Karen Pence

Karen Pence, wife of the Vice President, was the keynote speaker at the Omaha Sister Cities Association Gala at UNO's Milo Bail Student Center on Sunday.

Karen Pence, wife of Vice President Mike Pence, showed off her singing and art skills for a crowd in Omaha on Sunday evening.

And she showed how both skills can be part of global diplomacy, from one citizen to another.

Pence spoke at the annual Omaha Sister Cities Association Global Gala fundraiser at the University of Nebraska at Omaha’s Milo Bail Student Center. She is an honorary vice chairwoman for Sister Cities International, and she advocates for world peace through ordinary citizens interacting with people from other countries.

Pence arrived in Omaha on Friday morning and attended a wedding while in town, her spokeswoman said.

At Sunday’s dinner, she described her own one-on-one diplomacy efforts as a retired art teacher, former first lady of Indiana and now as second lady of the United States.

As first lady of Indiana, Pence initiated several international exchanges, she said. And “art is an international language.”

In one of the exchanges, she encouraged third-graders from Lafayette, Indiana, to create self-portraits to give to third-graders in the city’s sister city in Japan. The portraits, called “Me Seeing My Favorite Things,” showed the children wearing sunglasses that reflected their favorite things.

Pence shared her version of the artwork, showing a reflection of a beach in her sunglasses.

In other cultural exchanges Pence has been part of, people shared books, literature and documents, which inspired her to ask some Japanese exchange students at Sunday’s event to sing a popular Japanese song with her.

She invited them onstage for a short chorus of the song before the 250 or so people attending.

Pence thanked the audience for supporting Sister City relationships. The cultural exchanges foster peace through mutual understanding, she said. The importance of that mission “cannot be overstated.”

“Citizen diplomacy” is the basis for Sister City relationships, which were started by President Dwight Eisenhower. That job, establishing connections and relationships with citizens of other countries, remains important, said Rob Hodson, board president of Omaha’s association.

“It’s a mission for our time,” he said.

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