IU professor advocates arts strategy for Liberia

A comprehensive program to develop and support the arts could play an important role in helping the nation of Liberia move forward and develop its economy after years of struggle, Indiana University professor and administrator Ruth Stone told the Liberian Studies Association.

Stone was a keynote speaker for the association’s 46th annual conference last week in Chicago. She said Liberia’s artistic and cultural resources are “as valuable as timber or oil or diamonds,” and a plan to support them will fit well with plans for natural resources, land and governance.

Liberian men play carved flutes

Liberian men play carved flutes. Photo from IU Liberian Collections, 2007.

“Liberia possesses extensive and rich social and financial capital in the arts,” Stone said. “A national arts policy can form the basis for strategic planning and budgeting for the future. Such a road map, developed in alignment with those being developed for other resources, will provide a way forward for the arts to flourish in a global environment that moves dynamically from Liberia to the diaspora and beyond.”

Stone, a professor in the Department of Folklore and Ethnomusicology in the College of Arts and Sciences, is an expert on African music, culture and performance, especially the music of the Kpelle people of Liberia. She is associate vice provost for arts and humanities with the Office of the Vice Provost for Research at Indiana University Bloomington.

Liberia has a rich cultural heritage that includes singing, story-telling, flute-playing, theater, dance, wood carving, textiles and other arts. Stone’s recommendations include:

  • Conduct a national survey and census of the arts in Liberia.
  • Develop a comprehensive cultural policy to harness and grow the arts.
  • Create a distributed arts infrastructure throughout the country with links to national agencies.
  • Help artists connect with tourist and other markets within and outside of Liberia.
  • Integrate the arts in schools at all levels.
  • Revive the national cultural troupe at a scale that makes it viable and internationally visible.
  • Set up a group to investigate which sites in Liberia to nominate as United Nations World Heritage Sites and national historical sites.
  • Address creation of a national register of outstanding practitioners of the arts and culture.

Citing an address by historian Elwood Dunn as Liberia’s 2012 National Orator, Stone said the development of the arts could be “a kind of glue” that binds Liberians together. “But it is more than that,” she said. “It is also a complex that can reach globally to characterize the people of Liberia and communicate about what is finest, what is most beautiful, what is most emotionally powerful.”

Indiana University has had a close relationship with Liberia reaching back to the 1930s. Several IU faculty members have conducted research in Liberia. IU Bloomington is home to the Liberian Collections Project, an archive of documents, newspaper articles, photographs, recordings and other materials. The university awarded an honorary Doctor of Laws degree to Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf in 2008.

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