Center Stage is among the most ambitious programs to bring contemporary international artists into direct contact with people across a wide range of American communities, and to share these experiences globally.

From cross-cultural enclaves across the globe contemporary performing artists are communicating about issues, challenges and opportunities familiar to all global citizens, using images, sounds, and words of originality and cultural fluency.

For its third edition, Center Stage, the ambitious cultural exchange program initiated by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs and produced by the New England Foundation for the Arts, brought five contemporary music and theater ensembles from Algeria and Tanzania to tour the U.S. between July and November 2016. With support from the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad, Pakistan, two bands from Pakistan will tour the U.S. from March to April of 2017.

Algeria, Pakistan and Tanzania all achieved national independence in the second half of the 20th century, but their political borders embrace storied, ancient cultures. The polyglot cities of Tanzania’s Stone Town, Zanzibar, and Dar es Salaam, Algiers and Oran in Algeria, and Pakistan’s Karachi and Hyderabad  are home to young majority populations.  With confidence and creativity, contemporary artists of these nations are addressing local and global questions: mobility and immigration, economic equity and educational access, cultural and environmental integrity, governmental and historical accountability, and personal and religious liberty.

The Artists of Center Stage Season 3

  • Democratoz (Oran, Algeria/U.S. debut)  Hard-grooving reggae, rai & rock from cosmopolitan Oran
  • Ifrikya Spirit (Algiers, Algeria/U.S. debut) Tranced-out diwan sounds from Algiers, gathered under a big musical tent 
  • Istijmam (Oran, Algeria/U.S. debut) Gritty, intimate theater confronts the destiny of today’s Algeria 
  • Jagwa Music (Dar es Salaam, Tanzania) From the streets of Dar es Salaam, Jagwa Music brings the noise
  • Rajab Suleiman & Kithara (Zanzibar, Tanzania/U.S. debut) Renewed taarab reinvigorates Zanzibar’s syncretic signature sound
  • Sanam Marvi (Hyderabad, Pakistan) A vocal warrior; Marvi is the next, great diviner of South Asia's humanist, folk and Sufi texts.
  • Sounds of Kolachi (Karachi, Pakistan/U.S. debut) This 10-piece super group sweeps audiences onto a sonic highway that stretches from South Asian ragas to the Blues.

artist selection


Building on the program's success over the past three seasons, Center Stage will invite 5 ensembles to make individual month-long tours during the period of June to December 2018. 


The U.S. Department of State working with NEFA identifies the participating countries. U.S. Embassies may also independently participate.

Season 4: In July 2017 we expect to announce ensembles touring from Egypt and Ukraine during the 2018-2019 season.

Season 3 (2016-2017):  AlgeriaPakistan, Tanzania

Season 2 (2014):  MoroccoPakistanVietnam 

Season 1 (2012):  HaitiIndonesia, Pakistan 


New England Foundation for the Arts and Lisa Booth Management administer the selection process. 

Artists are identified during an open nominations period, and through advance trips to each country. 

Nominations may be submitted by presenters, artists and their representatives, U.S. Embassy personnel, regional arts organizations, state arts agencies, and individuals in the U.S. and abroad knowledgeable about performing arts ensembles in the identified countries. Artists interested in participating may submit a nomination on behalf of their own ensemble.

  • All nominations are reviewed by a panel of readers with knowledge of the performing arts and culture in these specific countries.  A list of candidates for consideration is identified by Center Stage’s panel of artistic advisors.
  • A delegation travels to each country to meet with potential ensembles and cultural leaders. Travelers include presenters and artists led by representatives from NEFA and LBMI and facilitated by the U.S. Embassies.  Travelers also conduct workshops, meet with the media, and, in general, seek to learn firsthand about the cultural context of each country.
  • Selections are made by the New England Foundation for the Arts in consultation with Lisa Booth Management, Inc. with final approval from the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs at the U.S. Department of State or a host Embassy.


Participating performing arts ensembles must:

  • Demonstrate high artistic quality and accomplishment.  
  • Have an interest in engaging with U.S. communities, including youth, through public and in-school performances, workshops, discussions, artist-to-artist exchanges, and social events.
  • Be comprised of two to nine ensemble members (artists and staff) who are citizens and residents of the selected countries.
  • Have previous touring experience but have rarely been seen in the U.S.
  • Have an ability to communicate electronically via email and Skype in English.
  • Have an interest and agree to actively share these experiences through traditional press outreach and social media channels.

Other factors influencing selection include artist availability, artistic discipline (dance, theater, music and multi-media), mix and diversity of programming, and logistical considerations.

More on Center Stage

“Center Stage artists are amazing ambassadors who create wide open spaces for communities to connect.” - Helena Presents/Helena, MT

Center Stage connects Americans with performing artists and ideas rarely heard in the U.S. At the same time, the program encourages artists from abroad to share their direct experiences of American life with their followers back home. The Center Stage Season 3 ensembles from Algeria and Tanzania touring in 2016 will join artists from Haiti, Indonesia, Morocco, Pakistan, and Vietnam as participants in the program.

Launched in 2012, Center Stage tours take place every two years. Artists touring as part of the program build mutual understanding via cultural expression and people-to-people connections. The ensembles perform and engage with audiences onstage, offstage, and online providing positive and popular avenues of mutual understanding through shared culture and values.

Independent month-long tours take artists to major markets and smaller American communities. Since the program’s inception, more than 85,000 people in 32 states and the District of Columbia have attended performances and participated in workshops, discussions, artist jams and community gatherings. Another 350,000 people worldwide have watched live streamed and on demand concerts, panel discussions, interviews and engaged via social media.

While their individual voices, approaches, and relationships to heritage differ widely, Center Stage participants point to the swiftly changing, aesthetically complex scenes they work and live in. The breadth and quality of expression support the program’s core hope: To spark new connections in the U.S. and in the artists’ home countries, and to create and expand platforms and spaces for these artists to share their work and ideas with a broader international audience.

“It’s not about where I come from or where you come from. It’s about what we share.  It’s about what we share in a fundamentally human way.” - noori/Lahore, Pakistan

Of the more than 100 performers in 17 ensembles who have toured to date, ten groups were US debuts. The program has commissioned new work by contemporary performers, such as Moroccan dancer and choreographer Hind Binali’s exploration of culture, gender, and movement, Identity (2014). Pakistan’s Khumariyaan and Poor Rich Boy returned to America to participate in SXSW in March 2015. Since its international debut with Center Stage in 2012, Indonesia’s Papermoon Puppet Theater has toured its compelling production ‘Mwathirika’ to major festivals in Australia, Japan, Singapore, and the United Kingdom.

Center Stage is a public diplomacy initiative of the U.S. Department of State's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, administered by the New England Foundation for the Arts in cooperation with the U.S. Regional Arts organizations, with support from the Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art. Center Stage Pakistan is made possible by the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad, Pakistan, and the Henry Luce Foundation. General management is provided by Lisa Booth Management, Inc.

Keep up with Center Stage on Facebook and on Twitter and at www.centerstageUS.org.

Touring Contact & Information
Lisa Booth & Deirdre Valente
Lisa Booth Management, Inc.
Tel +1 (212) 921-2114 artslbmi@msn.com  

General Program Information
Adrienne Petrillo
Program Director, New England Foundation for the Arts
Tel: +1 (617) 951-0010 apetrillo@nefa.org