State Department dispatches virtual jazz ambassadors

In 1956, at the height of the Cold War, when the United States was engaged in an ideological battle with the Soviet Union, the State Department dispatched a new kind of ambassador to carry its message. In an innovative bit of public diplomacy, State sent jazz trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie and his band on an acclaimed tour of the Middle East, Asia and South America.

Last month, the State Department, in cooperation with the Voice of America and the University of Southern California's Center on Public Diplomacy at the Annenberg School of Communications, reprised the spirit of the Gillespie tour, not in the real world but in the virtual world of Second Life.

Charles Silver, director of the Office of Policy Planning and Evaluation in State's Bureau of International Information Programs, said the Second Life Virtual Vibe Jazz Fest '07 was part of a series of projects designed to determine whether virtual worlds could offer a new way to engage with international audiences. "We need to take a look at the technology [and] see what possibilities it offers us," Silver said.

William May, director of the Office of Planning, Budget and Applied Technology for BIIP and the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, said a jazz concert was as natural for Second Life because it "is a very hot area, and there are a diverse set of performers."

May enlisted the help of John Stevenson, director of the central programming division of VOA, and Charles Fishman, executive producer of the Duke Ellington Jazz Festival in Washington. He said the center stage for Virtual Vibe was placed in a virtual model of the National Mall in Washington; complete with video streams of performances from the real jazz festival concert alternating with live performances by Second Life jazz artists from around the world.

The program ran for eight hours and concluded with a panel discussion on the role jazz plays in the 21st century promoting American values overseas and how new technologies like Second Life can help. Panelists included Joshua Fouts, director of the USC Center on Public Diplomacy, Fishman and Stevenson.

Virtual Vibe drew a global audience of about 250 people "and took far less time and effort than if we had tried to do this in real life holding a real event," May said. The audience, May added, was not passive. They peppered the panel with questions and also engaged in dialogue with each other during the concert.

May described the Virtual Vibe event as the most ambitious of the three projects State has conducted recently in Second Life, but said he and Silver learned valuable lessons from two smaller projects. In June, May said, State held a discussion on student visas at the Center for Public Diplomacy with 20 students from Poland, Canada and U.S. consular officers in both countries.

Ken Hudson, the e-learning facilitator at Loyalist College in Belleville, Ontario, helped organize the Canadian portion of the session, and said the ability of the students to engage in a dialogue with consular officers "made the students feel they would be welcomed to study in the United States … much more than if they just watched CNN." Hudson said the session met the true test of any public diplomacy effort, "it highlighted the positive."

The student visa session was followed by a meeting in Second Life for the disabled for about 40 participants. Part of the discussion focused on Section 508 of the 1973 Rehabilitation Act, which mandates ease of access to federal information technology systems, and how that law applies to Second Life. This session used both text and audio, and Silver said it served as a good pilot for using the audio channels to stream foreign language content.

Silver said he does not know where State will go next in Second Life from here. He described State's virtual world experiments "as down in the weeds ... on a nickel-and-dime effort … but at some point, we are going to need to make a decision on whether not this is something we need to fully engage in."

Stay up-to-date with federal news alerts and analysis — Sign up for GovExec's email newsletters.
Close [ x ] More from GovExec

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Sponsored by G Suite

    Cross-Agency Teamwork, Anytime and Anywhere

    Dan McCrae, director of IT service delivery division, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)

  • Data-Centric Security vs. Database-Level Security

    Database-level encryption had its origins in the 1990s and early 2000s in response to very basic risks which largely revolved around the theft of servers, backup tapes and other physical-layer assets. As noted in Verizon’s 2014, Data Breach Investigations Report (DBIR)1, threats today are far more advanced and dangerous.

  • Sponsored by One Identity

    One Nation Under Guard: Securing User Identities Across State and Local Government

    In 2016, the government can expect even more sophisticated threats on the horizon, making it all the more imperative that agencies enforce proper identity and access management (IAM) practices. In order to better measure the current state of IAM at the state and local level, Government Business Council (GBC) conducted an in-depth research study of state and local employees.

  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    The Next Federal Evolution of Cloud

    This GBC report explains the evolution of cloud computing in federal government, and provides an outlook for the future of the cloud in government IT.

  • Sponsored by LTC Partners, administrators of the Federal Long Term Care Insurance Program

    Approaching the Brink of Federal Retirement

    Approximately 10,000 baby boomers are reaching retirement age per day, and a growing number of federal employees are preparing themselves for the next chapter of their lives. Learn how to tackle the challenges that today's workforce faces in laying the groundwork for a smooth and secure retirement.

  • Sponsored by Hewlett Packard Enterprise

    Cyber Defense 101: Arming the Next Generation of Government Employees

    Read this issue brief to learn about the sector's most potent challenges in the new cyber landscape and how government organizations are building a robust, threat-aware infrastructure

  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    GBC Issue Brief: Cultivating Digital Services in the Federal Landscape

    Read this GBC issue brief to learn more about the current state of digital services in the government, and how key players are pushing enhancements towards a user-centric approach.


When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.