On Monday 26th of June, the Supreme Court reinstated a limited version of the Trump administration's travel ban. Under the order, the administration can block "foreign nationals who lack any bona fide relationship with a person or entity in the United States" from six mostly Muslim countries. It is uncertain how broadly that restriction will be implemented, but it is likely that the ban, even limited, will still adversely impact artists and cultural producers vulnerable for speaking out in repressive regimes. Those artists look toward the US as a place enabling them to work freely.
Even outside of the travel ban, evidence suggests the Trump administration's implementation of "extreme vetting" procedures for foreign visa applicants is having an adverse effect on cultural exchange. According to immigration lawyers that specialize in artist visas, which allow foreign performers and artists to temporarily enter the U.S. for performances, the State Department has increasingly been denying applications.
At a time when cultural exchange is vital, the US should not be closing its doors to international artists, including those who dare challenge oppression in their home countries and who are, as a result, exposed to risks of retaliation.
Below is our February statement, released after the announcement of the initial Executive Order and signed by over 40 cultural institutions and human rights organizations around the world, addressing these concerns.
Over 40 cultural institutions and human rights organizations around the world, including international arts, curators’ and critics’ associations, organizations protecting free speech rights, as well as U.S. based performance, arts and creative freedom organizations and alliances, have now signed a joint statement opposing United States President Donald J. Trump’s immigration ban. Read the full statement below.
On Friday, January 27th, President Trump signed an Executive Order to temporarily block citizens of seven predominantly Muslim countries from entering the United States. This order bars citizens of Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen from entering the United States for 90 days. It also suspends the entry of all refugees for 120 days and bars Syrian refugees indefinitely. The Executive Order was suspended on February 3rd after a federal judge issued a restraining order against it. The Department of Justice’s subsequent appeals against the judge’s decision have since been rejected because the order was deemed to cause "irreparable harm" to those affected by it and because it unconstitutionally discriminates against individuals on the basis of religion.
The organizations, who are expressing grave concern that the Executive Order will have a broad and far-reaching impact on artists’ freedom of movement and will seriously inhibit creative freedom and the free flow of ideas, argue that new U.S. border regulations must only be issued after a process of deliberation which takes into account their impact on the core values of the country, on its cultural leadership, and on the world as a whole.
Representatives of several of the participating organizations issued additional statements on the immigration ban and its impact on writers and artists:
Helge Lunde, Executive Director of ICORN, said, “Freedom of movement is a fundamental right. Curtailing this puts vulnerable people, people at risk and those who speak out against dictators and aggressors, at an even greater risk.”
Svetlana Mintcheva, Director of Programs at the U.S. National Coalition Against Censorship (NCAC), said, “In a troubled and divided world, we need more understanding, not greater divisions. It is the voices of artists that help us understand, empathize, and see the common humanity underlying the separations of political and religious differences. Silencing these voices is not likely to make us any safer.”
Suzanne Nossel, Executive Director of PEN America, said, “The immigration ban is interfering with the ability of artists and creators to pursue their work and exercise their right to free expression. In keeping with its mission to defend open expression and foster the free flow of ideas between cultures and across borders, PEN America vows to fight on behalf of the artists affected by this Executive Order.”
Diana Ramarohetra, Project Manager of Arterial Network, said, "A limit on mobility and limits on freedom of expression has the reverse effect – to spur hate and ignorance. Artists from Somalia and Sudan play a crucial role in spreading the message to their peers about human rights, often putting themselves at great risk in countries affected by ongoing conflict. Denying them safety is to fail them in our obligation to protect and defend their rights."
Ole Reitov, Executive Director of Freemuse, said, “This is a de-facto cultural boycott, not only preventing great artists from performing, but even negatively affecting the U.S. cultural economy and its citizens rights to access important diversity of artistic expressions.”
Shawn Van Sluys, Director of Musagetes and ArtsEverywhere, said, “Musagetes/ArtsEverywhere stands in solidarity with all who protect artist rights and the freedom of mobility. It is time for bold collective actions to defend free and open inquiry around the world.”
A growing number of organizations continue to sign the statement.
JOINT STATEMENT REGARDING THE IMPACT OF THE U.S. IMMIGRATION BAN ON ARTISTIC FREEDOM
February 7, 2017
Freedom of artistic expression is fundamental to a free and open society. Uninhibited creative expression catalyzes social and political engagement, stimulates the exchange of ideas and opinions, and encourages cross-cultural understanding. It fosters empathy between individuals and communities, and challenges us to confront difficult realities with compassion.
Restricting creative freedom and the free flow of ideas strikes at the heart of the core values of an open society. By inhibiting artists’ ability to move freely in the performance, exhibition, or distribution of their work, United States President Trump’s January 27 Executive Order, blocking immigration from seven countries to the United States and refusing entry to all refugees, jettisons voices which contribute to the vibrancy, quality, and diversity of US cultural wealth and promote global understanding.
The Executive Order threatens the United States safe havens for artists who are at risk in their home countries, in many cases for daring to challenge repressive regimes. It will deprive those artists of crucial platforms for expression and thus deprive all of us of our best hopes for creating mutual understanding in a divided world. It will also damage global cultural economies, including the cultural economy of the United States.
Art has the power to transcend historical divisions and socio-cultural differences. It conveys essential, alternative perspectives on the world. The voices of cultural workers coming from every part of the world – writers, visual artists, musicians, filmmakers, and performers – are more vital than ever today, at a time when we must listen to others in the search for unity and global understanding, when we need, more than anything else, to imagine creative solutions to the crises of our time.
As cultural or human rights organizations, we urge the United States government to take into consideration all these serious concerns and to adopt any regulations of United States borders only after a process of deliberation, which takes into account the impact such regulations would have on the core values of the country, on its cultural leadership, as well as on the world as a whole.
Aide aux Musiques Innovatrices (AMI) (France)
Art Moves Africa (AMA)
Arterial Network (Africa)
Association Racines (Morocco)
Bamboo Curtain Studio (Taiwan)
International Biennial Association (South Korea)
Cedilla & Co. (USA)
College Art Association (USA)
Creative Time (USA)
Levy Delval Gallery (Belgium)
Geneva Ethnography Museum (Switzerland)
PEN America (USA)
Queens Museum (USA)
Stage Directors and Choreographers Society (SDC) (USA)