Twenty years ago on April 3, the U.S. Department of State sent a diplomatic cable to over 100 embassies explaining a brand-new program to help preserve cultural heritage worldwide. The announcement followed a congressional recognition of the importance of cultural preservation in U.S. foreign relations. The launch of the first Ambassadors Fund for Cultural Preservation (AFCP) grant competition on that day was one of a series of measures taken since the early 1980s to incorporate cultural preservation and protection into American diplomacy. The cable echoed the sentiments of then-Secretary of State Madeleine Albright who had prioritized cultural heritage activities overseas to celebrate the new millennium. “By showing that America values the diversity of cultures,” she wrote in the fall of 1998, “we may be able to counter negative images of our own culture and build stronger ties of understanding and peace throughout the world.”
Two decades and over a thousand projects later, AFCP continues to show “a different American face to other countries, one that is non-commercial, non-political, and non-military,” as both Congress and the Office of the Secretary of State intended. U.S. embassies from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe have used AFCP to respond to earthquakes, explosions, fires, floods, hurricanes, super typhoons, and other disasters. In Bosnia and Herzegovina and other war-torn countries, embassies have incorporated AFCP into post-conflict recovery and reconciliation efforts. In northern Iraq and Rwanda, our embassies have used the program to mitigate the effects of genocide by preserving cultural sites of terrorized communities.
Since 2001, U.S. missions in 133 countries around the world have used the power of cultural preservation and AFCP to support post-crisis recovery, spur economic development, engage women and youth, promote tolerance and respect for cultural diversity, counter disinformation, rebut extremism, and advance many other U.S. foreign policy objectives. In the process, they have also provided professional development opportunities for American cultural heritage preservation professionals and students from nearly all 50 states. The Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, which administers the AFCP program, invites all U.S. missions, State Department programs, and preservation partners both past and present to join us this year in celebrating the anniversary of two decades’ worth of American leadership, cooperation, and support for the preservation of cultural heritage around the world.
Learn more about the Ambassadors Fund for Cultural Preservation here.
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About the Author: Martin Perschler is the Program Director of the Ambassadors Fund for Cultural Preservation at the U.S. Department of State.