Pedro Reyes, “Palas Por Pistolas (Pistols Into Spades)” (2008) (image by Balise Adilon)

Think the United States’ image abroad could use some updating? Well, take it to your local Bronx Museum! The Bronx Museum of the Arts is at the head of a new US State Department program called smART Power, an initiative to expand diplomatic art outreach beyond the performing arts that often forms its basis. The museum will oversee smART Power, choosing visual artists to “be sent to places that include Pakistan, Egypt, Venezuela, China, Nigeria and a Somali refugee camp in Kenya,” writes Kate Taylor in the New York Times, to complete projects. Artists will be able to submit project proposals to the program through an open call “early next year.”

The Museum’s well-regarded international artists-in-residency program bodes well for smART Power. Holly Block, the director of the Bronx Museum, seems focused on emphasizing the artists rather than the political initiative, noting that success in this program for her means that artists will be able to “complete their projects.”

The difference between smART Power and other visual arts diplomacy efforts like international traveling exhibitions is that artists will be sent abroad alongside their work, helping to complete their projects on the ground. Block notes a few projects that seem like good fits for the program, including Pedro Reyes’ project to remake illicit guns into gardening tools as well as Judi Werthein’s creation of special border-crossing shoes in Tijuana. Supporting works so overtly political will be a challenge, but Block is clearly up to it.

Ideally, smART Power will present a government-supported chance for artists to work abroad, though artists and political money don’t always mix well together. I hope Holly Block and the Bronx Museum will be able to serve as a buffer for the artists and projects they choose, helping to separate them from the nation-branding initiative that is an undeniable part of smART Power’s impetus.

Kyle Chayka

Kyle Chayka was senior editor at Hyperallergic. He is a cultural critic based in Brooklyn and has contributed to publications including ARTINFO, ARTnews, Modern Painters, LA Weekly,...