On November 30th, in honor of the Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations Art in Embassies (AIE) 50th anniversary, the National Portrait Gallery’s courtyard was overflowing with beautiful gowns, dapper men, KanKouran dancers, musicians, artists, politicians, military personnel, philanthropists and very recognizable TV personalities. In addition to marking AIE’s 50th anniversary, the event illustrated the program’s evolving role and philosophy. The well-organized, sensory pleasing art event was designed by renowned and NY based producer David Stark. Integrating living art into Mr. Stark’s iconic design elements, artist on-site created pieces throughout the evening: yarn Bomber Jessie Hammond’s 10 foot diameter globe being knitted in front of the guests, a 20 foot tall pyramid created from a 1.5 million Crayola crayons which were donated to arts organizations directly after the event, and Mariah Robertson and Sahra Motalbis’ performance art collaboration featuring 40 a capella singers.
The company behind Post-its, 3M (MMM), along with Crayola and Coca Cola Co., were among the party’s sponsors. Another benefactor, Benjamin Moore & Co., whipped up a birthday cake, 16 feet around, constructed with 300 cans of Benjamin Moore paint.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton hosted a luncheon earlier that day in the State Department’s Diplomatic Reception Rooms to recognize AIE’s achievements. The Secretary recognized five American and international artists, each of whom has demonstrated an enduring commitment to the AIE mission: Jeff Koons, Cai Guo-Qiang, Shahzia Sikander, Kiki Smith, and Carrie Mae Weems. The Secretary awarded the five honorees with the first U.S. Department of State Medal of Arts for their outstanding commitment to AIE and to international cultural exchange.
The celebration culminated with a spectacular performance collaborated by artist Nick Cave along with KanKouran West African Dance Company and The Duke Ellington School of the Arts Radical Elite Showband. The event was part of a week of events to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the U.S. State Department’s Art in Embassies (AIE) program, as featured by Mark Jenkins.
This nexus of straight-laced with quirky was pulled together exquisitely, capping a week of events championing art and culture in international diplomacy.