Sunday, January 5, 2003

Dancing around visa problems

Shaping culture in 2003

When Cincinnati Ballet's acclaimed Cuban dancer Lorna Feijoo found herself stuck in Italy without a visa to return in time for the opening of the 2002 Nutcracker, she brought home to the Tristate the quandary of artists locked out by the U.S. government's newly enacted anti-terrorism policies.

Under the terms of the Enhanced Border Security and Visa Reform Act, any adult from one of seven nations designated "state sponsors of terrorism" (Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Syria, Sudan, Iraq and Libya) cannot receive visas to enter the United States without first proving to the State Department that they pose no threat to national security.

That translates into a long, difficult and potentially expensive vetting process that has disrupted and enraged arts groups with international interests. Cuban and Iranian artists have been hit hardest by the delays and denials in the new visa process. Among them:

In October, the Wexner Center in Columbus, as well as the New York Film Festival, canceled programs honoring the brilliant Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami (Taste of Cherry), who could not enter the country to show his new - and non-political - film Ten. The New York festival also lost Cuban artist Salvador Gonzalez, subject of a new documentary, to visa woes. Columbus College of Art and Design was forced to cancel an October visit by Cuban graphic designer Jose "Pepe" Menendez.

The same month, Iranian filmmaker Bahman Ghobadi (A Time for Drunken Horses) turned down his Chicago International Film Festival award because he could not attend.

Chucho Valdes and the Afro-Cuban All Stars, of the Buena Vista Social Club were among 22 nominated artists who could not enter the U.S. for the Latin Grammy Awards in September.

Aside from the hardships the visa situation causes for specific arts events, it also undermines the role that artists have historically played in dissolving intransigent political barriers. Artists barred by the new rules often represent a cultural challenge within regimes that tolerate no outright political opposition. Their ability to connect with the rest of the world gives hope to dissidents and reformers inside their own countries, as well as enlightenment to their hosts.

So far, and despite protests from arts groups, the U.S. government gives no sign of softening its stance.

25 forces that will shape culture in 2003
1. The big economic squeeze
2. Clear Channel's dominance
3. Suburbanites: Will they roam?
4. The plea for racial healing
5. The media's message
6. A whole new ball game
7. Edgy art center opening
8. Tall Stacks rolls back
9. Will tourists go home happy?
10. How Fine Arts Fund carries clout
11. You can't fight City Hall
12. Laura Long: Downtown force
13. The CSO's growing empire
14. Rosenthals' big impact
15. Northern Kentucky development
16. Museum Center's main man
17. Lobbyist Weiland
18. UC at crossroads
19. The Nederlanders make a comeback
20. MidPoint: Rebuild the city on rock 'n' roll
21. The Schuster Center alternative
22. Another public art project goes to bat
23. The brain drain
24. Local film community gains focus
25. Dancing around visa problems
The wild card of 2003: War
2003 dates to keep in mind

DEMALINE: The arts
KENDRICK: Alive & Well
Get to it!