A native of Austria, Brunner was the artistic and organizational consultant for the production of “Porgy and Bess” in Berlin (1988-1994). It was the first time that a European opera house auditioned for singers in Harlem.
Ed Koch, then mayor of New York, issued a glowing citation in 1988 to the city of Berlin, calling the venture “a vital part of a truly important cultural exchange!”
The citation also mentioned Brunner, who was the co-recipient of a Berlin Theatergemeinde Award — the German equivalent of a Tony Award — for best production of the year (1988). Someone from the Institute for Cultural Diplomacy discovered the citation at Deutsche Oper Berlin, noticed Brunner’s name, and tracked him on the web to St. Bonaventure to see if he would be interested in speaking.
Asked to submit a manuscript in May, Brunner was not only invited to speak, but was designated as Friday’s keynote speaker. His talk was “The Importance of Cultural Diplomacy through Government Agencies and Institutions of Higher Education.”
Brunner had a long career in the U.S. and Europe working with opera stars, classical music soloists, and Broadway and musical theater performers before eventually landing at St. Bonaventure in 2003. In his work, he occasionally collaborated with Aspen Institute Germany, the oldest global partner of the renowned Aspen Institute, an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.
In his talk, held at the United Nations’ Permanent Mission of the Republic of Croatia, Brunner lamented the dissolution in 1999 of the United States Information Agency, which was created in 1953 by President Eisenhower as an antidote to Soviet propaganda, but had continued to thrive after 1989 as a prominent advocate of cultural diplomacy.
Universities have now become much more significant in promoting cultural diplomacy, Brunner said.
“It cannot only be left solely to large universities in big cities to undertake these programs,” Brunner said. “Cultural diplomacy can happen in a small university in rural western New York state.”
Brunner’s talk highlighted just a few of the Quick Center’s international offerings, including musician Samite of Uganda (2008), Munich-born photographer Barbara Luisi (2013) and Los Habaneros (coming in October 2014), a Cuban ensemble that will offer “a rare and exciting opportunity for a glimpse into the culture and life in Cuba.”
In conclusion, Brunner stressed that cultural diplomacy is so much more than exposing people to new artists.
“I strongly believe that building cultural bridges and putting forward the best of a nation can bring understanding and peace to all people,” he said.
Brunner said Monday that he thought the talk went well.
“I received very nice and loud applause,” he said. “Mark Donfried, in his public thanks to me, commented how important my speech was to show that smaller universities also can play an important role in cultural diplomacy and that he hopes that the Institute can work together with the Quick Center in the future.”
Donfried is executive director of the Institute for Cultural Diplomacy.