I've thought a lot about how the arts contribute to (or work against) building empowered, civically engaged communities. The paradigm shift for me came when I was able to look into the community, the neighborhoods of everyday people around me, and see a vast well of creativity, culture, art and history. I no longer saw a cultural void or vacuum needing cleaning up, educating or the importation of great art and the cultural canons.
I believe that people are more engaged when they're respected for who they are and what they bring to the table. For cultural administrators, leaders and policy makers, it's more than the half-empty or half-full glass perspective. Contrary to most cultural institutional practices, I think it's about seeing opportunity to learn from the people around us, to foster exchange among them, to respect their cultural richness, and to nurture their creativity and talents. It's not about devising better packaging and marketing strategies for the artists we decide will be best for the community.
Some reluctant arrivals to the "multicultural movement" have simply substituted the idea of importing or imposing western European cultural norms with a wider menu of great cultural accomplishments, a view that still denies the self-worth and the existing cultural resources of their constituents and neighbors. It's not that masterful artistic achievements, Eurocentric or otherwise, aren't worth experiencing, it's that they're more meaningful to those who have their own sense of cultural self and self-worth.It's about understanding that people are interested in the cultures of others and in great artists, but are likely to shut down or turn away when these works are brought to them with the attitude that they are superior to their own cultural experience. Respectfully drawing out the creative and cultural assets of each person, and of communities of people, is a first step to sparking an expansive cultural dialogue.
Tuesday, July 10, 2007
Pointer: Tom Borrup
Every once in a while, I like to point my readers toward essays that I have found inspiring or stimulating. I prefer to do so without adding my own comments, in the hope that readers will offer their insights in my comments box without my having spun it first. This is from Tom Borrup's great essay "Toward Asset-Based Community Cultural Development: A Journey Through the Disparate Worlds of Community Building":