the Russian-speaking American guides who candidly discussed the basic values and beliefs of our free society. The exhibits reached scientists, educators, government leaders, industrial managers, intellectuals, artists and the average worker in 22 different cities -- from the cosmopolitan centers of Moscow and Leningrad to the far reaches of Tashkent and Novosibirsk. As President Ronald Reagan said in his address to Congress after returning from Geneva in 1985, "The exhibits that will be included in this exchange are one of the most effective ways for the average Soviet citizen to learn about our way of life." The rewards of cultural diplomacy were hard won and required the cooperation of people from all spheres of American life.

Exhibit Guide, 1959

Sarah Carey, Chairman of the Board for the Eurasia Foundation and Partner, Squire, Sanders & Dempsey, LLPSarah Carey: "Vice President Nixon came through, it must have been near the opening, it would have been in the early part of the exhibit, and he and Khrushchev had this debate. And we all kind of hovered around watching." Full Text | View Video

Exhibit Guide, 1973-1976

Michael Hurley, Counselor for Public Affairs, U.S. Embassy, Budapest, HungaryMichael Hurley: "At that time the exhibit was called 'Outdoor Recreation,' and it was an interesting exhibit. The guides usually worked for six months at that time, two months in each city, so of course there were six cities in the whole exhibit." Full Text | View Video

Exhibit Guide, 1973-1977

Paul Smith, Minister Counselor for Public Affairs Paul Smith: "They all came with a stereotype image that they had of the United States and of Americans. I think that's the key to why these exhibits were so powerful. That virtually every visitor had never been to the United States and came with a stereotype of us and what our country was all about, just as we, I might say, had of them in that period -- a product of controlled information." Full Text | View Video

Exhibit Guide, 1975-1981

Ambassador Thomas B. Robertson, Dean of the Leadership and Management School, Foreign Service InstituteAmbassador Thomas B. Robertson: "The interesting thing about the American Home Exhibit is that, like the original National Exhibit in 1959, it had all the technology of the American home and it really was promoting the well-being and the lifestyle of Americans living in homes all across the United States. The very fact that most Americans lived in their own home was so out of the realm of the possibility for Soviets -- it was fascinating." Full Text | View Video

Exhibit Guide, 1976-1980

John R. Beyrle, U.S. Ambassador to RussiaAmbassador John R. Beyrle: "This was very much a social exchange. It was a chance for us to put real live Americans, who spoke the native language, in front of a group of Soviet people and just show them that Americans don't have horns growing out of their heads, that we have families, that we want peace too." Full Text | View Video

Exhibit Guide, 1977-1978

Mary Chaffin, General Counsel and Corporate Secretary, Mercy CorpsMary Chaffin: "I ended up applying for the exhibit program job in 1977-78 and went over on the Agriculture USA exhibit the first half, which went to Kiev, then Salinigrad, which is now Astana, capital of Kazakhstan, but at that point it was a 300,000-person city. And the virgin lands area in Kazakhstan, and the final city was Dushanbe in Tajikistan." Full Text | View Video

Exhibit Guide, 1977-1978

Laura E. Kennedy, International Affairs Advisor and Deputy Commandant, National War CollegeAmbassador Laura E. Kennedy: "One of my stands was the Ford Pick-Up - incredibly popular because - although probably no American farm would be without a pick-up of some kind - to a Soviet, this was really a sort of an unbelievable thing that a private person would have this." Full Text | View Video

Exhibit Guide, 1977-1979, 1987-1990

Roland Merullo, NovelistRoland Merullo: "I thought it was beautiful. I thought all three exhibits I worked on were really stunning. And maybe Photo was the most visually stunning. The center of it was a slideshow. And you walked into this? it felt almost like a movie theater. And they had a slideshow of America..." Full Text | View Video

Exhibit Guide, 1990-1991

Eric Azulay, President, Compass CargoEric Azulay: "Design USA was really about industrial and graphic design -- design showing choices and why you have to have different designs for different consumer tastes. So we'd have several different stands and several different examples of different types of design. So we had industrial design. We had an American kitchen and showing all the different types of appliances and a refrigerator." Full Text | View Video



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