Our cultural legacies: Building bridges, uniting people

Updated 24 November 2012

Our cultural legacies: Building bridges, uniting people

Last week, I had the honor of attending the opening of the Roads of Arabia exhibit at the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, the Smithsonian’s museum of Asian art in Washington, DC. With over 300 artifacts spanning centuries, the exhibit is a magnificent representation of Saudi Arabia’s rich archaeological heritage which helped me and thousands of my fellow countrymen to better understand the history and the people of Saudi Arabia.
I am thrilled that Prince Sultan bin Salman bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud, president and chairman of the Board of Saudi Commission for Tourism and Antiquities, is making this exhibit available to the American people at the Smithsonian and for virtual visitors at RoadsofArabia.com.
Following the Washington premier, the exhibition will travel to other American cities, including Houston, San Francisco, Chicago and Boston through early 2015.
Cultural exchange can take place in a variety of places and through a variety of ways, such as in museums, in celebrating national holidays and festivals, and in the exploration of the arts. Cultural exchange promotes mutual understanding and is a powerful force that transcends many things and lays the groundwork for a more peaceful world.
Some of my proudest achievements as ambassador have been sharing American culture with the people of Saudi Arabia. With the Art in Embassies program, I hosted an exhibition of American artwork and invited young Saudi artists to participate.
Commenting on the program, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said, “Art in Embassies intrigues, educates and connects — playing an ambassadorial role as important as that served by traditional diplomacy.”
Last May, the “From Washington to Riyadh” cultural exhibition on Wahbi Al-Hariri, the late Arab-American artist, was hosted by the National Museum in Riyadh in cooperation with the Ministry of Culture and Information and the US Embassy in Riyadh. Some of my most interesting conversations with Saudis, particularly the youth, have been about art and culture.
Travel is also a potent force for cultural understanding. With frequent trips around Saudi Arabia, I have experienced the diversity of the Saudi cultural landscape. During a recent visit, I toured the Ha’il Museum and was astounded to see the display of petroglyphs and other artifacts. I congratulate HRH Prince Saud bin Abdul Muhsin bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud, Governor of Ha’il on celebrating Ha’il’s cultural legacy and I thank him for hosting me on the visit. While acknowledging the power of cultural exchange to promote international understanding, we also recognize the power of culture to unify people and form a shared national identity. A recent visitor to the Embassy asked me, “What is the best way to understand the ‘real’ Saudi Arabia?”
I told him to visit the Janadriyah Festival. With its cultural displays from around the Kingdom, it is a representation of the diversity of Saudi Arabia, celebrating this diversity as a source of national strength. It also serves as a powerful symbol of how the people of Saudi Arabia have come together to form one nation, united under a single flag.
In the United States, Independence Day (America’s National Day) is a favorite holiday. Families and communities come together to celebrate the founding of our country. The celebrations include baseball games, picnics, and fireworks displays as we come together as a community to reflect on our shared history and pride in the ideals of our country. Since arriving in Saudi Arabia, Saudi National Day celebrations, with waving flags and enthusiastic young Saudis, have served as a warm reminder of our own national holiday. It is truly impressive to see how quickly Saudi National Day, which became an official holiday only in 2005, has become such a source of pride for Saudis.
The Saudi Commission for Tourism and Antiquities has undertaken impressive efforts to preserve Saudi Arabia’s cultural heritage and promote tourism. I encourage every visitor to the US Embassy to tour the National Museum in Riyadh as it is a true Saudi treasure.
To my Saudi friends, I invite you to visit the museums of the Smithsonian Institution virtually from your computer or in person during your next trip to the United States. The institution, founded in 1846, is administered by the US government and comprises 19 museums and nine research centers in Washington, DC. As a former pilot in the US Air Force, I am always amazed during visits to the National Air and Space Museum, part of the Smithsonian museum family.
Allow me to close with these eloquent words by First Lady Michelle Obama, who said, “the arts and humanities define who we are as a people. That’s their power — to remind us of what we each have to offer, and what we all have in common. To help us understand our history and imagine our future. To give us hope in the moments of struggle and to bring us together when nothing else will.”
James B. Smith is US Ambassador to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

Saudi Arabia, South Korea reach agreement on visas

King Salman chairs the Cabinet session in Riyadh on Tuesday. (SPA)
Updated 16 January 2019

Saudi Arabia, South Korea reach agreement on visas

  • Cabinet OKs air transport pact with Indonesia

JEDDAH: The Saudi Cabinet met to discuss a series of national and global developments on Tuesday, in a session chaired by King Salman.

At the forefront of the agenda was the escalation in tensions between Israel and Hamas along the Gaza border, and the continuing encroachment on Palestinian land by Israeli settlers in the West Bank. The Cabinet responded by demanding that the UN Security Council intervene. King Salman also relayed to ministers the outcome of his talks with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, which covered many regional issues.

The minister of media, Turki bin Abdullah Al-Shabanah, announced that after reviewing proposals from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and a decision from the Shoura Council, a memorandum of understanding between the government and the Republic of Korea on granting visit visas had been agreed upon.

The Cabinet approved the amendment of the air agreement on regular air transport between Saudi Arabia and Indonesia.

The Cabinet, meanwhile, praised the progress of the 2025 Sustainable Agricultural and Rural Development Program, aimed at enhancing farming techniques by promoting sustainable water and renewable energy sources.

They also discussed the framework in Vision 2030 and the National Transformation Program 2020 for building a sustainable renewable energy sector, reiterating aims to lead global renewable energy developments over the next decade, and create projects such as the wind-powered plant at Dumat Al-Jandal, as part of the King Salman Renewable Energy Initiative.

In a statement, though, Al-Shabanah said: “The Cabinet discussed the announcement made by the minister of energy, industry and mineral resources about the Kingdom’s oil and gas reserves, which highlighted the importance of Saudi Arabia as a secure source of oil supplies in the long term.”

He added, in closing, the Cabinet’s praise for the efforts of Saudi security forces in the tracking and arrest of seven people in Qatif, which foiled a planned terrorist attack.