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This text documents the proceedings of the first Conference on Inter-American Relations in the Field of Art, which was held in three sections: an analysis of the conference proceedings; the minutes from two days of sessions; and finally the recommendations resulting from the conference. The “analysis” condensed the proceedings into four main topics: resources for artistic exchange in the United States and Latin America; technical problems involved in organizing and touring inter-American exhibitions; an exchange program for students and educators; and, lastly, the use of reproductive media for conveying information about the arts, such as photography, radio, and film. The minutes are comprised of summaries of attendees’ comments. And, lastly, the recommendations resulting from the conference included the formation of a committee to further analyze the conference proceedings; the drafting of concrete suggestions for “cooperation in the field of art”; and the formation of another committee of arts professionals to work with the State Department’s Division of Cultural Relations.
Prompted by the State Department’s Division of Cultural Relations, the first Conference on Inter-American Relations in the Field of Art was held on October 11–12, 1939, with the aim of deploying art to improve relations between the United States and Latin American nations. As part of the United States government effort to increase its influence in the Western Hemisphere and check the spread of Fascism in the wake of World War II, the State Department called on museum directors, curators, artists, and other arts professionals in the United States for advisement by drafting recommendations for exchange programs to be supported by the State Department’s Division of Cultural Relations. Participants in this conference (and in subsequent committees) included artists such as George Biddle, administrators of the W.P.A., and leaders of the Museum of Modern Art, among many other institutions. The proceedings reveal a number of significant themes and debates, including the great interest in Latin American Indian and pre-Columbian art in the United States, the question of how the United States should represent its own culture (folk and industrial arts are two areas of emphasis), and the question of whether the United States should assume a collaborative approach by soliciting information about Latin American interest in United States culture, or a paternalistic one by determining what is “best” for Latin American audiences without such counsel.