Cultural Equity: It is not our differences that divide us, it is our inability to recognize, accept and celebrate those differences. ~Audre Lorde

What is Cultural Equity and what role does the federal government play in it?

Access and Justice for all…

From a grantmaker: These Cultural Equity grants are offered in the spirit that all people who make up the city ought to have fair access to information, financial resources and opportunities for full cultural expression, as well as opportunities to be represented in the development of arts policy and the distribution of arts resources; that all the cultures and subcultures of the city are represented in thriving, visible arts organizations of all sizes; that new large-budget arts institutions whose programming reflects the experiences of historically underserved communities flourish. The historically underserved communities named in these guidelines—Native Americans, Asian American, African American, the Disabled, Latino, L/G/B/T, Pacific Islander, Women—have been so identified by the legislation which created Cultural Equity Grants for the specific purpose of the Cultural Equity Grants Program and not for any other purpose.

From Marta Vega: Advocates of cultural equity seek to advocate for the equitable distribution of funds and other resources to under-resourced and underserved emerging and midsized organizations grounded in the culture and arts of their communities.

Arts On Foot: representing the Flashpoint Gallery
Arts On Foot: representing the Flashpoint Gallery: Sol y Soul performing – background me helping with hosting a tent in the “Cultural Corridor.”

“The struggle for cultural equity would be a defining issue of the 21st century”

A interesting article I read about cultural equity defines terms up front. I found that helpful due to the confusing nomenclature used in Arts Policy.  Speakers often use very similar terms to describe very different ideas or use the same term to mean very different things.  “Each forumbegan by clarifying terms. “Culture” was defined as the distinctive spiritual, intellectual, emotional and material traditions and features of a people, and “equitable” defined as meaning fair and just. As a matter of principle, then, all cultures had the inherent right to develop, expecting fair and just treatment in relationship to all other cultures”.  I would have to agree with the statement above, we all have the inherent right to our own culture. I firmly believe that state, local and community governments have a strong role to play, and that federal grants that go to the local level for administration are the way to approach this issue. The federal government is responsible to promote broad, national and international programs with broad objectives such as national security.  At the federal level, the government has a role in civil rights as well. It does not have an administrative role in community based cultural organizations though; those decisions need to be left to each community.

In seeking to make practical use of our understanding of the United States’ cultural policy students quickly come to realize there are no easy answers.  Who should get the federal money? A presence in the United States’ large cultural institutions? What or who represents a community’s culture?  What are the goals and objectives; if these cannot be clearly articulated how can policy be made?

Perhaps the new Obama administration will address the issues:  “At the invitation of the National Association of Latino Arts and Culture, on May 7, 2009, Voices leaders traveled to the White House to meet with Obama administration officials including Kareem Dale, special advisor to the President and White House arts and culture liaison; Stephanie Valencia, White House Office of Public Engagement; Yosi Sargent, National Endowment for the Arts communications director; and Jodi A. Gillette, deputy associate director of the Office of Intergovermental Affairs. They discussed existing cultural policy as well as promising opportunities for artists and cultural activists to help revitalize communities. The White House staff members were attentive during the discussions and affirmed that this meeting would be the first of more meetings to come. Voices leaders will discuss their take on administration policy at the Grantmakers in the Artsdisenfranchisement conference in Brooklyn, N.Y., October 18-21, 2009.

The objective of Cultural Equity policy is justice for decades of exculsion.  Justice for all is a pillar of democracy; how can there not be a role for the government here?  How do we get there and how much of the country’s ‘cultural dollars’ go toward this goal?  Clearly cultural equity is a lofty goal to pursue; the hard part will be in defining where it fits into the current administrative structure or in creating new structures for addressing the issue, defining procedures for it, and selling, to the general public, the use of federal dollars for cultural groups who have been traditionally denied access and resources.  They are not main stream, we can’t be sure if what they are doing is Art, we can’t agree on the benefits of such an expenditure…

Perhaps it begins with grassroot support, within communities, and it grows.  However, the government could choose to assist. Just as Cultural Diplomacy set out to break barriers and misconceptions through cultural exchange outside of our national borders, Cultural Equity can work toward a very similar goal bringing people together through art within our own borders.  Peace and unity just might begin at home and spread through out the world.  If the ‘tossed salad’ or ‘smorgasbord’ that is the United States can use art and cultural exchange to create harmony within communities that no longer fit into the ‘melting pot’ framework perhaps we will be true world leaders.

Until then, lets get the dialogue moving and test the waters. There have been some great successes- with and without the aid of the government funding.  It’s up to each of us to turn off the tv for one night a week, get down to the nearest arts organization, and make our voices heard; actions speak louder than words. Just Do It! If you want a culturally vibrant community, do something. Often government policy follows community action.

Just as early US cultural funders had to be creative or covert with funding, it is possible that funding for these cultural centers and projects can come from unconventional budgeting methods.

Why is culture critical to the health of communities and how can we 1) make that case, and 2) infuse culture into the community functions to promote community-wide health? What are the potential benefits and pitfalls in this work? Who is doing this work successfully?

If culture is woven, for example into community initiatives how do we envision culture playing a role in the community’s desired educational outcomes, and human services outcomes, economic development outcomes, housing, social justice outcomes, etc.?

What is the instrumental value of the arts in other sectors? If we can answer these questions we are well on the way to finding funding! (questions from http://www.giarts.org/ ).

Further Readings : What’s really going on in this arena?!

http://americansforthearts.org/animatingdemocracy/reading_room/reading_021.asp

http://americansforthearts.org/animatingdemocracy/pdf/programs/santafe_convening_report.pdf

http://www.nea.gov/research/NEA-SPPA-brochure.pdf

http://www.solysoul.com/

http://www.constellationtheatre.org/ramayana.html

http://www.artsonfoot.org/

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