By Justin Walls
When COVID-19 pandemic restrictions kept American diplomats behind embassy walls, Beijing’s public affairs section (PAS) turned the embassy’s sprawling exterior into a canvas for American street art—a visual rejoinder to the People’s Republic of China propaganda efforts against the United States and promotion of Communist Party leadership. Through “Art for the People,” 14 U.S.-based street artists donated high-resolution images of their murals, which Embassy Beijing reproduced to cover 10,000 sq. ft. of the embassy’s outer walls. The 23 murals advanced policy objectives by showcasing American values of diversity and freedom of expression and how these values fuel America’s strength and cultural vibrancy.
The embassy is currently the only place in Beijing with high-quality, uncensored, and non-commercial street art. As a result, the Chinese people have enthusiastically embraced this display of American culture. Hundreds of citizens attended in-person tours and a launch party, key online influencers have posted exhibit images to their tens of millions of followers, and visa applicants and other passersby continue to stop in front of the embassy to pose for photos.
In addition to a high-quality physical display, the embassy engaged millions of Chinese netizens through professional quality digital content tailored to Chinese social media platforms. Combining beautiful art with high-quality design, PAS videos and interactive galleries attracted tens of thousands of users who engaged with “Art for the People” content. Hundreds of netizens also followed embassy social media accounts for the first time after viewing “Art for the People” posts.
“Art should be available to everyone,” said exhibit curator Sanny Wroblewski when asked about the meaning behind the project.
In a time when travel restrictions, geopolitical tensions, and a restrictive operating environment produce barriers, art is all the more important as a cultural bridge and an example of the high importance the United States places on freedom of expression.
Justin Walls is a strategic content coordinator in the public affairs section at Embassy Beijing.