On The Cultural Price Of Homeland Security

In an article in the Village Voice, Kate Mattingly gives new details of a disturbing casualty in the US government’s campaign for Homeland Security: the increasing difficulty and expense of securing visas for international artists and performers is keeping more of them out of the US and causing arts organizers to give up scheduling non-US programming.
Here’s the visa application process under the Dept. of Homeland Security:
New background checks >> bigger backlogs >> longer/impossible turnaround times >> fallback to once-optional, prohibitively expensive Premium Processing Fees >> non-profits sunk by $1,000/petition fees originally meant for the tech industry >> artists may not get approved anyway>> dance, music, art, film, theater organizations give up programming international talent.
An example cited in the article: Visa applications for an 11-engagement BAM Next Wave Festival cost $29,304, compared to $600 in peaceable 1988, with the possibility that some artists are still denied visas.
One of the first to pay the cultural price of harshened visa policies was last year’s New York Film Festival. As I posted then, Abbas Kiarostami was prevented from attending his film’s US premier, and the Finnish director Aki Kaurismaki decided to boycott in solidarity. (“If the present government of the United States of America does not want an Iranian, they will hardly have any use for a Finn, either. We do not even have the oil.”)
When the photographer Thomas Struth spoke to a small group of collectors and curators in February, he wondered aloud about the possibility of the highly influential people who participate in the art world–collectors, trustees, sponsors, artists–working in concert to prevent the war in Iraq. Private opinion over the war was probably too divided for such an effort to be made, though.
But creating an effective and affordable way for internationally recognized artists and performers to visit the United States and contribute to our own cultural production seems like a cause worth working the phones for.