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State Department defends costly art program

By Laura Koran, CNN
updated 7:18 PM EDT, Wed April 2, 2014
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Report says State Department plans $400,000 art purchase for embassy in Pakistan
  • State Department spokeswoman says no decisions have been made on any art purchases
  • But she defends program that displays art at U.S. embassies around the world

(CNN) -- The State Department defended its Art in Embassies program on Wednesday following a report that it plans to purchase a $400,000 sculpture for the embassy compound under construction in Islamabad.

BuzzFeed first reported the planned purchase of the sculpture "Camel Contemplating Needle."

The 500-pound work alludes in both name and appearance to a well-known allegory that appears in both the bible and the Quran.

"Our embassies are the face of the United States overseas," spokeswoman Marie Harf said Wednesday, acknowledging the report but adding that art purchases for the embassy in Pakistan have not been finalized.

"Right now, we're still making decisions about what the art will look like specifically in our embassy in Islamabad," said Harf. "We haven't made any final decision about that piece or any other piece."

She emphasized the total spent on art at new embassies amounts to just 0.5% of the embassy's total construction budget.

The Art in Embassies program was started in the 1960s to showcase American art around the world, and also features pieces from local host-country artists.

According to the State Department, over 58 permanent collections have been displayed at embassies and ambassadors' residences, and dozens of temporary exhibitions are shipped every year under the program.

Over $300 million worth of art is also on loan to diplomatic facilities by the artists themselves, according to Harf.

"Obviously, we believe very strongly in the Art in Embassies program," she said. "We think it fosters cultural connections."

The contract to build the embassy compound in Islamabad totaled $699 million when it was announced in October 2010.

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