Open World Bringing Russian Artists to America


Jimmy Heath and his large jazz band on stage

NEA Jazz Master Jimmy Heath jams with Open World musicians at the Brubeck Institute. Photo: Timothy Orr

The National Endowment for the Arts launched a new partnership in 2004 that allows talented Russian artists and managers the opportunity to observe and experience American culture and community life. The partnership is with the Open World Leadership Center, an independent legislative agency that brings emerging national and local Russian leaders to the U.S. for visits of up to 30 days. Originally authorized by Congress in 1999 as an initiative of the Library of Congress, Open World became an independent agency in 2003. In 2004, with funding from the NEA and staff assistance for implementation, the program expanded its reach beyond civic leaders to include cultural participants.

The NEA works with Open World to find and support opportunities for dialogue and collaboration between Russian artists and arts managers and their U.S. counterparts. The new generation of Russian artists and arts administrators can observe new techniques and perform for American audiences. They have access to libraries, educational material, and professional contacts in the U.S. In addition, they share their artistic expression, heritage, and expertise with their counterparts and audiences here.

The first round of the Cultural Leaders Program, funded by the NEA in 2004, provided 54 three-week residencies for artists and arts managers in disciplines ranging from jazz to creative writing to film. The residencies offer the Russian artists or arts managers handson experiences at respected arts institutions in the U.S. The eight jazz musicians hosted at the Brubeck Institute at the University of the Pacific in Stockton, California rehearsed and received master classes from the Artistic Director of the Institute, Christian McBride, and NEA Jazz Master Jimmy Heath. They also attended music business classes and visited numerous music stores where they were able to obtain sheet music not available in Russia. The musicians attended the Monterey Jazz Festival for three days, spent time at the Jazzschool in Berkeley, and met with Brubeck Institute Honorary Chairman, Clint Eastwood. According to the artists, the highlight of the residency was their concert at the Monterey Jazz Festival. This event was the premier performance of the self-proclaimed Open World Jazz Ensemble. Tim Jackson, the general manager of the Monterey Jazz Festival said, "The Open World Jazz Ensemble, through their terrific performance at the Monterey Jazz Festival in 2004, showed that jazz is truly an international language. Let's hear more!"

At the University of Louisville School of Music, another group of eight jazz musicians spent time with Open World musicians at the Brubeck Institute. group jazz books and recordings to advance their professional development. These artists also participated in workshops with the legendary Heath Brothers, the late bassist Percy, percussionist Tootie, and saxophonist and NEA Jazz Master, Jimmy. The Russian musicians rehearsed daily with jazz faculty members and students and took improvisation workshops. Sessions in a recording studio culminated in the creation of a CD. This collection of 13 tracks of jazz standards, originals, and a traditional Russian song showcases the musical talents of the Russian artists who performed with School of Music students and faculty.

NEA Chairman and the Three young students in Jamey Abersold's studio

Open World musicians take a lesson from jazz educator Jamey Aebersold. Photo: Mike Tracy

Jazz is not the only art form that receives support from the Open World Leadership Center. In September of 2005, four prominent Russian poets participated in the NEA-funded Cultural Leaders Program as well. The poets Svetlana Bodrunova, Yuli Gugolev, Yulia Idlis, and Anna Russ spent 10 days at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and concluded their Open World residency with a visit to Washington.While in the nation's capital, they met with leaders from the NEA and the Library of Congress, gave readings of their work, and attended the National Book Festival.

The NEA plays a critical role working with the Open World Leadership Center to disseminate information to the U.S. arts community about the program and to assist in the development of project activities. In 2005, Open World added residencies for artists and managers in the folk arts field and continued to include jazz musicians, writers, and filmmakers.

While Brubeck Institute Executive Director J.B. Dyas directed his comments to jazz when he said, "Sharing our American ideals, learning from each other's cultures and learning from one another through jazz with these eight young Russian jazz musicians is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity," the NEA and Open World find this same enthusiasm for the Russian exchange and interaction among all the cultural institutions involved.

For more information on Open World see