The seminar was sponsored by the Department of Romance Studies and the program in Medieval and Early Modern Studies Dorothy Ford Wiley fund.
Organized by UNC French professor Ellen Welch, the seminar featured a mix of diplomats, artists and researchers who talked about their domestic and international experiences in music and art dealing with cultural diplomacy.
First to speak was Shirlette Ammons, a Durham-based poet, musician and former artist in the “Next Level” hip-hop diplomacy program.
“No matter where you’re from, (hip-hop) is the music that expresses the reality of who you are and where you’re from,” she said.
Ammons said she has traveled to Belgrade and many German-speaking countries to collaborate with artists.
“I felt more aligned with the stuff that the people in Belgrade were producing,” Ammons said.
Speaker André Barden, who is known as DJ A-Minor, said he had traveled to Dhaka, Bangladesh, where he met with aspiring musicians. Barden said the musicians originally tried to rap in English to accommodate him.
But Barden wanted to hear their music — Bangla rap.
“People who are put in a systemic disadvantage find refuge in hip-hop,” said Barden.
Retired foreign service officer Robert Pearson, a former U.S. Ambassador to Turkey, spoke on the concept of cultural diplomacy.
“The core of what we are trying to do overseas is to convey to other cultures that every person is equal,” he said.
Pearson helped organize film festivals in China where he showed “Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back.”
Pearson said the film was received poorly by the Chinese people because they were unable to connect with it.
They wound up connecting with “Coal Miner’s Daughter,” a different American film Pearson said they could personally relate to because of their shared struggles.
Rebekah Ahrendt, an assistant music professor at Yale University, said music and diplomacy are naturally related.
“Music and diplomacy have gone together for a really long time,” she said.
Graduate student Miranda Elston said she enjoyed how the discussion incorporated historical and modern elements.
“I thought that they were very revealing in that they all intersected, even though they were from different backgrounds.”