Friday, September 11, 2009

Thoughts on a Multi-Cultural Society

I know I was not on the call and do not have a pulse of the conversations that went on but I will start where I am at in my questions and experience, which is a seed waiting to mature.

To be civilized in the next century we need to learn to deal with other cultures.”

(Goldbard, Arlene, New Creative Community, The Art of Cultural Development, pg., 49.)

I read New Creative Community by Arlene Goldbard in G1. Her book covers the aspects and angles of community cultural development and community-engaged art projects. My first essay on New Creative Community posed the question: Has our knowledge and use of technology become an illusion? I would love to hear some group thoughts about the relationship between technology and our society.

Goldbard says…Consumer culture is the "couch potato," the individual who has succumbed to the virtual existence available via remote-controlled television, eschewing the flesh-and-blood contact of social intercourse and direct participation in community life. (pg., 45)

My question in reading Goldbard's book for the Insider/Outsider Peer group is : How can we value different cultures in a multi-cultural society so that individual and group identities are supported and creativity embraced?

“Culture takes diverse forms across time and space. This diversity is embodied in the uniqueness and plurality of the identities of the groups and societies making up human kind.” (Goldbard, pg., 49.)

To be able to exchange ideas, innovation and creativity in a multicultural society we need to see, hear, and feel cultural diversity. Then maybe and I do believe we can, begin to understand that cultural diversity is an important building block in sustaining humankind. Simply engaging in a form of communication through personalities that are strong and charismatic, folks that have morals, and a vision to create equal opportunity may change the developing pockets of communities that become isolated, but for how long. Communities may still wonder what happened to their individual identity and also their group identity. I am specifically talking about New York City because I have lived in NYC and now work here. Yes, people are attracted to certain geographical areas and are drawn to like minded people (depending on economic factors, jobs, and other circumstances that can affect peoples choices), but are they comfortable, and do they have a voice in the larger community. In one of our meetings at Goddard, I remember Ju-Pong telling us about her experience in her neighborhood that was settled by Italians many years ago. Her story was very moving to me because I have seen the outsider/insider duality happen in NYC, especially outside of Manhattan in the other four boroughs. As a teaching artist in Queens, Brooklyn, and the Bronx, the outsider/insider story certainly exists and of course it does, we live in duality. I make it a point to go at least half an hour early to the school that I am teaching at and have breakfast with the kids and teachers. Through engaging in conversation and asking questions, I listen deeply to the issues that frustrate and bother community members and the teachers who do not live in the community but feel the tensions. Sometimes I can only read the body language because many people in these different communities do not speak english. (A lot of parents, aunts, uncles, and grandparents do not speak English.) I find the language barrier is the biggest frustration in getting a dialogue manifested. Teachers who are second generation Americans talk about the waves of different cultures that have settled in all five boroughs of NYC. In some areas the wave of different cultures entering the community has been positive and in some cases the reaction is quite negative. I have taken baby steps in my journey in developing a community engaged art practice, but those baby steps are the key to dancing with the insider/outsider waltz.

“An issue that remains completely unresolved is race relations-interracial and intercultural issues. So many schisms in this country have to be addressed and art is a useful platform to address and find solutions to these dilemmas.” (Goldbard, pg., 49.)

My passion and interest in learning, exploring and discovering how to collaborate with communities and be part of a community-engaged art project is to find a commonality within diversity. Not to change a culture but to bring an awareness of acceptance through creative expression. I hope that by collaborating with community members and facilitating a community based project that there can be a bridge that brings issues to light or dark, which may then embrace an individuals or groups sense of belonging alive and healthy even in the mist of confrontation. The outcome becomes an intention of welcoming differences as a way to grow, and prosper. I am discovering that in my project on laundry, (working title “Collective”) that everyday tasks that are done by just about everyone on the planet, but done differently can connect us in our humanness.

“We (who live in the United States) have a unique opportunity as a country to show how diverse people can live in a global culture. We have more cultural diversity than any other country.” (Goldbard, pg., 49.)

How can artists deeply assist in weaving cultural differences and begin to create spaces, experiences, and conversations that transform people’s perceptions and fears of one another?

Projects are beautiful and are always needed to create awareness and consciousness in communities where there are confrontations, challenges, and tensions but: How can we/I create lasting changes? Can we/I create lasting changes out of the confrontations, tensions, and challenges that occur between cultures and give new light to concerns that separate people?

How about the possibility of creating new myths and rituals? I know we have all thought about this before.

Tom Driver states in his book Liberating Rites, …the decline of ritual sensibility, particular in the Western industrialized nations, has become a threat to the survival of life on earth.

I ask these questions to myself because I am interested in new myths and rituals, but I would like to hear your thoughts, ideas, and opinions.

My title for packet 3 and the beginning of building a performance piece would be.

Equality in Diversity or Diversity in Equality. Just a seed thought staring to brew. I thought I would share my thought.

Thanks, Nancy

Work Cited:

Goldbard, Arlene, New Creative Community, The Art of Cultural Development, Oakland, CA., New Village Press, 2006

Driver, Tom F. Liberating Rites : Understanding the Transformative Power of Ritual. Boulder, Colo: Westview Press, 1998.


  1. Hi Nancy,

    What wonderful questions you pose with this entry.

    I wanted to talk to you first about the technology question you brought up. I think that technology is a double-edged blade. It has such an amazing power to connect people; but it also has the power to disconnect people from normal, face-to face human interaction.

    Technology has bridged gaps within communication. It has allowed us to correspond with each other from many different areas of the world - but I do think it has hindered social advancement to an extent.

    For example, a couple of years ago I was directing a production of "Pippin" at a local college. In the middle of rehearsal I glanced out into the house and saw a few of my actors on their laptops IM'ing friends and communicating online.

    I was blown away. I couldn't believe that these actors were not relishing in the goodness of conversation with each other. It was the first time I had really noticed that Technology had impaired people's abilities to just sit down and have a conversation.

    I wonder if at sometime in our near futures technology will be the standard vehicle for interaction (even more than it is now). I guess only time can tell.

    By engaging in our conversations both virtually and in-person, we can use our art to combat this reliance on technology and continue to have a positive influence on those communities in which we serve. We can promote social interaction that can help prevent "couch potatoism"

    Nancy, I am fascinated to know more about your experiences as an outsider through the teaching artistry you do as well as with the Laundry project.

    You had stated in your email to me that you constantly feel like the outsider. I wonder, is that okay? How do you think it would change the way in which you communicate and create if you were an insider?

    Just some thoughts for you my friend. :)

    I think that your work with this material is very important and is really helping you to ask some excellent questions.

    I can't wait to hear more on how this all continues to develop.

    Take care!

  2. Hi Nancy!

    Wonderful writeup, and wonderful questions! Those kinds of questions, I think, are why we're here at Goddard.

    I was inspired by Goldberg's book, but I also think that there can be valid community engaged art that doesn't have to be community cultural development, too. Like community theater, or many other things. Even smaller, more random acts of art that cause people to stop and think in a way that is outside of their normal pattern.

    Have you read the philosophy novel "Sophie's World"? One of the ideas in it is that, say, the earth is a white rabbit, and the great "mysteries" (or whatever you prefer to call it) is a magician pulling the rabbit out of a hat. The people live on the white rabbit, and philosophers (and artists often, too), have crawled out onto the tips of the rabbit hairs and are crying out "look! Look everyone, it's spectacular, unbelievable" while everyone is snuggled down into the rabbit fur (couch potatoism, like Fran said) asking to pass the butter and oh, did you hear that Mildred is pregnant? Our work as philosophers and artists is to try to pull at least some of those people further out onto the rabbit hairs so that they too can behold at least some of the mysteries.

    Many of your questions I was asking myself while reading Godlberg. I ask it often because, while I don't live in a place as diverse as NYC, here there is a great dicotomy of culture. There are the seasonal residents with their "cabin" mansions on the lakes and a few miles away an empoverished reservation of Ojibwa with gangs and meth and severe alcahaulism and violence. There is something wrong with this picture! As an artist, I would like to be a vehicle for change, but I really don't know how/what to do (and I know better than to think I can go in and "fix" things). Considering it's physically dangerous for young white women on the reservation (not to mention young Native women), what can I do? It's a very strange dilemma. If I work just with white people, that seems very one-directional and not a community conversation. How does one start on this journey?

    The technology thing is a very big issue in our era. I still have to laugh when fellow musicians can't believe that my instruments don't have plugins (what were they expecting of a medievalist?!). On the one hand, living in a rural area, technology is amazing for networking and staying connected and having educated conversations like this. The isolation might become oppressive otherwise. But on the other hand, technology can easily be abused. Think of technologies that were created to heal patients for medicine that were later turned to kill people in wars. But the communication bit is very scary. There are young people now who don't know how to carry on a conversation other than to text a message. What will happen to critical dialogue? And as a proponant of oral tradition, the loss of skill of verbal communication seems like the loss of a very basic human ability. I think that if this trend continues, we shall see an even greater level of depression in all ages. It is like the loss of common storytelling or singing. (How many people feel comfortable singing in public? Even if it's in a casual environment? People used to sing all the time). I loved how often Goldberg talked about using "story circles,"--that would be a great community tool.

    Thanks for your thoughts Nancy,

  3. Hi Laura,

    Thank you for your beautiful reponse. I love the metaphor of the earth being a white rabbit. The great mysteries to me are filled with so much spirit, knowledge and creativity/healing. If people could expand their lives with support and sincere direction (which is where I think artists can be of great service) some of these mysteries could possibly transform into hope, faith and understanding.
    Laura, it sounds like the split in our diverse country/cultures is the same all over just different characters in different environments. If only the split could begin to be a weaving of coming together instead of coming apart and clashing. It's like Susan said I am para step at a time. But if there is enough of us committed and can ride the ups and downs then the ripple in the pond can grow. Somewhere, I think its the law of the Universe:)
    "How does the journey start?"
    For me the journey started with children and arts-in-education. Now it has led me on a laundry journey. Just a thought: Can you as a farmer begin to make a connection on the Ojibwa reservation? I know it's rough with drugs and alcohol (I face this too). I didn't mention artist but farmer. Not to say that there are not artists as well as farmers on the reservation. (I know there is) But finding a commonality first and possibly building on that connection. These are just some thoughts in response to your questions.
    Thank you for your response. It is not easy, but we have to believe that however slow the journey may be things can change. I love the pauses that Susan is talking about. Take care, nancy

  4. "I would love to hear some group thoughts about the relationship between technology and our society." (nancy)

    Nancy I (mostly) adore the newest technologies. I embrace them. Perhaps this is defeatist of me, but I figure they are steamrolling society anyhow so why not take advantage as an artist/creative person?

    For example this blog is a result of new technology and bonds us in a way Goddard students could not bond before.
    Another example: our conference calls. Text messages to each other. Sharing videos and pics here. Then there is REF Works, Goddard Library, Goddard list serves, etc

    For grassroots democracy, too, technology has been an incredible plus. I have experienced first hand the power of activist blogs, mass emails, petitions, on-line newspapers becoming more powerful than printed ones. etc.

    Are there negatives? Yes of course, but I would say overall I work with the positives more than the negatives. In my neighborhood work, I noticed the thrill the senior citizens have when alone at night, using the new ability to post comments to blogs, for example. One can socialize 24-7 if one wants. One can also publish!

    My biggest fear is the "access" factor. As the internet becomes more and more controlled by corporate forces, will it become restricted to the poor? My fear is yes, but I might be wrong. I worry that the democracy that exists, for now, on-line will be squashed. For now, the relatively inexpensive access we have to the greater world via technology seems rather, if I may say, euphoric. triada

  5. Hi Triada,

    Thank you for your thoughts....I love them and do agree. Getting on the computer and working has been wonders for my Dad. For my Mom it has not worked so well. I do think that there needs to be manners with our new technology, especially the young folks. Corporate forces are sqaushing more then just technology:( They have their hands in everything. Have a great weekend.