25. Paper Prepared in the U.S. Information Agency0


The Cultural Agreement signed in Moscow in November 1959,1 and those under discussion with Rumania and Poland2 provide a [Page 56] means of vastly increasing our direct approach to the population in these areas, through the medium of Exhibits. The Agreement with the Soviets includes provision for the exchange of three exhibits, theirs on the subjects of medicine, children’s books and children’s creative arts, and ours on plastics, medicine, and transportation. The Rumanians and Poles have each indicated a willingness to receive four exhibits over the next two years, the subjects of which are not yet defined.

Effectiveness of the Exhibit Approach

Our experience in Moscow last summer was thoroughly convincing evidence of the effectiveness of the exhibits approach in the Communist area. Not only are exhibits a medium of mass communication which is apparently more acceptable to Communist governments than other media, but as a means of communications in this controlled situation, they are highly effective. Exhibits have at least one outstanding advantage over other media in that they provide a stage setting for the person-to-person approach. An attendance of 2,700,000 was only a fraction of the audience reached through the Moscow show. The many visitors which each of the American guides talked to were, in turn, channels of communication to thousands of others.

Further, the impact on the public was greatly reinforced by the appearance and content of the Exhibition itself. Real objects add immeasurably to the credibility of words. There is no question that the emphasis on consumers’ goods was the one most calculated to appeal to the public’s interest at that time.

Besides results in good will, there are clear indications that the visions of opulence enjoyed by the average American did, as we had hoped, stir the public to want, and the regime to provide, more for the consumer. In the period since the Exhibit, there has been a rash of Soviet government activity to improve the quality and quantity of their own products and services for the retail market. There is good reason to believe that in giving the public and officials an eyeful the exhibit was effective in reinforcing certain liberalizing tendencies in the economy.

Applying the Experience Gained at Sokolniki

From last summer’s experience, much has been learned that will be useful in increasing the effectiveness of exhibits in the Soviet area. A few of these considerations may be mentioned:

1. Geographical Spread

Attendance at Sokolniki was predominantly (80–90%) Muscovite. This resulted from the relative immobility of this population, and also from the relative scarcity of tickets which made it difficult for transients to obtain them. We want to reach a much broader geographical base this [Page 57] time. It was for this reason that we negotiated on the basis of three smaller exhibits in the Soviet Union for calendar years 1960 and 1961. Our intention is to circulate them widely. The present plan is to have the first of the three, Plastics, go to Leningrad, then to Moscow, Tiflis, and Baku, spending a month in each location, with a month between showings to allow for moving the exhibit. The other exhibits will follow at six month intervals and each may overlap the preceding one by a month or two. Transportation will visit Odessa, Kharkov, Irkutsk, and Khabarovsk. Medicine will go to Kiev, Rostov-on-Don, Stalingrad and Tashkent. (East-West Contacts is now setting up discussions with the Soviets on the question of routing.)

2. Interests of the Soviet Public

Certain subjects, adaptable to exhibit treatment, apparently have built-in appeal for the Soviet audience. Plastic products, medicine, transportation, were chosen with this in mind. That is, subjects of natural interest will be used as the best vehicles for conveying our objectives.

There is a risk of over-simplifying in abbreviating objectives, but we might say that plastics, building on the Soviet public’s interest in technology for the consumer, gives us an opportunity to show how American private industry emphasizes convenience and quality for the consumer, as well as industrial uses. Plastics also dramatize color, variety, good design, in contrast to the drabness of Soviet products.

Transportation will show not only by what modern means Americans travel, but also how freely and in what numbers they move about. (Our evidence suggests that the Soviet public today shows more active discontent over restrictions on their travel than over almost any other limitation on freedom.)

Medicine, medical cures and technology are of great interest to this public. There is evidence that in this field they are highly satisfied with their own socialized system. We intend to show them what we have achieved in medical science, both in technology and care, and also something about the social security and private insurance, which protect our people while allowing free choice and fullest development of resources.

3. Over-Attendance

A major logistics problem is involved in handling the crowds who will want to attend. Despite the tremendous capacity of the exhibit at Sokolniki, there was never room for all who wanted to enter. We do not anticipate that the full potential audience can be taken care of in the 1960–61 exhibits either, but we are planning exhibit design and traffic control with capacity attendance in mind. Souvenirs will be distributed after exit. Guides will be posted at entrance and exit to talk to waiting crowds, and to reduce bunching in conversation groups in the interior.

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4. Souvenirs

This Soviet public is souvenir-crazy. They are more avid for paper handouts than any we have encountered. The American Exhibition buttons, of which we dispensed millions and never had enough, have been seen in some of the most remote corners of the Soviet Union.

The appetite for souvenirs is useful to us. The button was a prestige symbol for the wearer, as was the possession of catalogues such as the one on art and the folders on automobile models. These objects are passed around, widening the circles of people who have had contact with America.

We want to give them as much as possible to take away (while recognizing that the Soviet government will not permit distribution of goods of commercial value). In the plastics exhibit, for example, operating machines will turn out pliofilm bags, cups and lapel buttons for every visitor. These will be distributed to the crowds as they leave. There will also be a catalogue, part of which we should like to print in English to add to its prestige value.

5. Guides

The tremendous contribution made by the Russian-speaking, American guides at Sokolniki has been recognized by every observer. Our feeling is that with guides in attendance the impact of the exhibit is more than doubled. To contemplate having exhibits in the Soviet Union without guides would be unthinkable. Our present plan is to have 25 guides in attendance with each of these circulating exhibits. This would allow for 7 or 8 to be on duty at any one time. This number is more modest than the ideal simply because of the expense involved. Although the Moscow experience indicates that some abuses of the Soviet public by their own militia may occur, we plan to count heavily on local militiamen for crowd control.

The Plastics Exhibit

The 5,000 sq. ft. exhibit is being designed to convey two major points:

The plastics industry has had a phenomenally rapid growth, and will continue to grow at an accelerated pace. The industry is an example of the progressive, expanding U.S. economy.
The exhibit will show thousands of consumer products and help to increase Russian consumer pressures on the Soviet economy.

The exhibit will open with a brief history of plastics and the growth of the industry in the United States. The many types and properties of modern plastics will be demonstrated through the use of three machines producing souvenir items for distribution. Subsequent sections will [Page 59] show examples of the use of plastics in the home, in industry, science, and medicine. A special section will show plastics in the arts, music and architecture. Other categories will be recreation and travel.

The final section will show some uses of plastics envisaged for the future and estimate the future growth of the industry to 1970.

[Here follows information on the estimated cost of the three exhibits in the Soviet Union.]

  1. Source: Department of State, OCB Files: Lot 61 D 385, USSR & Satellites—General 1959–1960. No classification marking. Copies of the paper were distributed to the Operations Coordinating Board Assistants under cover of a March 21 memorandum from the Board’s Executive Assistant, Charles E. Johnson, a copy of which is attached to the source text. According to a March 23 memorandum from O’Connor to Berding and Martin, in which the preliminary and informal notes from the OCB’s luncheon meeting that day were quoted, the paper was used as background by Abbott Washburn, Director of USIA, in briefing the Board on plans for exhibits in the Soviet bloc. According to the memorandum, the members expressed “full and enthusiastic support for the exhibits but expressed no judgment as to costs or sources of additional funds.” (Ibid.)
  2. See Document 22.
  3. The negotiations with Romania led to an agreement concluded on December 9, 1960; see Document 30. No cultural agreement was concluded with Poland.