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Kristin Murphy, Deseret News
Omar Rodriguez-Campos pauses while walking through "Ceremonies: A Tale of Sister Cities" — an exhibit that tells the story of Salt Lake City's long relationship with Matsumoto.

Whether he was getting a haircut or simply doing some shopping, Ross Chambless regularly crossed paths with locals in Matsumoto, Japan, who knew all about their sister city in the United States.

"They'd say things like, 'I went to Salt Lake City when I was a kid,"' Chambless said. "I was amazed at how many people in Matsumoto were aware of this relationship with Salt Lake City and how many people have visited Salt Lake City."

It's a different story here in Utah's capital city.

"From my observations, the community here really isn't aware of (Salt Lake City's) sister-city relationships," he said.

Chambless is hoping to change that with "Ceremonies: A Tale of Sister Cities" — a traveling art exhibit that uses letters, photos and interviews to tell the story of Salt Lake City's longtime relationship with Matsumoto.

The exhibit, which celebrates the 50th year of friendship between the cities, is on display through July 31 on the main floor of the Salt Lake City Library, 210 E. 400 South.

Posterlike panels chronicle the origins of the cities' relationship, which began in 1958 — two years after President Dwight D. Eisenhower initiated the "People-to-People" program, forerunner of the sister-city movement.

"If we are going to take advantage of the assumption that all people want peace, then the problem is for people to get together and to leap governments ... to work out not one method but thousands of methods by which people can gradually learn a little bit more of each other," Eisenhower said during his White House Conference on Citizen Diplomacy.

A year later, Sister Cities International was founded. The nonprofit organization encourages sister-city partnerships between U.S. and international communities, answering Eisenhower's call to "promote peace through mutual respect, understanding and cooperation — one individual, one community at a time."

Chambless was introduced at an early age to the sister-cities program. His father, University of Utah political science professor Tim Chambless, worked in the late 1970s and early '80s for then-Salt Lake City Mayor Ted Wilson.

As Ross Chambless was growing up, the family often hosted the Japanese delegation and students who would visit Salt Lake City during the summertime as part of sister-city celebrations.

It wasn't until he moved to Matsumoto in 2004 to teach English, however, that Ross Chambless began to understand the significance of the relationship, he said.

"I was really taken by the relationship, and I wanted to explore it," Chambless said. "I was interested in telling an oral history using stories from people in Matsumoto and people in Salt Lake, recounting exchanges between various people in the two cities."

Chambless, who studied journalism at the University of Texas, spent about three years gathering photos, conducting interviews and sorting through letters to assemble the material needed to support the story he wanted to tell.

"I wanted to revisit this idea of people to people and show it more as a concept that was universally understood and embraced by people here in Salt Lake City and over there in Matsumoto," he said. "I wanted to show how that could be an effective method of people understanding each other."

Chambless also wanted to apply Eisenhower's idea of a people-to-people quest for peace to today's world and determine if and how it remains relevant.

That intrigued Leslie Kelen, executive director of the Center for Documentary Arts — one of the founding partners in The Leonardo art, culture and science center.

CDA has been producing traveling exhibits and documentary work — mostly focused on ethnic and minority communities — for about 25 years, Kelen said.

The idea of exploring how Salt Lake City and Matsumoto could forge and sustain a relationship in the post-World War II era was something Kelen said he wanted to see materialize.

CDA joined forces with Chambless and brought in exhibit designers and fabricators to create "Ceremonies." After its stay at the downtown library, the exhibit will travel to Salt Lake City schools, Kelen said.

"It's an intriguing educational opportunity," he said. "It's an opportunity to let young people sort of step into this relationship and see the potential of it."

Political leaders and guests from Matsumoto are scheduled to visit Salt Lake City July 22-26. A reception and dinner is planned for July 24 at the Wagner Jewish Community Center, 2 N. Medical Drive. The event gets under way at 6 p.m. For more information, call 801-535-7269.

E-mail: [email protected]