April 23, 2021

Putting Ourselves in the Shoes of the Other

“True diplomacy, to me, is not so much about imparting knowledge,” says Carla Dirlikov Canales, internationally renowned opera singer and U.S. Arts Envoy. “It’s about learning and acquiring knowledge.” 

During her April 20 interview on MentorTalks, Carla spoke about her first time in China as an arts envoy and the tremendous impact of that exchange experience on her life. “I thought, as an opera singer, I would work more in Europe. I prepared myself linguistically and had done most of my early work there. And the first time I went to China, I was very moved by the people. There was a director who heard me on that trip as an arts envoy… who was a casting director for the National Center for Performing Arts (NCPA), and… very graciously, he offered me the chance to sing two major roles, including “Carmen”... That “Carmen” production is what has changed my life.”

Having served as a U.S. State Department Arts Envoy since 2005, Carla’s career has spanned across countries and continents – she has received worldwide acclaim and is best known for her portrayals of Bizet’s “Carmen,” which she has performed close to 100 times in over a dozen countries and at top international venues in Europe, Asia and Latin America. 

Employing music to showcase America’s rich diversity of culture and connect people have been core tenants of Carla’s career. As an artist, she sees how music connects, but she also sees the superpower of the arts: “...I think our universal [language] is our power to feel… and that’s what unites us, and music offers us a tool to explore those feelings… but ultimately, the superpower of the arts is to open our capacity to imagine, and it’s through that imagination that we can see a better world… to see a place where we don’t have the divisions, either domestically or internationally, that keep us apart…”  

How did Carla serve as a virtual envoy in 2020? Why is she advocating for a U.S. Secretary of Culture and Creative Industries? And how is she shaping the conversation around cultural diplomacy through her fellowship at Harvard? Watch Carla’s interview on MentorTalks to learn the answers to those questions and more.  


Carla Dirlikov Canales - Singer, Advocate, Entrepreneur

Carla Dirlikov Canales brings global experience bridging cultures through performing arts. She is an internationally renowned mezzo-soprano opera singer, best known for her portrayals of Bizet’s “Carmen,” which she has performed nearly 100 times in more than 12 countries. 

A social advocate and cultural entrepreneur, Carla is the founder of The Canales Project, an arts advocacy organization that uses performance and music to address issues and promote conversation about cultural exchange and identity worldwide. She served as co-creator, CEO, and artistic director of programming for the Culture Summit, a forum held in Abu Dhabi to convene arts and policy leaders from around the world on issues of cultural diplomacy and is also a long-time arts envoy for the U.S. Department of State. 

Carla has been a member of the President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities Turnaround Arts Program, was selected by Foreign Policy Magazine as one of its 100 Leading Global Thinkers and won the Medal of Excellence from the Sphinx Organization, which was presented to her at the Supreme Court by Justice Sonia Sotomayor. In each case, she was the first opera singer ever to receive the honor. 

Carla is currently at Harvard University serving as a 2021 Advanced Leadership Initiative Fellow, the youngest fellow in the history of the program to date.