Open Dialogue IX
San Jose, California
In This Great Future You Can't Forget Your Past:
The Association of American Cultures in a Global Era
The fact that we have entered the Third Millennium is invariably used as a marker by which people in all disciplines project hope and/or expectations of things to come. Of course, hope and expectations are at the heart of all policy endeavors.
Hope and expectations are after all built around values. And values are rooted in ways of knowing and doing, or various traditions. However, hopes and expectations, and thus policy, become deeply problematic when various conflictive values compete within or for the same public space. Imagination, creativity and democratic aspirations are under such circumstances indispensable elements for overcoming stalemate and conflict, and achieving a commons.
Anticipation and excitement in the hope of new beginnings with a new century, not to think of the possibilities in a new millennium, can all too easily obscure the present moment in time. Too much attention to future focus can divert our minds from recent and more distant history. The long corridor of time, a thousand years to come, implicitly or explicitly, leads to comparisons, contrasts, and evaluations with past policies and developments. In turn, developments connected to past policies are implicated as positive or negative legacies in relation to what in the present moment is projected as desirous for the future.
Can or should, or how, we build on the policy foundations of the past to achieve future dreams and specific goals are questions invariably faced by each generation. The answers are directly connected to what policies we have inherited, and how, or if, we have successfully recrafted them to address today's realities.
For those unfamiliar with history, or who forget history, or who under value history, such transitional moments and possibilities as the new century or the new millennium, frequently seem imbued with soothing mystic power that disconnects us from the recent past and immediate time, and transports us into the ideal world of peace, harmony, and color/culture blindness.
Particularly susceptible to diversion or utopian visions are those who do not revisit, or who have forgotten, or perhaps those who want to forget, their own community/personal/or professional histories. So too are eager younger adults vulnerable as they become absorbed in the energies, grand hopes, and anxieties of their immediate quest to assume leadership roles, or to at least attain basic employment opportunities.
In memory and respect of hard and glorious times gone by, and the ongoing sacrifices being made as we gather today, I stand before you honored that peers in at least the last 35 years of 20th century struggles (and the first years of this new century) for racial, gender, and cultural democracy have invited me to share thoughts about cultural policy in the present and the period ahead. I am particularly pleased to share time with younger colleagues who have just entered, or who are emerging mid-career, in arts and culture professions and activism, ready and eager, and tested and wise, to assume the mantel of leadership for the unfinished agendas that we, dare I say, older folk, have left to them. On behalf of the elders, present and not present today, I think I can say that with the fortune of good health, we are ready to join in under your leadership and to contribute to and to learn from the agendas and tasks you set forth.
Although it is my voice speaking at today's keynote, our common values (freedom of expression, equality, justice, social responsibility, and respect for diverse creative visions and practices of excellence, and open Dialogue and democracy) bring us and bind us together, and allow me to speak and to listen, to contribute and to learn, to lead and to follow. Organized and implemented through multiple culturally–based approaches, these values convene us today, and have done so on many yesterdays, equally in this circle of collegiality called Open Dialogue. From those shared values and practices come our critical collaborative engagements on and across the many paths where we envision and create new worlds.
To those present who have been the teachers, guides, and confidants, during dire and amazing professional moments, and in times of challenging personal struggles and triumphs, I say thanks for steering us, for bearing with us, for not stepping away in our sometimes impatient, sometimes weak, sometimes conceited moments.
I offer praise to you for being with us and helping us to temper the joys of our victories so that we could keep our eyes on the tasks not finished and the ever-new emerging challenges and possibilities before us as individuals and before our communities.
We now know that no chasms of time are crossed without strong sturdy forerunners; no new mountains are scaled without pioneers who marked the terrain with signposts; and no successful futures are constructed without resort to past triumphs and failures. Thus, I have titled my remarks with that hopeful, but cautious instructive song phrase given to us by the late bard, Bob Marley: In This great Future, You Can't Forget Your Past: The Association of American Cultures in a Global Era.
The first three years of the New Millennium have already taken on a definite scale and tenor that encompasses and affects the entire globe. Atavistic in portrayal, and deeply rooted in past cultural policies, citizens, nations, and cultures are implicated in global governance policy as: "the Civilized against the Uncivilized".
We are witnesses, actors, and potential victims in a resurgence of ideological characterizations and forms of policy governance more remote than that faced by our parents. Despite all of our modern and post modern developments in science, the arts, culture, and democracy, we enter the new millennium with throwback concepts and a state of mind similar to what in organisms is usually due to a recombination of ancestral genes.
The post-9/11 paradigm shift back to the characterization of "Civilized against the Uncivilized" has reawakened malevolent genes of distant historical stages that our forbearers from many lands and cultures fought and eradicated, or more accurately, it seems, suppressed. However, as we enter the first years of the 21st century, the spirits of the ghost of slavery, colonialism, legal and morally sanctioned racism, sexism, and homophobia, and cultural and aesthetic supremacy seem to have recombined and become manifest in the social outlook and practice of a new generation of would be global leadership.
The Vice-President Select of the United States, one of the principle leaders of this country who revived the governance terminology the "Civilized against the Uncivilized", has declared that the war against terrorism will last for the rest of our lives whether we were old and feeble, young and creatively vibrant, or new born post-9/11.
In the face of such a daunting forecast and quickly evolving restrictive policies on human liberty and expression, one can all too easily surrender creativity or retreat into fantasy before the disturbingly violent present and projected bleak future. (I make this assertion even though we have just witnessed the highest court in this land preserve some of the gains against racism over the last 40 years, and advance new democratic protections against legally sanctioned homophobia. Both issues have been and remain of fundamental importance to the arts and culture community and to matters of cultural policy.)
In the midst of the U.S. Government-led world chorus to rout the uncivilized from among us, counter refrains of multi-cultural histories beckon us. They call not for retreat into some glorious individual or collective past of accomplishments to lighten the dark present moment or to cordon off the even more dismal future forecast by so-called leaders of the free world. Nor do the spirits of history call upon us to romanticize, essentialize, or to relativize all distinctive cultural expressions as simply equal and beneficial to the whole of human kind.
In our moment of great hopes and conflicts, we should recall that Bob Marley in his present-time inscribed in his transcendent song phrase a "great future." Thus, across time (historical, present, future) he instructs us to see eternal creative presents willfully emerging, from the promise of struggles and accomplishments of our various and collective pasts, into futures before our very eyes.
It is with that Marleyian vision, if we will, that we must see how the global moment, including the bloody implications of the global war against terrorism, repositions the role of culture and, thus, the arts, as transversal and transformative factors which intersect domains of governance, security, human rights, economics, and democracy.
In the context of a new moment, a new global present and world, our histories, our experiences, as path breakers, as crucibles of American cultural democracy can, and should, re-emerge in a democratic recombination of the values that originally motivated the Association of American Cultures. If not, the malevolent ghosts of the past, recombined in the present, claiming an indefinite future, will endanger global multicultural realities and creativity.
We are once again obliged to recall and act upon those community-based creative spirits, people-centered agencies, kept alive, vibrant, and adaptive by everyday folk and local institutions in our communities. Why? Because we once again can draw inspiration and strength from relearning how they through difficult and protracted time propelled themselves from the margins of official public arts and cultural spaces into the public commons bringing with them new waves of multicultural democratic expressions.
We need to periodically revisit, re-analyze, and re-document the history of restrictive normative values in human and budgetary resource allocations, and public institutional practices (or what is appropriately called social and cultural policies of the period) that we and those outside of our communities of color who also upheld cultural democratic values, critiqued, challenged, and changed. The spirits of those histories call on us today. So today, let us for a brief moment revisit our past as prelude to today's great futures. Let us ponder, ever so briefly, in broad stroke, some of the historical engagements from whence those spirits, those values and policies that we are discussing today, arose. Let us draw from them guidance to meet today's challenges and to imagine and craft tomorrow's world.
We need to pass on more thoroughly and systematically to a new generation of arts and culture professionals who are objectively, if not by their individual subjective designations, connected to a national and global citizenry, the lesson that the spiritual lives of our forbearers were bountiful in social values, creative visions, poetry, song, dance, and social ingenuity, despite the material depravities of official, legally segregated and discriminatory American life. The new crop of arts and culture professionals of color need to know, and we need to recall, that when we, and those who preceded us, graduated high school in the 50s through the late 60s, that thoughts of becoming professionals at the National Endowment for the Arts or the National Endowment for the Humanities, or state arts or humanities councils, or leaders in philanthropic foundations were nearly unthinkable, not simply because some of those institutions may not yet have come on line, but because the barriers of racial and cultural segregation were so grounded in official restrictive social, intellectual, and aesthetic traditions of American democracy. They and we need recall that imitation of European civilization and its adherents, not creativity based on the distinct multi-cultural traditions of our parents and forbearers, was generally the most liberal democratic goal to which a few might be helped to attain in official public arts and cultural spaces. Faces of color, not to mention their aesthetic and cultural traditions, were so few in general public arts and cultural spaces.
Many present today are among the generation who harvested the first fruits of the labor and sacrifices of the thousands of men and women of color (preachers, teachers, janitors, maids and gardeners, professors, migrant farm workers, lawyers and doctors) who tilled and seeded public grounds to uproot racial and cultural discrimination and segregation, and tended, produced, and brought to the public marketplace of the arts and ideas a theretofore unseen, only hoped for, new crop of democratic creativity and expressions. No doubt, there were forerunners. But many of us here today are among that generation that inherited the legacies and promises to take up their work and to deliver the qualitative democratic opening for multicultural expressions and diversity in American public spaces.
Against this backdrop we emerged, a new generation, reflecting the determination, courage, and aspirations of the domestic democratic movements against American apartheid. These movements would not only cross the historic color line dividing black and white, but also cross the generally nationally unacknowledged, but locally and regionally life-defining color and culture lines in public space institutions that marginalized Native Americans, Latinos, Asian-Pacific Americans, Gays and Lesbians, and Transgendered and Bisexual people.
The unifying slogan Black and White Together on the one hand highlighted and challenged the predominant socio-racial and cultural construct of American identity, as well as the official sanctioned divisive and systemic discriminatory nature of public space culture. On the other hand, progress achieved by public activism among artists, intellectuals and cultural workers of all sorts in conjunction with traditional civil rights advocates opened the way for the emergence and formal recognition of centric or multicultural identities, and equity struggles. Emergence and formal recognition, if not full acceptance, of multicultural perspectives was exemplified, and is today, in establishment of university studies and research programs, and in increased general public space exhibitions, plays, publications and other arts and cultural programs by and/or about people of color, and about sexual orientation.
In effect, constructs of multiculturalism and more complex possibilities and social goals reflective of actual culturally distinct lived lives became the main point of public discourse in arts and cultural and social policy for an extended period. So in 1985, The Association of American Cultures could state with confidence born from pride of hard won experience that "Today, …ethnic and cultural heritage is increasingly recognized as a distinctive element of the American character, and Americans are coming to terms with different life styles, and value systems within society."
A new more culturally diverse moment in American history arose out of direct confrontation between two different, antagonistic, and practiced value systems. Each perspective, despite many commonalities, proffered different aesthetic and interpretive values, different lines of conduct, different courses of action, and thus each led to different results. In sum, catalyzed by the "black/white" conflict, a de facto cultural policy struggle occurred on a national scale, encompassing all aspects of social and cultural discrimination, resulting in fundamental changes in this nation, with worldwide reverberations. Race, gender, age, culture, even class distinctions to an extent, received thematic and organizational attention in arts and cultural policy institutions.
We are the inheritors of that legacy. We are among the firsts few hundreds who crossed over into the theretofore legally segregated, almost inpenetratable, arts and culture official mainstream. But we remained connected to and nourished by local grassroots cultural communities.
For most of us, not knowing exactly which way forward, but knowing that a way forward had to be made, and that if it was to be, we would have to do, pursuits in the arts and culture offered ways forward. We drew upon the creative agencies of or communities that all the negative –isms of American life could not deprive or eradicate from our parents. And we are of the generations who raised those creative expressions to unprecedented levels of professional aspirations and work in the general public institutional spheres of American life.
It is a rich past of The Association of American Cultures; it derives from rich cultural streams that flowed against deep and strong, vigilantly, induced cultural barriers in our nation. The national cultural policy change in which we were involved, while contributing to unprecedented change in the public institutional spheres of official American life and culture, also attracted global attention and connected with other tributaries of cultural democracy policy work, especially among marginalized nations, ethnic groups, and arts and cultural institutions in other areas of the world.
Today, cultural diversity policy issues with which we dealt over the last quarter of the 20th Century emerge anew in the U.S. and around the world. Cultural diversity provides context and instrumentation to address issues of respectful and equitable inclusion of diverse arts and cultural traditions in national and global institutions. New, hopefu,l culturally diverse statecraft policies are being debated and crafted to address issues of official national identity, development and poverty reduction, conflict resolution and national and global security, and cultural and commercial exchange among nations. Arts and cultural festivals figure prominently in conflict resolution projects.
Although the term policy may not have had today's currency and formality in U.S. public and statecraft discourses, in 1983 The Association of American Cultures soon to be founders, de facto, entered the cultural policy arena that year when "47 people from 13 states participated in the identification, clarification, and prioritization of issues" about the theme of cultural pluralism. The theme had been formally addressed but unresolved in deliberations three months earlier at a conference of the National Assembly of State Arts Agencies. Two years later, at its creation in 1985 at Open Dialogue II, The Association of American Cultures advanced a course, or cultural policy direction by "creation of an organization whose purpose would be to continue convening the 'open Dialogue' and to act as an advocate for the support of artists and arts organizations who were concerned with the preservation of their culturally specific identities through the arts."
That analysis of a growing cultural democracy in the country (the heart of which was self-expression by excluded communities and individuals in local and national public spaces) moved the Association of American Cultures into the arena of policy implementation with its declaration to "act as an advocate for the support of artists and arts organizations who were concerned with the preservation of their culturally specific identities through the arts." Listen to that echo in today's advertisement of the Smithsonian Institution's fellowships and intern opportunities: "as part of its mandate 'for the increase and diffusion of knowledge,' including the diverse ideas, skills, and cultures of our nation, the Smithsonian institution pursues policies of equal opportunity and diversity."
That brief return to some historical, foundational values, and developments, I believe, well illustrates the arts and culture environment from which emerged new, radical, multi–definitional understandings of arts and culture, and new path setting terminologies, cultural policies, and practices. There should be no question that the Association of American Cultures was among the principal actors who opened the way to today's cultural policy practices and debates.
Compare, for example, today's global cultural policy discourse about corrosive, erosive, and homogenizing threats to local and national cultures posed by market approaches or commodification of culture to The Association of American Cultures' Open Dialogue II topical panel "recognizing quality from a cultural perspective" (a topic addressed by clement price, Dai Sil Kim Gibson, Nicolas kanellos, Robert lee, Peter Jemison, Alvin Baptiste, and Amina Dickerson). All of them continued and continue today to do outstanding work to ensure inclusive public space norms that acknowledge and support diverse cultural communities.
However, the principle of recognizing quality from diverse cultural perspectives is today confronted with a crass market driven paradigm. The absolutist market approach is insensitive to non-market quality indicators like the assertion that public space cultural diversity in the arts and culture is a public good; and thus, if diversity is good for the commonweal (the general welfare) non-market policy measures and resources must be developed to support artistic and cultural diversity.
In contrast to much of today's U.S. mainstream cultural policy emphasis (exclusively so in some cases) on increased budgetary resources for the arts and culture, the Association of American Cultures and related organizations of an earlier era premised new cultural policy on:
- Respectful acknowledgement of the principles of cultural diversity and equity, and on understanding and acceptance of the collateral human values to be reaped from implementation of those principles
- Democratization of standards of excellence and merit to reflect and to ensure identification of a culturally diverse talent pool from which followed selection of culturally diverse leadership on boards, within the ranks of the highest decision-making levels and staffs of arts and culture institutions and organizations—all necessary steps to include, understand, and reward the breadth of artistic and cultural excellence in multicultural America,
- Allocation of budget resources to reflect in expenditures and programs the stated commitment to a new, more democratic multicultural policy practice.
I believe, from my direct experiences, that many mainstream U.S. institutions and cultural policy organizations are today reluctant to discuss and/or emphasize the dramatic changes shaped by cultural diversity policies in the last 25 year calculus of arts and cultural policy. Perhaps, avoidance and/or under evaluation of the recent history of cultural democracy policy is due to still too few people of color in these institutions, and too little consistent internal and public discussion among that few and heretofore allies in deliberations of institution-wide policies.
The Association for American Cultures argument for radical change in arts and culture policy was not to secure sectarian or mere community-specific interests. The argument was advanced in the interests of inclusion of all communities for the benefit of the entire nation; it was not today's frequent essentialist American (singular), happy go lucky, conflict-free, cultural diversity officially advertised by the U.S. State Department and many mainstream arts/culture institutions. Rather, like what is occurring today in South Africa, Brazil, and other places, what the Association for American Cultures sought was respectful public acknowledgement and honest, collaborative mediation of the complicated, sometimes conflict ridden arts and culture national policy which impacted our lives.
Today, 2003, cultural policy discourses formally abound across the spectrum of important life matters, possibly as never before in the U.S. No longer strictly confined to arts and culture arenas, narrowly defined by disciplinary tenants, our work is on the front lines of national, regional, and global discourses about identity, conflict resolution, and social and economic development. In the United States we have witnessed a decade or so of intensified focus, fueled by interests from arts and culture foundations that has resulted in establishment of cultural policy centers and cultural policy university based research and study programs, and proliferation of printed materials and websites of all sorts.
Why is this the case? The cultural wars in which the National Endowment for the Arts figured so prominently are surely a catalytic factor. Threats from conservative politicians and arts and intellectual circles to dismantle the National Endowments for the Arts and Humanities stimulated bipartisan policy attention (especially in the arts) to preserve Federal-funding support. Liberal supporters of the endowments did not find effective ways to discuss or explain the underlying aesthetic and interpretive conflicts that led to the controversy. Despite the radical democratic advances in public space participation achieved by implementation of cultural diversity policies, the topic of diversity is largely avoided today in historical summaries and future planning of some of the more prominent policy researchers, foundations, museums, and arts and culture policy centers.
Among other reasons for the evolution of cultural policy, I give attention to the fact that we have entered a global era defined by objective measurements of cultural integration which in turn has produced new types and intensities of cultural conflict, cultural hybridization, and exhaustion of old de facto or de jure cultural policy paradigms. Not unlike the era following defeat of American public space segregation, this new global stage of integration threatens to banish, absorb, and/or recast non-western traditions through the lens of western socio-cultural values and religious institutions (recall the decline in Black social-cultural institutions with defeat of legal public space segregation and the rise of integration).
This ominous reading of corporate globalism does not exclude from the general scene examples of an expanding, vibrant multicultural flow of traditions and contemporary expressions. Cultural diversity does indeed exist, and in certain instances it thrives, on the margins and in the background of the larger scenario of homogenization. Despite ongoing expressions of diversity across the globe, national and global public commons, by almost any definition, where peoples from distinct backgrounds meet, are increasingly an undifferentiated commercial market culture driven by monopoly media messages, accented with tidbits of cultural pluralism.
Among the objective factors contributing to the trend towards a commercially driven undifferentiated public commons is information technology, and media industries increasingly controlled by conglomerates that allows for those countries (and elite sectors within countries) with advanced communication platforms (radio, television, print media, film, and digital technology) to swamp and dominate those countries and communities with lesser or no information technology and/or media industry base.
While sanctimonious, zealous proponents of unilateral actions, advance their brand of uniform social, cultural, religious, and economic values, to be benignly promoted around the world, and forcefully imposed if resisted, a counter hegemonistic cultural movement articulated by civil society groups and governments advocating a multifaceted, culturally diverse, democratic alternative is underway. Globalization from below offers potentially significant democratic advances despite the highly subjective, antiquated notions of global governance revived in the slogan of the civilized against the uncivilized. Although, we should not dismiss or underestimate the accompaniment of this slogan by military, social, political, economic, and cultural notions (and actions) of a new American global empire.
I suggest that the Association of American Culture, starting with local and national concerns, become more actively involved with perspectives and practices in arts and cultural movements and projects emanating from globalization from below.
Let me list and briefly review some of the global context and important cultural policy issues about which I urge that the Association of American Cultures become more aware of and actively involved in.
UNESCO Cultural Diversity Policy:
In 1998, UNESCO held a major conference in Stockholm—Sweden on the topic "Culture and Development." At the request and orchestration of a senior African American women diplomat I attended the government and civil society events of the conference as the cultural advisor to the influential unofficial American State Department delegation (the Sister stated that she wanted to ensure that issues of race and gender were given due consideration).
In my estimation, the UNESCO Stockholm conference was a watershed moment because it explicitly set forth a policy orientation to confront the egregious corporate, market-oriented and homogenizing dimensions of globalization. The conference implored citizens and government representatives to re-direct the enormous democratizing potential of the imagination, creativity, skills, tools, and institutions of globalization to preserve, enhance, and equitably promote and exchange local, regional, and national cultures on a global scale. And to do so in ways that would include and benefit majorities of people within and among nations and not just elites.
The Association of American Cultures should become familiar with calls for support of cultural diversity being advanced in UNESCO, the Organization of American states, and the International Network for Cultural policy (50 plus ministers of culture who have in contact with civil society organizations developed a legal instrument to protect and advance cultural diversity against the commercial/product and services paradigm of the world trade organization.) The world trade organization was established in 1995 under the leadership of the U.S. Because the U.S. Does not have a Ministry of Culture the U.S. State Department via trade officials connected to the WTO process organize and guide much of U.S. civil society participation in deliberations of multilateral bodies focused on the intersection of arts/culture policy and commerce.
The Association of American Cultures should consider advocating for cultural diversity in multilateral forums like UNESCO and the Organization of American States, and participation in arts and culture civil society organizations like the International Network for Cultural Diversity (see: www.incd.net). To do so immediately would be most important as the U.S. Government reenters UNESCO.
The Association of American Cultures might begin to connect to the global cultural policy arena by giving attention to the following topics:
Especially important to the subject of cultural policies are those dimensions of globalization that address the intersection of national and global life ways and identities. From this intersection of lived national and extra-national experiences, significantly related to media technology, emerges the practice and concept of trans-national identities and loyalties. For example, cultural remittances flow with and without weekly or bi-monthly electronic bank transmittals of monies to families back home in the Caribbean, Latin America, Africa, Asia, etc. Therein are reflected deep and important arts and culture policy issues that local and national arts and culture institutions must consider.
Today, between U.S. based citizens and residents and citizens of other countries, what heretofore was a more formal lived distinction reflected in the word "foreign" (a word for me that is increasingly less useful and more politically charged) there are more dynamic, interactive, and engaged common projects (for good and bad ends) grounded in culture via media and communication technology. Virtual cultural communities and projects are increasingly established and implemented via the Internet, notwithstanding the digital divide. Expanded imaginations of self-capacity and new more prosperous lives is stimulating ingenuity among ordinary people to traverse the globe and resettle and establish community to such an extent that cultural diversity is impacting all dimensions of statecraft. So, as Nestor Garcia Canclini of Mexico, by way of Argentina, tells us, the first world is in the second and third worlds, and second and third worlds are in first worlds, and so on goes the global interaction.
The main point in summary is that today arts and cultural expressions in their natural expansions and organic social and cultural connections do not so neatly adapt, as in the not-to-distant past, to legal land-based borders, or harmonious, more often than not, official (essentialist/undifferentiated) constructions or definitions of national identities and cultures. The lived arts and culture lives of citizens, including citizen-artists and intellectuals, across national borders and official national identities are increasingly, in fact, challenging official local and national arts and culture institutions to adjust policy in response to regional and global realities.
Terminology and Intent:
Through direct experience on boards and with projects, I have noted and addressed cooptation, conscious and/or inadvertent, of terminology that guides critically important cultural policy debates. I note briefly two examples:
(A) We should resist co-optation of the term or concept of cultural diversity to narrowly address protection of national cultural industries (audio-visual media). Asymmetrical relations of power in capital and media infrastructure have resulted in policies that call for "cultural exceptions" and support of cultural subsidies in trade accords among nations. Differentials in capacity to promote the culture(s) of one's nation have resulted in use of quotas for national program content on national film screens and television, and special dispensations from global trade accords in support of national capital media ownership.
In general, I think these are reasonable qualifications to protect and promote cultural diversity among nations. However, close examination of the real political sociology and functioning of this particular (narrow-cast) construct of cultural diversity is in the main narrowly self-interested, and thus, cause for public alarm and action.
The premise (one I propose that The Association of American Cultures support) should be that legal protection of national audio-visual media, under the rationale of promotion of cultural diversity and national identity, must be unconditionally related to recognition and inclusion of the strands of diversity among a nation's citizens and long-term residents. Promotion and inclusion of cultural diversity within countries is a prerequisite for establishing legal conditions for protection of cultural diversity among countries. To this end, audio-visual industries must encompass a broader definition of cultural diversity and national policies that promotes diverse national media ownership, diversity in employment, diversity in program content, and diversity in news and information that reflects and benefits cultural diverse communities that comprise official national cultural identity. Cultural diversity policies must also include affirmative steps to address inequities among national cultural groups and among nations. This truly multicultural approach within nations should avoid essentialist definitions and recognize evident global identity relations or transnational connections. In affect, internal diversity is a prerequisite that leads to equitable global exchange of cultural diversity among nations.
Too few cultural industry representatives and organizations embrace a broader concept of cultural diversity in the debates about culture and commerce. Many among audio-visual media industries have separated their elaborations about culture and their organizing and lobbying efforts from those of the more encompassing arts and culture civil society groups. Therein is the source of the civil society concern that audio-visual media industries are mostly, if not solely, interested in maintaining the cultural status quo and protection of national market share in global competition in their industry. Nor should the narrow concept and principle of cultural diversity allow elite minority strata in marginalized and discriminated cultural communities to exclude diverse experiences and viewpoints within their racial or cultural-specific communities—as has come to be the case with much of African-American owned radio stations (see the on-line Black Commentator magazine article Who Killed Black Radio? which points the finger at Black ownership that used the struggle for mass civil rights to acquire radio outlets for elite profit gains at the expense of news that reflects interests and informs aspirations of the general Black public. The issue of wholesome cultural programming was a constant subject of critique in the Black community when Bob Johnson owned Black Entertainment Television. And the same issue of diversity arose some years ago in U.S. Latino television.
(B) The Association of American Cultures should become active in clarification of terminology as relates to the distinctions and intersections in arts and culture policy. Some of the more strategically placed discourses in recent years about what is termed cultural policy in the U.S. focuses almost exclusively on the arts, therein, limiting comprehension of both arts and culture, and related policy. For example, I would argue that the culture wars involving the National Endowment for the Arts (Serrano and Piss Christ, etc.), and exhibitions at the Smithsonian Institution (beginning with the West as America exhibition at the Smithsonian National Museum of American Art) were more about cultural-humanities interpretations than about art aesthetics.
In an attempt to increase arts budgets, I have observed a disturbing trend among arts institutions and advocates who avoid discussion about intrinsic values of the creative arts by emphasizing the social value of the arts in terms of economic benefits; or by primary association of the arts with more pragmatic disciplinary discourses e.g. Children trained at an early age in dance, music, or visual arts exhibit better competencies in the gateway educational subjects of math and science. In other words, despite the fact of collateral social benefits, such rationales forego or lack capacity to articulate the inherent nature and value of the arts to achievement of higher human purpose. Stimulation and enhancement of human imagination and individual creativity among all citizens and especially the young is not, I feel, sufficiently asserted as a societal value worthy of general support without primary regard for budget or market bottom line.
Who are Americans in the 21st Century?
Briefly, post 1965 immigration policies and global migratory trends, and aforementioned media and technology factors require re-examination of racial, ethnic, and cultural policy categories. Cultural policy needs to reflect more dynamic understanding of constituent elements of, for examples, African-American and Latino/Hispanic communities, among others. And in view of legal Homeland Security cultural profiling measures, and related religious hate and discrimination, and language and culturally related clothing identity issues, the Association of American Cultures needs to prioritize interaction with Arab and Muslim communities in the U.S. be they citizens or residents.
What then is Cultural Policy?
I have talked about policy as identified values and goals that lead to organization, employment, operative procedures, and budget allocations to achieve specific goals. I have suggested understanding arts policy as an element of a larger construct of cultural policy, but an element that deserves distinct policy treatment, out of recognition that artists in all societies, historical and contemporary, are recognized formally and informally as a special creative sector in the human family.
In other words, I have discussed cultural policy as normative practice in the arts and culture that grows, or should grow, out of historical review of antecedents, be periodically and systemically informed by the socio-cultural realities, complexities, and connections of contemporary global life, and supportive of imaginative futures.
I want to conclude by complicating the subject by briefly addressing the factor of agency in development of cultural policy—who makes, implements, and evaluates policy. Generally the domain of policy, any type of policy, is understood more formally as the sphere of governance. And of course, governance presupposes those who govern, those who are governed, directly or through indirect means, by a special body.
Democratic governance policy implies a course of action intended to benefit the people, the multitude represented by elected and/or appointed specialists—cultural policy specialists in this instance. A hierarchy and linear concept of formulators/implementers, and recipients is suggested by the aforementioned policy approach, although public consultation is presumed via periodic elections or more qualified means. This approach to policy might be referred to as a "provide arts and culture to the people" approach. It sees culture generally as a product, at times, a process, to be transmitted to the people by artists and intellectuals, not an inherent human capacity of creativity and self-expression to be stimulated and nurtured on a mass level. Thus, cultural policies are designed to expose and/or deliver culture to the public, rather than to give primary attention to citizens, especially among the young, understanding that they are culture thinking and producing beings; that they are recipients of creative legacies despite social and economic disparities; therefore, in appreciation of their own imaginations and creativity, limited as they may be in particular cases, they can learn to appreciate other, more developed imaginative worlds, processes, and products be they artistic, analytic-interpretive, skill development, or product making.
Globalization discourses talk about and illustrate another approach to agency in cultural policy development that is useful to our exploration of all policy development in a global era: Globalization from Below, a concept, which I see unfolding anew in the arena of cultural policy (See: Global Visions: Beyond the New World Order, edited by Jeremy Brecher, John Brown, and Jill Cutler.
Simply put, globalization from below suggests a more collegial, interactive, collaborative, partnership approach among citizens/residents, citizen-artists, professional cultural workers and cultural policy makers in grants institutions, statecraft, arts and culture service organizations, corporate entities, and political representatives. A non-hierarchical, horizontal, integrative vs. a vertical, top-down decision-making process and authority distinguishes the two approaches. Democracy in the globalization from below construct is rooted fundamentally in aspirations and creativity of citizens. It is a concept weighted more to participatory than formal representative democracy.
Organizations like the International Network for Cultural Diversity, of which I am a member, is a network of networks organized around common values and principles, but attempting its work through diverse, culturally based, modes of organizing and decision-making. This type of approach is a real democratic challenge to the hierarchical modus operandi in which most are trained and work. Thus, culturally diverse understandings of culture, of policy, and of diversity are simultaneously in conflict and in search of practical and collegial common ground, suffering growing pains as each constituency in the whole seeks real-time participatory space and advancement of cultural-specific goals, and actualization of a common human project that encompasses but cuts across cultures.
All of this is occurring through struggles over meanings of arts and culture, excellence and merit, in the midst of collegial work to operationalize the national or local project they seek through their ongoing negotiation. Paradoxical yes! It is indeed a task of using conflict-ridden histories, clashing values in arts and culture as the bases to achieve common values and a common local and/or national multicultural present and future project.
The seeming paradox of unity in search of new meaning, of doing in search of common goals, that on the surface characterizes much of what is happening on the global cultural policy front, I think simply re-situates The Association of American Cultures in its beginnings/histories, where people from diverse cultures, in search of professional lives in the general public arena, drew upon the varied riches of everyday creative expressions in the lived lives of their respective communities to create an artistic and cultural commons. Cultural policy making from a Dialogueical vs. a hierarchical approach comes to the fore again, this time on a global scale.
The Association of American Cultures is an experienced forerunner about much of what is unfolding in inner-connected dimensions of local, national, regional and global realities.
The Association of American Cultures is an organization that must move to the center of all pertinent art/culture/policy/governance discourses. It must identify and assist young adults to assume leadership. It must advance the interests of its various communities and also contribute to national, regional, and global arts/culture work and to global democracy within and among nations and peoples.
In a global era in which peoples and cultures of the world are cast in the U.S. political imagination and treated in U.S. Statecraft as the "Civilized against the Uncivilized", impacting public policy on the American arts industry, a first principle of The Association of American Cultures Dialogue, is of critical importance to projection and creation of a just, culturally diverse, future at home and abroad. To become more fully involved, the Association for American Cultures perhaps, needs but consider the motive of its original organization, eloquently encapsulated in the poetic counsel of a mighty organizer/forerunner, A. Philip Randolph:
At the banquet table of nature there are no reserved seats. You get what you can take, and you keep what you can hold. If you can't take anything, you won't get anything; and if you can't hold anything, you won't keep anything. And you can't take anything without organization.
James Early is Director of Cultural Heritage Policy at the Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage Smithsonian Institution (www.folklife.si.edu). He is also a member of the Steering Committee of the International Network for Cultural Diversity (www.incd.net), and a member of the advisory board of the Free Press Media Reform Network (www.mediareform.net)