Culture as a Form of Civic Expression
Since its inception, the Kennan Institute has always viewed the examination of Russian culture as part of its mission to improve American understanding of Russia. Our founder Ambassador George F. Kennan long held that it was essential that both scholarship and policy on Russia take into account Russia’s cultural heritage. Of course, not only specialists benefit from this study. As Kennan observed, Russia has “brought forward people whose perceptions of life have been of world value.” Considering Russia’s contribution to the arts and to literature over centuries, Kennan’s words were, if anything, an understatement.
Examples of Kennan Institute programming on culture include a 2002 series on how Russian culture has impacted the United States, culminating in our special report “Culture/Kultura: Russian Influences on American Performing Arts and Sports.” In 2008, the Kennan Institute and the Harriman Institute at Columbia University launched a series of lectures/performances by contemporary Ukrainian writers and poets. And in 2011 the Kennan Institute hosted the North American premiere of the Russian play “One Hour Eighteen,” a “theatrical documentary” about the 2009 death of Russian lawyer Sergei Magnitsky in pretrial detention. The Institute has also showcased musical performances and lectures, ranging from Russian jazz musicians celebrating the influence of the Voice of America’s Willis Conover and American jazz on Soviet-era musicians to Baltimore Symphony musicians paying tribute to virtuoso violinist David Oistrakh, whose 1955 performance at Carnegie Hall was lauded by American music celebrities of the time to be one of the first “breaches in the Iron Curtain.”
Through the many performances and lectures on cultural issues at the Kennan Institute, our audiences have gained deeper insights into the complexities of Russian life. The Institute continues to celebrate our shared cultural influences, and it is clear that Russia and the other nations of the region continue to bring forward “people whose perceptions of life have been of world value.”