A series of routine and rather ordinary public diplomacy programs had a common link and a common purpose to “salute” the people of Sri Lanka on this the 200th anniversary of American independence. Independence was a theme, which registered with Sri Lankans across the political spectrum. Their own independence from Britain was still a living memory for the older generations and young people were eager to learn more about their own history.
Much of Sri Lanka’s history had an American connection, from the American theosophist Henry Steele Olcott’s role in founding Ananda College and in spurring the Buddhist revival movement in the 19th century, to the American missionaries in the Tamil north who ministered to the needs of the people there, to the visits by American clipper ships bringing goods from around the world to the shops of Colombo.
USIS Colombo used these connections to bring Sri Lankans to a greater understanding of the role that Americans had played in their past and could play in their future.
In thinking about ways to pull all the connections between Americans and Sri Lankans together in an easily understood way, our USIS Press Section hit upon the notion of an exhibition of photographs and memorabilia from the earliest days of American independence to the present day. The concept was easy enough to create but one could see that its execution might be a daunting task. There was to be no help from Washington except perhaps some photographs from the archives. The content of the exhibition and its physical structure had to be created on the spot in Sri Lanka. While the Press Attaché and his staff combed the island nation for photographs and memorabilia to place in the exhibit, the administrative section commandeered a team of carpenters to assemble a series of 300 wooden panels and frames.