Cultural Democracy

Cultural Democracy: The Arts, Community, and the Public Purpose

James Bau Graves
Copyright Date: 2005
Pages: 272
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.5406/j.ctt1xckdg
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  • Book Info
    Cultural Democracy
    Book Description:

    Cultural Democracy explores the crisis of our national cultural vitality, as access to the arts becomes increasingly mediated by a handful of corporations and the narrow tastes of wealthy elites. Graves offers the concept of cultural democracy as corrective--an idea with important historic and contemporary validation, and an alternative pathway toward ethical cultural development that is part of a global shift in values. _x000B__x000B_Drawing upon a range of scholarship and illustrative anecdotes from his own experiences with cultural programs in ethnically diverse communities, Graves explains in convincing detail the dynamics of how traditional and grassroots cultures may survive and thrive--or not--and what we can do to provide them opportunities equal to those of mainstream, Eurocentric culture.

    eISBN: 978-0-252-09140-7
    Subjects: Art & Art History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Appreciation
    (pp. ix-xiv)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-22)

    “What does your community need to keep its culture vital and meaningful?”¹

    In 1994, I posed the question to a group of elders from Watt Samaki, a Cambodian Buddhist temple in Portland, Maine. We were seated on hundred-pound sacks of rice in the back room of an Asian grocery, sipping soy drinks and passing a paper plate of shrimp crackers. The group was agitated by what they viewed as the rapid deterioration of their community and troubled by a sense of isolation from the local mainstream. They were also a little mystified as to why a white bureaucrat was concerned...

  5. 1 Communion
    (pp. 23-40)

    Early in my career as a facilitator of community cultural programs, I thought it might be possible to build some social bridges between Portland’s African American community and our newcomer population of African refugees.¹ They are all of African descent, I figured, so they must share some common cultural roots. Surely, the African Americans will have an interest in probing a piece of their own heritage; and the Africans, I imagined, would have a compulsion to connect with their American cousins.

    We convened a planning meeting in the basement of the local AME Zion Church, inviting everybody we knew in...

  6. 2 Tradition and Innovation
    (pp. 41-61)

    Community heritage comes to ground in tradition. Tradition needs continuous innovation to maintain its vitality. Tradition and innovation are synergetic opposites; neither can stand alone, since they both provide justification for their counterpart’s existence. Given the slippery definitions and complex interactions that characterize the community setting, how does this dynamic work?

    First, identity is inseparably bound to tradition. The accumulated attitudes, assumptions, beliefs, and prejudices that constitute the self-image of a particular group of people in a particular place and time are the fruits of tradition. The ways people view the world, think about its events, and discuss them with...

  7. 3 Presentation and Participation
    (pp. 62-85)

    At an Irish community meeting, I pressed the assembled activists to define what their culture required to sustain itself locally. “We need access to the best Irish artists,” said one woman. “Our children don’t even have the opportunity torejecttheir heritage,” she moaned. “They get to see so little of it, they have no basis to make a comparison!” I had heard this before—an internal imperative that is echoed in nearly every ethnic community in America. “We need to put on a big show,” insisted another participant. “Most people in Maine don’t even know we’re here. Our culture...

  8. 4 Conservation and Commercialization
    (pp. 86-107)

    In 1954, Elvis Presley recorded his own rendition of a song that had been written by bluegrass pioneer Bill Monroe. “Blue Moon of Kentucky” had been a small-time hit for Monroe, and he used it as his band’s theme music in every performance. Although Monroe’s musical style had been innovative in the 1940s, by the time Elvis got around to reworking the song, it had settled into the well-defined formula that still commands respect among musicians all over the world (one of the biggest annual bluegrass festivals now takes place in Tokyo). Elvis ignored the tradition, appropriated “Blue Moon” to...

  9. 5 Donation and Deduction
    (pp. 108-126)

    Historically, the arts have depended on patronage from large institutions: royalty, religion, the aristocracy. Most of the world’s major ancient monuments—the Egyptian pyramids, the Great Wall of China, India’s Taj Mahal, Machu Picchu of the Inca—were built by the state. Religious temples and shrines, including Europe’s medieval cathedrals, Cambodia’s Angkor Wat, majestic mosques throughout the Middle East, dozens of Hindu shrines in South Asia and Buddhist statuary from India to Japan, attest to the centrality of the role faith has played in supporting the grand flourishing of art. The artists and craftspeople engaged in the creation of these...

  10. 6 Education
    (pp. 127-144)

    The events of September 11, 2001, cast the work of our schools in sharp relief. Because of the hour of the attacks, most children were in class at the time, and it fell to teachers to inform students and help them try to process the incoming data. “We didn’t want to needlessly frighten them,” said one of my teenage daughter’s teachers, “but there was clearly a lot of information that they would need if they were to understand what was going on.” Most important, students askedwhythis had taken place. Who were the terrorists? What motivated them? What is...

  11. 7 Mediation
    (pp. 145-174)

    A group of unhappy-looking Sudanese men sat on one side of the conference table. They’d come to protest against a daylong Sudanese conference that we’d planned at our Center as a way of bringing the community together.¹ Our ultimate goal was to foster cultural initiatives that would grow from the discussions and feel compelling to community members and their families. But this group of gentlemen didn’t like the plan, and they wanted the whole event to be cancelled.

    On the other side of the table sat a couple of white administrators—the director of the Center and the principal of...

  12. 8 Globalization and Localization
    (pp. 175-195)

    When the great Sardinian vocal quartet Tenores di Bitti flew to the United States for a tour of a cappella folk choirs, they smuggled through customs several large Coke bottles filled with wine from their own presses.¹ I asked them why they brought so much wine along, and they explained that they weren’t sure that they’d be able to find anything drinkable in America. Determined to prove to them that we, too, can make a good bottle of wine, I picked up an excellent California varietal and uncorked it at the after-show party. They liked the wine but showed far...

  13. 9 Revolution
    (pp. 196-220)

    Ann Carlson, the visionary performer-choreographer-director, was asked to describe the purpose of her art on a fellowship application. She responded with a single word: “Revolution.” The challenges addressed in this book can only be met through the combined ripples from a seismic shift in everyday personal activity. Realizing cultural democracy means instigating a revolution in ethical social conduct. It is a revolution that has to permeate every level of our communities, government, the educational system, and the business establishment; but it is a revolution that cannot be imposed from above. It must come from individual citizens taking control of their...

  14. Notes
    (pp. 221-234)
  15. Works Cited
    (pp. 235-246)
  16. Index
    (pp. 247-256)
  17. Back Matter
    (pp. 257-258)