Urbis Visions


The Project

Rather than a set of conclusions, this website is a method of inquiry. My research explores how political culture shapes the concept and practice of cultural heritage.

In the context of our contemporary world order, my work probes the question; as communities come under pressure from globalisation, what happens to their conceptions of self?

This project affirms the dignity of all communities and disputes notions of linearity and moral superiority which pervade the neoliberal model of authoritarian-imperialist governance.

Thank you for your readership.

-Emma Louise Leahy, creator, Urbisvisions


The Author

Born in West Virginia in the 1990s, my earliest memories alternate between the idyllic solitude of a farm in the Blue Ridge mountains and the echoing marble halls of Europe’s great art museums.

I spent endless afternoons exploring the Blue Ridge on foot, by bicycle, and on horseback. As a citizen conservationist, I have built and monitored nesting habitats for eastern bluebirds, collected samples from over 350 regional species of flowers and trees, and monitored water quality by conducting regular macroinvertebrate sampling in creeks and streams. I raised goats and chickens for exhibition and sale at the county fair — that’s in addition to some unconventional companion animals brought home from the woods including a squirrel, snakes, turtles, and snails.

In lieu of formal schooling, I took courses at art museums and cultural institutions across the European continent. I spent the most time in Paris, where I received instruction from the Musée du Louvre, Musée d’Orsay, Centre Pompidou, Musée Carnavalet, Abbaye de Cluny, Institut du Monde Arabe, and Parc de la Vilette. Having grown up trilingually, by age 10 I had amassed an extensive collection of European literature written in French, Italian, Spanish, and German. I was trained in classical piano, classical violin, and classical viola but my favourite music to play is Old Time Fiddle, which I studied at Appalachian culture programs in West Virginia.

Latin and the Greco-Roman Classics became the main interest of my teenage years, during which time I competed intensively in state- and national-level academic events. I am a four-time national champion in Greco-Roman Classics competition and a member of the National Junior Classical League’s academic hall of fame.

During university, my academic interests converged towards international affairs with the guiding principle of rejecting Western-centric lenses of analysis. I lived in Hong Kong, France and Russia while pursuing a specialisation in post-Soviet political culture and political economy. Researched at the George Mason Honors College in Virginia, Sciences Po in Dijon and the Higher School of Economics in Moscow, my undergraduate thesis evaluates policy patterns of Russophone identity instrumentalisation under Vladimir Putin. As a student I interned twice in the US Congress; first on the Senate side and later the on the House of Representatives side. I’m a member of the national academic honour societies Phi Beta Kappa for humanities and Pi Delta Phi for French.

In my early 20s, I worked in Washington DC as a specialist in US policy towards the Arabian Peninsula. This was exciting, fast-paced work: hours were long, but that was in large part because work and socialisation were one and the same. DC being a highly competitive professional environment, many young people switch employers frequently while essentially continuing to do the exact same type of job. I was no exception, going from a political consultant K-Street Big Law firm, to a congressional advisor at a boutique firm led by a former White House staffer, to being hired as a communications staffer in the embassy of an Arabian Peninsula nation.

A packed day might look something like this:

6:00 Arrive at my office downtown; read the daily news and the Congressional Record.

8:00 Attend a breakfast briefing on the Iran nuclear deal at a think tank down the block from my office.

9:30 Take a car service to the Capitol to meet a staffer for coffee. Observe a committee hearing on arms sales to the Middle East.

13:00 Finish up at the Capitol; pick up a snack to have while working. Back at the office, write an analysis of what the panelists discussed at the think tank event; write a legislative update on US arms sales to the Middle East.

16:30 Change into eveningwear. Leave my office for the Watergate Hotel for a cocktail meeting with a scholar who researches Arabian Peninsula security policy.

18:00 Arrive at the Four Seasons Hotel for a diplomatic reception. Greet everyone I know and exchange small talk with them, 5 – 10 minutes each.

20:00 Leave the reception with a diplomat and a think tank researcher, for an oyster dinner at the Old Ebbit Grill.

22:00 Breathe a sigh of relief as I arrive home to my small and untidy Georgetown apartment.

Political work certainly was eye-opening, but the amorality of the DC operating environment was far beyond what a rural American like me could have expected. The ideological discipline enforced in DC requires one to form one’s policy opinions through the uncritical consumption and acceptance of the armchair analysis provided by mediocre technocrats — even in those (frequent) cases when the “expert opinions” of the Beltway class contradict the views of people directly involved in the matter, or indeed basic principles of logic. Disillusioned by my interactions with the technocracy, I developed a perspective as a libertarian anti-imperialist.

Fortunately it wasn’t all politics. DC does have excellent cultural institutions, many of which are free of charge as they are sponsored by the US government or by foreign diplomatic missions. I volunteered for the Smithsonian American Art Museum (SAAM) and the Renwick Gallery for three years, in the public programs department: I staffed artist lectures, curator tours, monthly “family day” extravaganzas, and after-hours adult events. I learned a lot about internet art, technology art, installation art, psychedelic art, and contemporary photography. I received technical instruction in drawing from the Smithsonian Institution and the Luce Foundation Center for American Art, and in handbuilt pottery from Georgetown’s local studio Hinckley Pottery.

Later I got to work on cultural management in diplomatic settings. As an employee of the Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs, I conceptualised public programs in film, photography and music; attended international film festivals with public accreditation; and organised specialised academic panels inter alia on the role of the Swiss-Italian dialect in contemporary popular culture. Later I relocated to Berlin at the behest of an Arabian Peninsula ambassador to Germany, to advise on a national strategy for cultural outreach in Germany incorporating cinema, dance, visual arts, culinary arts, tourism exchanges, and civil society interaction.

I still live in Berlin, currently as a candidate for a Master of International Affairs at the Hertie School. I hold a full merit scholarship in International Security Policy with expected graduation in 2022.

I exhibit my creative work regionally as well as on this site. My photography credits include Barren Magazine (“A Sun Apart,” Issue No.10) and the international group exhibition curated by LoosenArt Magazine “Suburbs and Peripheral Environments” in Rome, Italy.

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