Arts, Culture & Media

Global hit

Good news from Washington for foreign musicians who want to perform in the US. HR-1312 was passed by the House on Tuesday...the Senate still needs to do the same before it goes to President Bush. HR-1312 is called the ARTS Act, ARTS an acronym for Arts Require Timely Service. Even before 9-11 -- but especially since 9-11 -- timeliness has been at the center of the problems for many artists overseas who are applying for visas to come here. The World's Marco Werman has more.

Imagine you're an Iranian musician.

You play dance music, and you want to perform at some small clubs in the US. You submit your visa application, not in Tehran because the US doesn't have diplomatic representation there.

No, instead, you have to go to neighboring Dubai to apply. And it's going to take you a bit longer because Iran is one of several countries that require applicants to go through an FBI check.

Here's the catch: if your performance in New York City is scheduled for July first, you can't apply for the visa before January first. The application won't be considered more than six months out from your show.

However, as many artists have found, the application process often takes more than six months. The consular officer at the embassy in Dubai tells you though that for a thousand dollar fee, you'll get special treatment. Your visa will be processed in 15 days.

But wait, you're a starving musician. Where are you going to get $1000?

Little surprise then that lesser known artists who are booked by non-profits in the US with relatively little lead time have been finding it difficult to come to this country.

And that costs Americans too. Here's Congressman John Conyers of Michigan on the House floor.

�Foreign artists give American audiences the opportunity to experience a variety of arts traditions, and when they're called off, it's not just the host organization and the audience that bears the cost, a cancelled show impacts the local economy as well.�

The ARTS Act essentially amounts to what pizza joints sometimes offer: we get you the pie within 30 minutes, or it's free.

The ARTS Act stipulates that if the musician can't get his visa in 30 days, the local embassy has to expedite the visa, not for $1000, but for free.

Scott Southard is president of IMN, International Music Network.

They represent many major international artists.

Southard says the ARTS Act is a step but a small step.

The biggest problem is that it only applies to non-profit arts organizations trying to get performers to this country.

Southard believes there are other things that could help dislodge the slow visa process.

�More staffing and a procedure that is more efficient and more predictable. One of the other significant impediments is having the appointment in the local consulate in the home country. Many times for instance in Brazil the wait in certain consulates is up to thirty days to get an appointment, and you can't receive the appointment until you have the visa approval.�

Another factor the ARTS Act does not -- and can not -- address is the current economic climate. The dollar has gone south and that just as numerous poll results show America's standing around the globe to be lower than ever. Scott Southard says all of this has caused even well-known musicians to shrug off concert dates in the US.

�While they have the economic means and the international celebrity to have visa approvals expedited and have a commercial market here in the United States, it's often times perceived seen as too much of a hassle to go through the bureaucratic process.�

Nevertheless, people like Scott Southard who have to deal regularly with visas for foreign artists hope the ARTS Act will start to free the visa logjam.

Iranian guitarist Pooya Mahmoodi is one who could benefit from the relief provided by the ARTS Act. Last month Pooya Mahmoodi had to turn down a coveted invitation to play at the South by Southwest music conference. The reason: visa troubles.

For The World, I'm Marco Werman.

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