Newsroom
 

 

 151125 NALAC HolidayInsertv01

 

###

 

For more information visit our website at www.nalac.org  or like us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/Nalac.arts1

 
 
 

2015 12 EbooletinAbove Right: ALI Fellows at the Smithsonian Latino Center Above Left: No Somos Inmigrantes by Jesus Barraza

 

Primer in Policy: from the boardroom to the community

  

A vital part of the work all of us do in the field of Latin@ arts and cultures that can, for several reasons, deliberately appear overlooked or under-seen has to do with how our individual practices influence and effectuate larger issues of policy. As it happens, the facts regarding our involvement with policymaking can be made less apparent when projected upon oversimplified or reduced portrayals of that activity. That is, through the idea that state, national, and international policies are only an effect of work between State representatives, governmental agents/agencies, lobbyists, foundation leaders or magnates of commerce. But what happens if we rotate that view a little so that the ability to influence policy is understood as a fundamental gesture and attitude that we can all access -that we can all possess and realize through the work we already do?

 

For many communities of color, our approach to policy has a lot to do with how we imagine that it gets made or built: are there specific individuals in our society who are solely responsible for it? Are policies the result and reflection of measures we decide upon only during election seasons? What’s the difference between public and private versions of policymaking? Is there a relation between the kinds of social engagement and activism we directly participate in and evolving policies?

 

Social Movements

Any insight into the histories as well as the contemporary features of our social movements can prove quite an advantage in broadening the field of policymaking because they (in many ways) are already an outcome of and a challenge to a wider institutionalized logic. For instance, dominant organizational and institutional layouts are guided by a kind of logic, one that consists of a nuanced internal culture -often embodied by its physical infrastructure- whose procedural model or administering is reflected by its external impact, by its effect. Because the organized and self-conscious mobilization of peoples has historically been a response to either political, justice-oriented, racial, or economic imperatives, our existing institutional networks have been called into that process: their function being either hailed or summoned to participate and legitimize the issue at stake or brought into question by that organized social body. In other words, emancipatory social movements –then and now- embody a political response and ethos often meant to address (and even alter) social stratifications. The forming of that response itself, at its most mechanical, is already a mobilization of social, political, and economic awareness: it’s an understanding of the existing state affairs struggling to take shape.

 

Recognized Government

Before we go any further, though, let’s consider policy to be generally understood as the activities and effects of any recognized government. That’s the classic take. Things get more interesting, however, when we look at the fact that our government shares a reality with other social forces that may not emerge out of a democratic mandate, like market economies driven/compelled by multidimensional corporations and a global civil order that we largely apprehend through INGOs and their remedial/relief work throughout the planet. And, lest we forget, beyond these forms of human organizing are a set of natural forces, the horizon of which yields not only an array of resources but also the potential for incomprehensible catastrophes, many of them man-made. In this scenario, any contemporary governing body –one that is in the service of public good- consists of national governments designed to administer the well-being of its people and institutions through the use of both public and private market sectors.

 

Now, what traditional summaries, like the one above, tend to underemphasize, though, is how the dynamic between the aforementioned entities/players/agents is itself a result of developing policies, which means the relations between those different social protagonists is constantly being analyzed, evaluated and translated to meet emerging or unforeseen needs. Simply put, the elements we’ve just described are all –each of them- far less simple or even stable and much more open to change or to fluidly integrating new behavior and ideas. And it’s that fluid tension between the state, our public/private institutions, globally integrated capitalism, and the philanthropic order which is the site of community engagement. So engage we do -through our manifold labor, through innovative ideas and thinking, through educating ourselves and others, through active participation in our market economies, and, on every election, through casting our votes. This vantage point allows us to see all too clearly how the production of culture, the production of arts, and the production of our communities is indeed always in conversation with the development of policies.

 

A further step in that direction could be to embrace the fact that –like anyone else- the work that we do as Latin@ artists, arts administrators, and culture bearers means many things to us. Sure, it’s a way of meeting general economic needs and expectations, but, it’s also a way of being part of a shared social experience and of building something that goes beyond our immediate or individual selves: it’s a way of making a better world out of what we found. Our current political economy really lends itself to thinking about our work this way by already drawing profound distinctions between material labor and immaterial labor and, even more specifically, physical labor and cognitive labor. In other words, sometimes we work to create things (art objects, cars, food) and sometimes to create experiences (entertainment, information, services). Either of these will consist of some combination of labor (physical/cognitive).

 

Imaginative Engagement

Another key to influencing policy lies in the overall way that we participate with institutions or organizations. Many times, the degree of that participation has to do with our role within the organizational or institutional infrastructure, but quite often it’s also determined by how we support activities, events, or programming as members of a surrounding community. The agency in such behavior comes about when we participate thoughtfully. Now, it merits clarification that a lot of the opportunities for organizational/institutional participation out there –whether artistic, social, or political in nature- consists in activities of following instructions. Those are exercises in obedience not participation. When we participate thoughtfully it means that, yes, we engage in an informed manner which, in the end, means that we engage in an imaginative rather than a prescribed manner.

 

To follow such thread, participation of that kind has been invaluable for arts organizations of color and is an irreplaceable element for their collective future. For example, when many Latin@ arts organizations that had emerged as a response to social inequities began to forge a deeper relation with government agencies and foundations in order to qualify for the types of resource support previously secured by more dominant or legacy organizations and institutions, we drew upon the further professionalization of skills, knowledge, and cultural practices already present within our communities. In other words, our organizations benefited from a thought-driven investment on behalf of employees, artists, advisors, and community supporters that to this day fosters their longevity. The drive to further professionalize our efforts also leads arts organizations of color to understand the powerful effects of engaging visionary, dedicated, and savvy board members that bring cross-sector knowledge.  This level of robustly activating the cognitive, material, and fiscal resources of our communities is at the source of our organizations’ regenerative capacities. It engages the unparalleled faculties of our artists, arts administrators, culture bearers, leadership, and donorship.

 

One example of such imaginative engagement would be the U.S. Department of Arts and Culture (USDAC), in particular their recent release of a USDAC Statement on Syrian Refugee Crisis. Now, it would take only a little bit of research on the USDAC for one to confirm that there is indeed no such departmental branch of our national government. The immediate conclusion is then that in reality USDAC does not exist, except for the fact that it completely does exist: it's both the effect and result of a collective affirmation, of an organized collaboration, and of a concrete response by a diverse range of agents/agencies to what is perceived as an absence in our shared cultural spectrum. Together, the participants of this organized entity address concerns, issues, and ideas that resonate with the sphere of contemporary artistic and cultural production. Through this platform, their statement "...calls on all artists and creative activists to use our gifts for compassion and justice, sharing images, performances, experiences, writings, and other works of art that raise awareness, build connection, cultivate empathy, and inspire us to welcome those who are forced from homes that are no longer safe."

 

Their statement, available for sharing online, ends with these lines:

 "We join together in affirming to all public officials and policymakers that a culture of fear and isolation cannot stand. We join together in applying our gifts to sustaining a culture of compassion and justice. We stand together with generations of creative activists in communities across the nation who have been envisioning and working toward a world of equity and belonging for all."

 

In moving through these ideas and examples that turn policy development into a more commonplace activity, one overarching feature does make its way to the forefront, and it has to do with how important it is that we begin from a place of interculturality. One of the most powerful things we can do is speak to the process of governance that we've just summarized as “policy” from a tradition of solidarity with and among distinct cultures. By doing so, we turn what generally gets approached through the context or lens of history (tradition) and invariably turn it into a practice. More specifically, we reoccupy the type of work widely regarded under the banner of social practice and untie it from the ameliorative measures that it can often be associated with, measures which tend to be in the service of streamlined models of assimilation.  The ability to speak from an intercultural position not only tends to clarify any historic gloss-overs on any subordinate culture’s historic development, but, in doing so, reveals an ongoing practice of solidarity between subordinate communities, one that is incredibly present today. An additional effect of intercultural work is that it also helps underscore agency and autonomy in our communities, which helps make our work less vulnerable to unknowingly being pawned or placed in the service of mainstream causes whose targeted goals may be less aligned with our own.

 

 ###

 

ABOUT NALAC:

The National Association of Latino Arts and Cultures (NALAC) is a legacy organization investing in the Latino heritage of this nation. For over 25 years, NALAC has built a strong foundation for the promotion of Latino arts and culture and its advocacy efforts have advanced issues of cultural equity and raised the visibility and understanding of Latino artistic and cultural expression. The National Association of Latino Arts and Cultures (NALAC) is the nation's leading nonprofit organization exclusively dedicated to the promotion, advancement, development, and cultivation of the Latino arts field. In this capacity, NALAC stimulates and facilitates intergenerational dialogues among disciplines, languages, and traditional and contemporary expressions. NALAC serves thousands of Latino artists and hundreds of organizations representing a national and international community of multiple Latinidades; a network that crosses many cultures across the Latino Diaspora.

 

For more information visit our website at www.nalac.org or like us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/Nalac.arts1.

 
 
 

 ILI 20150928 day2 0721Above: Intercultural Leadership Institute participants and the San Antonio community gathered at La Fonda for a Welcome Reception and Dinner this fall. Photo by Luis M. Garza.


A Model for Equity: Diversity and Inclusion

 

As members of a larger national and international field of activity, one that prioritizes the value that artistic and cultural practices have for our many communities, NALAC participates in conversations on issues which may be internal to a particular region or population and, at the same time, we are also part of broader discussions about precisely how our field itself is organized and shaped. These are usually good opportunities to consider not only the more external social forces that influence and often motivate how our organizational activities -thru programming, initiatives, or actionable measures- are in the end structured, but also how the very nature of our own individual participation can determine or at least enable the shape, dynamics, and just as easily the unresolved conflicts within our field of arts and culture(s).

 

Two themes that commonly appear as topics in these macro-level discussions, although usually in some mystified form, are diversity and inclusion. Quite often, these terms are used in ways that blur two very distinct ideas. On other occasions, they are used to implement policies and recommendations whose goals counteract the ideals that these two terms stand for, a strategy we will address further ahead. We view these as a chance to at the very least normalize some thoughtful, candid, and nuanced dialogue about what diversity and inclusion can mean in the 21st century, in order to move beyond its mere discussion by actually working toward its realization. And what better time than now?

 

If we consider the most recurring misconceptions about these two very different terms -diversity and inclusion-, they have to do with either making them interchangeable –so that they both end up meaning the same thing- or with suggesting that if we’ve got one, then we’ve automatically got the other. Either way, the point is that a lack of clarity on what these two concepts are about is a great way of not realizing them. And so we must ask: is diversity the same thing as inclusion? If we manage to create an environment of inclusion, does that mean we have diversity? Is it true that we can have diversity without any inclusion? And finally, perhaps the most powerful question, why does it matter that we achieve either of these equitable goals?

 

The strange part is that, under most conditions, it doesn’t matter. In fact, diversity and inclusion –or D&I- only matter within a framework of democracy, within a shared political context through which we’re all recognized as equals: democracy being itself that framework which, in the end, presents us with equality. There have been, of course, all too many other socio-politico models in our recent past that also tried to arrive at democracy -a goal that we ourselves are still distant from- by managing or curtailing the obverse dynamics of a capitalist economy, an economic model whose smooth functioning naturally undermines equality. So then, perhaps, the core of our predicament lies in how to move past what's generally referred to as the crisis or failure of modern representation, which is where we believe D&I can serve as a model for transcending said crisis/failure. In short, we at NALAC believe diversity and inclusion to be a model for equity. 

 

 

is diversity the same thing as inclusion?

 

 

So let’s start by looking at some working definitions of D&I taken from three distinct yet overlapping institutional coordinates: the private sector, our public body of governance, and academia. PepsiCo defines “diversity as all the unique characteristics that make up each of us: personality, lifestyle, thought processes, work experience, ethnicity, race, color, religion, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, marital status, age, national origin, disability, veteran status or other differences.” Furthermore, their corporate view of inclusion means a “workplace culture that values different perspectives, builds employee engagement, fosters creativity, fuels innovation and helps us attract the very best talent.” (our italics)

 

An example from our most immediate public consortium, the nation-state, hails from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management. Their 2011 document, Guidance for Agency-Specific Diversity and Inclusion Strategic Plans, defines “…workforce diversity as a collection of individual attributes that together help agencies pursue organizational objectives efficiently and effectively. These include, but are not limited to, characteristics such as national origin, language, race, color, disability, ethnicity, gender, age, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, socioeconomic status, veteran status, and family structures. The concept also encompasses differences among people concerning where they are from and where they have lived and their differences of thought and life experiences. We define inclusion as a culture that connects each employee to the organization; encourages collaboration, flexibility, and fairness; and leverages diversity throughout the organization so that all individuals are able to participate and contribute to their full potential.” (our italics)

 

This last definition comes from our knowledge-based institutional networks, or academia, through UC Berkeley’s Division of Equity & Inclusion which provides a glossary that defines D&I in the following manner: “Diversity includes all the ways in which people differ, and it encompasses all the different characteristics that make one individual or group different from another …A broad definition includes not only race, ethnicity, and gender …but also age, national origin, religion, disability, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, education, marital status, language, and physical appearance. It also involves different ideas, perspectives, and values. Inclusion is the act of creating environments in which any individual or group can be and feel welcomed, respected, supported, and valued to fully participate …It is the "active, intentional, and ongoing engagement with diversity — in people, in the curriculum, in the co-curriculum, and in (intellectual, social, cultural, and geographical) communities with which individuals might connect — in ways that increase one's awareness, content knowledge, cognitive sophistication, and empathic understanding of the complex ways individuals interact within systems and institutions (Clayton-Pedersen, O’Neil, and Musil: 2007).” (our italics)

 

By now it’s clear that, despite their distinct origin and context, there’s significant overlap between these descriptions of D&I. We could attribute that, perhaps, to just how present such ideas are within these varied organizational structures while they continue to evolve and while they seek to realize their promising potential. In reality though, as last year’s report from Deloitte University Press indicates, there’s an astonishing gap between many organizations’ statements on or goals toward diversity and their implementation of said goals, which is one major reason why a record number of corporate clients are either reviving and rebuilding their diversity programs.

 

Still, the deliberate prevalence of our topic along with the projected increase of cross-sector inclusion programs suggests that there is a sense in which its importance is clear, and that we’d be pretty hard-pressed, at this point, to find any agents or entities presumably operating within the public, private, or knowledge-based sectors that would experience confusion over D&I.

 

 

“To thrive in the long term, it is crucial that museums bring the demographic profile of their staff into alignment with that of the communities they serve.” 

 

 

For if diversity is just an aspect of a situation or a property of an activity, and inclusion is merely the process or mechanism by which such activities and situations take place, then our own field of arts and culture(s) has the creative advantage to achieve this state. After all, the relation we’re dealing with is, in a lot of ways, like that between form (inclusion) and content (diversity).

 

This year has indeed offered us at NALAC some particularly bold glimpses into the status of our arts organizations, arts administrators, and creative professionals of color. Particularly when it comes to our shared status in relation to our more financially prosperous counterparts within the sphere of arts and culture. We’ve caught a glimpse by way of either a study, a positional statement, or a philanthropic recommendation whose purpose has been to reveal some pretty measurable differences out in the field that have to do with employment practices, funding policy, and even donorship. Taken altogether, though, it’s easy to read these diverse efforts as a way of struggling to shape a more cohesive response to a larger concern within our shared practice -that concern being an inevitably far more diverse American landscape. This makes our struggle to ethically integrate new worlds of difference part of an ongoing phase of, shall we say, growing pains connected to the realization of equity.

 

If we recall this past March Grantmakers in the Arts (GIA) put forth a remarkable Statement of Purpose on Racial Equity in Arts Philanthropy meant "to increase arts funding for ALAANA (African, Latino(a), Asian, Arab, and Native American) artists, arts organizations, children, and adults" and also preface their Racial Equity Forum. It was soon after in April, during the opening for the new building of the Whitney Museum of American Art, that our First Lady Michelle Obama made her timely remarks sharing how "there are so many kids in this country who look at places like museums and concert halls and other cultural centers and they think to themselves, well, that’s not a place for me, for someone who looks like me, for someone who comes from my neighborhood. In fact, I guarantee you that right now, there are kids living less than a mile from here who would never in a million years dream that they would be welcome in this museum." Needless to say, the July release of a crucial Art Museum Staff Demographic Survey by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation brought the dynamics of our dominant museums' internal culture into sharper focus through a set of poignant findings. Key among these was how "Non-Hispanic White staff continue to dominate the job categories most closely associated with the intellectual and educational mission of museums, including those of curators, conservators, educators, and leadership. In that subset of positions, 84% is Non-Hispanic White, 6% Asian, 4% Black, 3% Hispanic White, and 3% Two or More Races.  With the exception of the Asian demographic category, which makes up 5% of the United States population today, these proportions do not come close to representing the diversity of the American population."

 

The report’s press release was accompanied by two comments that helped intentionalize its core findings and information. The first was from Susan Taylor, then President of the Association of Art Museum Directors (AAMD), who stated that the "entire field is now better prepared to encourage the changes that will be necessary if U.S. art museums are to reflect, and address, the increasing diversity of the American people." The second was from Elizabeth Merritt, Director of the American Alliance of Museum’s (AAM) Center for the Future of Museums, who succinctly expressed that "To thrive in the long term, it is crucial that museums bring the demographic profile of their staff into alignment with that of the communities they serve. This will require challenging a broad range of assumptions about how museums train, recruit and manage the staff responsible for collections, interpretation, education and leadership of our institutions.  And it will require taking a hard, uncomfortable look at the conscious and unconscious influences that have shaped our institutional culture and created the current imbalance."(our italics)

 

Stranger still is how the findings of this report -exclusionary culture and a balanced sameness- eerily converged with the findings of a revised report on employee demographic for fourteen of the largest Tech companies published by Fortune that same month. This scenario was underscored again in August by an L.A. Times article announcing how Twitter “plans to increase the number of underrepresented minorities in the U.S. from 10% to 11% overall, and from 7% to 9% in tech roles. It also wants to see the number of underrepresented minorities in leadership roles rise to 6%.”

 

Looking back, these snapshots give us an idea of what the status quo is or what the existing state of affairs is in the sphere we work in. And although these recent statements, reports, and demographics are ways of commenting on the rare and weakened conditions of/for inclusion, they nevertheless come from an informed position or, at least, from a position that knows the benefits that D&I bring in terms of our country’s economic performance for example. Due to a broad understanding of D&I's function as engines for innovation, the commenting sources remain oriented towards a future that favors equity. This perception is not uncommon throughout private, public, pedagogical, NGO, or foundational sectors where the adaptive organizational features that our topic makes feasible along with the complex or optimized interactions that are consequently made possible are mutually grasped. In other words, the immanent potential for transformative capital growth –both financial and symbolic- that our topic represents for incentivized stakeholders is a difficult thing to overlook.

 

 

Difficult, but not impossible.

 

 

By that we mean there certainly are examples of glimpses from this year that position themselves away from the values we have just described. An easy example would be the latest study by the DeVos Institute of Arts Management at the University of Maryland, Diversity In The Arts: The Past, Present, and Future of African American and Latino Museums, Dance Companies, and Theater Companies, published this September. The report was overseen by Michael Kaiser, DeVos Institute Chairman and former Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts President, who was interviewed in a corresponding L.A. Times article where he commented on the nature of this endeavor. The article shared two of the key findings, one of which was “that minority-focused arts organizations’ most debilitating weakness has been difficulty in attracting private, individual donors, a demographic whose charitable giving far exceeds the grantmaking of foundations, corporations and government.” The report itself finds this to be “the most important single statistic in the study” though oddly encourages funders to instead support “a limited number of organizations with larger grants to a smaller cohort that can manage themselves effectively, make the best art, and have the biggest impact on their communities.”

 

Let’s pause and think for a moment.

 

By now, several aspects of this particular study have been called into question –from its methodology to its instrumental and co-optable value- but there is a far simpler quality to be noticed. Let’s consider the central logic: based on the tenet that arts organizations of color are under-resourced, underfunded, and working to expand an under-developed donor base, the proposed solution is to redistribute available resources to our dominant network of arts institutions, which already possess an asymmetrical portion of wealth resources, foundational support, and donor base. This line of thinking is usually called circular reasoning. In this case it is also specifically prescriptive. By that we mean that it specifically restates the problem as if it was the solution. In other words, because of our dominant institutions’ “chronic” inequality and inability to implement D&I (refer to previous portion of this article), philanthropy and donors should minimally support arts organizations of color and rather concentrate funding toward our dominant institutions. Or, if put another way, arts organizations of color that often emerged out of poorer communities as a response to the previously described inequities are struggling fiscally therefore we must reallocate the vast majority of our available resources to the institutions they’ve primarily been excluded from. Approached from a purely economic position, we could restate the findings as such: because poverty is a permanent condition of our current economic order, we should reroute our palliative efforts to instead support the sources of that condition. One could go on. And the reason one could go on is because the report's recommendations are crafted in a way that blur and consequently mask two complementary flows or movements of consolidation: on the one hand, support for dominant institutions is being consolidated, whereas on the other, Black and Latin@ organizations are being asked to consolidate their vying for a now more limited support.

 

Let’s rather look at some elements that are generally overlooked by studies -such as this last one- whose primary effect is to curb the types of mobilization necessary for realizing D&I through the scope of our work together in the field. For example, if we encourage the redirection of entrepreneurial and philanthropic investment (art donors and funders included) toward our already most-successful institutions, then we should not be surprised if this redirected support flows along the stratified lines of antiquated social hierarchies -precisely the fixed hierarchies (often along class and racial/ethnic divisions) that our topic seeks to overcome. Therefore, the goals of D&I encourage donors and funders to diversify their support streams based on the significance and function of an organization's or institution's goals rather than consolidate along hegemonic lines.

 

The other element of the equation that tends to be overlooked is the counterpart to the more material types of support resources (financial, real estate, and so on), that is, the less tangible resource of time, or the often eluded temporal resource. If we look at the dominant organizations that emerged out of the kinds of prescribed and hierarchical institutional layouts put forth by these more regressive studies, one can see the prized role that time has played in their successful development. In other words, institutions of this order now possess a history through which they were vested by public and private resources that in turn translated into leverage for garnering the support of individual donors. In time, individual donors grew to become the broader base of support we call donorship. The crucial temporal resource was the time necessary for the previously described long-term support to take effect.

 

The inevitable question becomes: why would it seem feasible that our organizations of color (color not being reduced/distorted to Black and Latin@) would not need or stand to benefit from that kind of long-term investment?

 

On yet another level, studies in the service of (economic) demobilization tend to erase all ethnicities from the spectrum but black and brown. This is a major disservice to artists and arts organizations of all color that have worked far too long to empower each other, to foster solidarity, and to purposely bridge our limitations by working together through regenerative models. It’s thus disappointing when our intercultural familia undergoes facile erasures or has to evade projected divisions. The uneven outcomes of such inaccuracies also yield overt distortions that do not help prompt a better understanding of our white familia. Understanding structures of whiteness is one thing (and by now a requirement for navigating and ideally altering stratified or congealed social orders), but one would be deeply mistaken to confuse that with the realities of our myriad white ethnicities -the vast majority of which are seldom financially wealthy, strictly Eurocentric, heteronormative, or simply homogeneous.

 

So, after offering a brief description of the main features that characterize the purpose, use, and propensities of D&I, we can see the kinds of effects it suggests for our sphere of activity. And like any other concern that also happens to be an expression of social justice, it's path of realization will no doubt encounter push-and-pulls from many directions (as our examples illustrate). So it will be up to our collaborative field of imaginers and creative practitioners to rotate the dial in order to move beyond this frame, in search of more just conditions. Because although Diversity and Inclusion are, strangely enough, also in line with current imperatives of our economic order, equity is still a rather more elusive commodity. 

 

 

###

 

 

ABOUT NALAC:

The National Association of Latino Arts and Cultures (NALAC) is a legacy organization investing in the Latino heritage of this nation. For over 25 years, NALAC has built a strong foundation for the promotion of Latino arts and culture and its advocacy efforts have advanced issues of cultural equity and raised the visibility and understanding of Latino artistic and cultural expression. The National Association of Latino Arts and Cultures (NALAC) is the nation's leading nonprofit organization exclusively dedicated to the promotion, advancement, development, and cultivation of the Latino arts field. In this capacity, NALAC stimulates and facilitates intergenerational dialogues among disciplines, languages, and traditional and contemporary expressions. NALAC serves thousands of Latino artists and hundreds of organizations representing a national and international community of multiple Latinidades; a network that crosses many cultures across the Latino Diaspora.

 

For more information visit our website at www.nalac.org or like us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/Nalac.arts1.

 
 
 

Agustina Woodgate 5 AutoBody Radioee.netbove: Radio Espacio Estacion online radio transmission in Miami, Florida. Augustina Woodgate; Photo by Monica McGivern

 

Technology 1.0

 

For the past 26 years, NALAC has had the immense benefit of learning from our vast and growing network of Latin@ artists as well as our incredibly dedicated Latin@ arts and cultural organizations. It’s a type of learning that includes the advancements we’ve made together, that includes the challenges we share, and it also includes the ways we (ourselves) engage to fulfill our respective work. A key change during this time has been an increased reliance on digital technologies to meet our goals as artists, arts administrators, social activists, and culture bearers. So that regardless of what types of artwork we create, or what kinds of organizations and institutions we’re affiliated with, or even what our cultural and political affinities may be, the field of activity we casually refer to as the Tech Industry plays a huge role in how we go about the work that we do. Along those very lines, and because of its prevalence, we can easily begin to interpret our use of any particular kind of technology as an endorsement of that particular kind of technology, which changes our relation to the tools we usually work with by revealing that relationship to be much more complex and intertwined. So much so that NALAC believes it is important to strategically look at and begin to thoughtfully ask: what are the ways in which the field of technology supports the production of Latin@ arts and culture?

 

There has indeed been a lot of talk lately about the overall field of technology, which is good, because it helps lend clarity to what kinds of roles it plays in our communities, that is, beyond our own use of particular devices, services, and purchasing trends related to the extensive content made available through our mainly portable devices. Here’s where conversations over the digital divide, which is quite real, can help frame things a little better.

 

For example, by the time that the Pew Research Center released its report on Closing the Digital Divide: Latinos and Technology Adoption back in March of 2013, it had become evident “Latinos own smartphones, go online from a mobile device and use social networking sites at similar—and sometimes higher—rates than do other groups of Americans, according to a new analysis of three surveys.” Amongst a range of interesting findings, the report indicated a decreasing digital divide among Latin@s along with a significant increase in cellphone ownership and offered that “when it comes to owning a smartphone, going online from a mobile device and using social networking sites, Latinos are just as connected as other Americans.” But we risk a one-sided view of the whole picture if we look mainly at our activities as consumers or absorbers of a given industry.

 

Towards the end of last year, Maria Teresa Kumar, President of Voto Latino, released the article Why there aren’t more Latinos in the tech industry and it centered on a discouraging statistic: “currently only 6% of all U.S. tech workers are African-American and 7% are Latino.” Ms. Kumar goes on to then stress our need of leveraging “technology to engage and empower Latino Millennials to find solutions to the most pressing issues facing Latino communities” and that “although Latino high school graduates entered college in 2012 at a higher rate than their white counterparts, Latinos made up less than 9% of computer science and engineering college graduates in 2013.” Despite such lamentable statistics, we at NALAC feel it does present us with a goal to work towards where we can, for instance, foster our community’s usage or adoption of emerging technologies in ways that connect that experience and knowledge to viable educational and, consequently, professional careers.

 

Around that time, the Media, Diversity, & Social Change Initiative (MDSCI) at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism released a study indicating that film “characters from Hispanic/Latino backgrounds were the most underrepresented across the groups studied. Just 4.9 percent of characters were identified as Hispanic or Latino, despite representing 16.3 percent of the U.S. population and purchasing 25 percent of all movie tickets.” With this information in mind, things start to get a little more compelling and we are also then able to start broadening the lens through which we look at the industry a bit.

 

By the time Forbes published a revised report on employee demographic for fourteen of the largest tech companies on July of this year, See how the big tech companies compare on employee diversity, many of us felt that what was being described was something more than just a mere trend, and possibly a symptom. This was reiterated by an L.A. Times article at the end of August, Twitter's diversity plan: approximately 40 women, which announced how the social media company “plans to increase the number of underrepresented minorities in the U.S. from 10% to 11% overall, and from 7% to 9% in tech roles. It also wants to see the number of underrepresented minorities in leadership roles rise to 6%.”

 

Through this scenario, we can begin to forge some questions that can then most likely help us define our path towards a particular set of capacities, knowledge, and patterns which shed light on the current relation between Latin@ arts and the vast field of electronic technologies. The path itself will bifurcate or fork out into different areas that correspond with the various facets of cultural and artistic production within our communities, which is not surprising. The underlying idea, after all, is that for an unprecedented portion of our population electronic, online and digital technologies operate or play a vivid part in almost every aspect of daily life.  On one hand, this influences and helps situate our outward social being, meaning the parts of our 'selves' that give shape to a shared social fabric through interaction and participation out in the public domain. On the other hand, this also involves our private or inner being, that is, the part of us that works to identify and meet our own personal needs through self-care, regeneration or leisure.

 

The next curious feature has to do with the fact that no field of inquiry, manufacturing industry, or economic sector is completely self-generating and self-renewing. Today, more than ever, one should bear in mind the many ports of exchange and connectivity that exist between these areas and how technical innovation tends to emerge collaboratively and, furthermore, applied indiscriminately throughout this networked spectrum. Yet also, and perhaps more importantly, these areas of activity are produced and reproduced (sustained) by individuals who labor collectively to maintain a certain level of output. So that whether we are talking about a technological feature’s conception, pre-production, manufacturing, beta testing, distribution, or marketing –one is naturally inclined to ask: how do those processes include Latin@ creativity and encourage us to meet our social and personal goals?

 

For NALAC these are deeply relevant questions, capable of exploring how our community's imaginations are expressed more concretely. Obviously this first sketch is an attempt at direction, a task of orientation by not only staking out the parameters to help us survey this sprawling landscape, but to do so transparently, by sharing and making visible the assemblage of this process with our constituents as we move through towards clearer results.

 

An important step now would be to further clarify what we mean when we talk about the field of technology. Most notably it refers to a portion of our economy that consists of individual entrepreneurs and companies as well as multinational corporations which sustain a physical presence in many regions by way of retailers, business headquarters, as well as public and private institutional wings. In short, the Tech industry. Often included are INGOs (international nongovernmental organizations) that may have a fixed local presence along with more mobile iterations that emerge according to their mission or purpose. All of these, of course, are also physically present within our systems of governance as lobbyists or other special interest representatives. But again, these are some of the more tangible or brick-and-mortar ways that portions of this sector are present, and we really must also consider the more virtual ways by which the industry is known, such as internet service providers, software & programming companies, consumer electronics manufacturers, or online retailers to name a few.

 

And even though this early century we belong to can boast about radical innovations in nanotechnology and biotechnology, which do yield extraordinary cross-sector influence, it is the ongoing development of modes for processing and sharing information made possible by this particular Tech Industry that we’d like to focus on: Information  and Communication Technology (ICT). Largely due to the ever-diminishing scale of personal hardware like laptops and cellphones in conjunction with an ever-increasing mapping of fiber cables, pipelines, and towers, these broadly determine our communications at a more private, personal level -with immediate family, friends, and colleagues- as well as our communications at a public or institutional level -like governments, corporations, and educational systems.

 

The next phase could be for us to identify the ways our varying communities engage with ICTs beyond a user or consumer level. For NALAC to properly grasp the kinds of interface that already exist and –just as key- articulate those that do not yet exist but are nonetheless possible, our approach must include how Latin@s participate in or operate ICTs as producers. The first thing this means is, yes, to what degree are Latin@s present in the organizations that shape this industry and what are our functions within these organizations? At the same time, we must also ask ourselves: how do our communities continue to integrate evolving technologies in their artistic work, as cultural creators, as social activists, or as community or organizational leaders?

 

In a very clear manner, it’s the ubiquitous nature of a now globalized Tech Industry that requires us to be all the more savvy about how we position ourselves in relation to it. And it’s tricky because the output of this field –its devices, platforms, and its more translucent forms of social ordering- are already once-removed from our experiencing of it: when reading an article, streaming a video, or posting our status, it is the content of that activity we feel most affected by, while the medium that allows us access is there but just not at the center of our attention. Like a true peripheral, it takes one step to the side as it introduces us to the content. We surely miss our components when they’re not there though, as any of us who have either lost bars, left our phones behind, or had to replace gaming consoles or laptops know all too well.

 

In the end, the question persists: how can we look at our roles as effective participants and producers within this sprawling field we often abbreviate as Technology? We know the term Tech Field is a common shorthand for a complex sphere of economic, scientific, and cultural activity that appears to be always at the helm of our social engagement. Given that, it may be better for our purposes to simply ask: how is the Tech Industry supportive of Latin@ arts and cultures? It’s a big question, yes, because as an arena it is made up of different entities operating in different directions. But it’s also a big question because there are so many ways in which to support Latin@ arts and cultures. Besides, we shouldn’t be afraid to ask the big questions, the ones that we’re uncertain about phrasing, and even less certain about the territories they’ll lead us through. 

 

 

###

 

 

ABOUT NALAC:

The National Association of Latino Arts and Cultures (NALAC) is a legacy organization investing in the Latino heritage of this nation. For over 25 years, NALAC has built a strong foundation for the promotion of Latino arts and culture and its advocacy efforts have advanced issues of cultural equity and raised the visibility and understanding of Latino artistic and cultural expression. The National Association of Latino Arts and Cultures (NALAC) is the nation's leading nonprofit organization exclusively dedicated to the promotion, advancement, development, and cultivation of the Latino arts field. In this capacity, NALAC stimulates and facilitates intergenerational dialogues among disciplines, languages, and traditional and contemporary expressions. NALAC serves thousands of Latino artists and hundreds of organizations representing a national and international community of multiple Latinidades; a network that crosses many cultures across the Latino Diaspora.

 

 For more information visit our website at www.nalac.org or like us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/Nalac.arts1..
 
 

 

2015NLI papelpicado

 

Fifteen Years of Learning Leaderships

 

The NALAC Leadership Institute (NLI) turned fifteen years old this month. In many ways, it seems kind of like a Quinceañer@. By that we mean it's gone through some heady developmental phases and grew wisely during its early formative years, it's got enough memories to fill an archive yet keeps dreaming of the future, and its attitudinal coordinates are very much a result of our surrounding time(s) and place(s). It also feels like a Quinceañer@ in the sense of event. For example, there's no one person or source that puts the whole thing together -it's a collective and community effort. Also, there's no global franchise or one-stop clearinghouse there to provide all our supplies -its materials emanate from excluded, dominant, neglected, mainstream, academic, and political areas of our culture(s). Most significantly for our purposes, it's an aesthetic expression and self-valorization of our Latinidades with the purpose of enhancing our reentry into the social field.  In short, what we are dealing with is the coming-of-age of a new thought, one that sees itself having a leadership role within a much larger, transformative narrative.

 

This year, we were incredibly honored to have our Graduation Keynote Address delivered by renowned American playwright, actor, writer, and film director Luis Valdez. For the first time, the Keynote portion of our program was a public event and it was held at The University of Texas at San Antonio Downtown Campus. Furthermore, we were also deeply fortunate to include a magnificent session where Congressman Joaquin Castro (Texas' 20th District) shared insightful views on the importance of Latino art and cultural production for him personally, as well as for broader policies that can affect the future of our various communities. The sum and combination of these crucial elements once again illustrates just how the NLI is produced through a set of coordinated, collective efforts.

 

The 15th annual NLI took place July 13-18 and we were graciously hosted by UTSA Downtown Campus. Through the generosity, dedication, and forthright community engagement  of UTSA, our program ran extremely successfully. No less crucial was the inspiring presence and indelible work of our always amazing participants who brought this summer's NLI to fruition. The multi-generational and multi-ethnic group of tremendous arts leaders constituting our Class of 2015 NALAC Leadership Institute fellows brightly represented ten U.S. States, including Arkansas, California, Florida, Illinois, Maryland, Minnesota, New Mexico, Rhode Island, and Texas -thus bringing our overall total representation to thirty-three states. Since its introduction in 2001, the NLI has nurtured an emerging cohort of 276 artists and arts administrators who are dedicated to sustaining culturally specific work at the core of Latin@ communities and dedicated to changing and shaping cultural policy. Similarly, over 184 organizations nation-wide have sent Fellows to our program and over 95 U.S. cities are currently represented. For detailed information on the NLI, including our Class of 2015 participants, the organizations they represent, and Faculty click here (PDF attachment).

 

At this point, it is also well worth noting there's three things we must ask in order to really proceed any further: what kind of experiential forum is the NLI, why is it important that it be available, and how does its ongoing development come about? Let's start with the first question.

 

The NALAC Leadership Institute (NLI) provides critical training to the next generation of Latin@ artists and arts administrators from across the nation by way of a comprehensive curriculum rooted in our diverse Latino cultural experience. An outlier among other leadership programs, the NLI employs a holistic pedagogical approach to professional arts management that not only equips emerging leaders with a fundamental skill-set, but perhaps more significantly, contextualizes said learning experience to promote responsive cultural stewardship. Our unique methodology is consciously based on the historic overview and corresponding analysis of Latin@ artistic and cultural production in the U.S., including the vital role of civically-minded community engagement. After all, leadership is but a type of professional development, one that answers a call which usually arrives from tomorrow. This lens provides the notional framework for all Institute presentations, discussions, and instruction. Given this situational approach, each year's weeklong, intensive training is customized to the leadership development needs that are specific to each incoming class and thus confidently adjusts the study of eight fundamental topics which the NALAC Leadership Committee believes central to the participants’ development and consequent success in our competitive national art scapes: Mission, Programming, Budgeting, Marketing, Fundraising, Governance, Evaluation, and Advocacy.

 

This is also why the NLI has served as a platform, inspiration, and at times springboard for the advancement of our programming. To that extent, NALAC has additionally had five Advanced Institutes consisting of thirty-six participants and five Advocacy Leadership Institutes (ALI) that include forty-four participants. We are also currently proud to be working on our forthcoming pilot Intercultural Leadership Institute (ILI), which is set to occur at the end of September this year. Our programming labors under the belief that it's good to invest in our constituencies, especially when one believes in the results of our joint work, which is why NALAC includes our Alumni in the form of staff, board members, partners, speakers, panelists, and faculty for example.

 

NALAC believes that our strategic programming brings together a wide range of Latin@ artists, organizations and individual communities in an effort to prompt artistic excellence along with incremental forms of social inclusion.  Connecting representatives of Latino constituencies to organizations in other diverse regions strengthens our collective knowledge(s), amplifies our local community’s contribution to this country, and creates a more engaged population. Moreover, this connectedness is critical in our pursuit for cultural equity, which will arise when diverse populations address social inequality together and work to create shared opportunities for access to resources, cultural participation, and artistic production.

 

So, why would it be important for this educational forum to remain available? A part of our answer has to do with specifically how culture gets made and, maybe just as appropriate, who it gets made for. Another part is directly linked to the status of education and the questionable political, economic, and ethical side-effects of our increased disinvestment in the prospect of learning which are all but impossible to overlook. Let's start with the latter point and how that ties into our program.

 

To be sure, participants along with faculty and all of us involved in creating the NLI are able to learn things we didn't know or didn't know as much of. And, yes, through a proper sequencing of sessions we interactively exert skills that could stand to be further exercised within our own individual day-to-day operations. In this manner, what we co-create is a site of learning: site in the sense that the Institute very much has a physical location and is quite there, en su sitio, except that its effects are not bound or confined by that specific location and are therefore irreversibly not only there. If we consider that scenario and if we consider learning as an action that results from our abilities to connect with the people around us and build consensus on what is perceivable and by what means, it's then easy to see learning is a social practice. The content of that learning (fiscal planning, marketing, board development and so forth) along with the formal channels through which we arrive at that learning also tend to develop who we are, who we see others as, and how we locate these positions on a more detailed spectrum (be it a family, a neighborhood, a nation, or hemisphere even). That makes learning a cultural activity, with some foreseeable political implications not too far behind. These aspects of what it means to teach and the tangible/intangible outcomes of learning were at the source of what we now know as the NLI, which began as a conversation between our former Executive Director, Pedro Rodriguez, and our now Executive Director, Maria López De León.

 

"At its origin, the NLI consisted of this idea to bring people together, of building a platform upon which convenings could take place where different people came together to share ideas, experiences, knowledges, and practices", Ms. De León recalls, "fifteen years later, through all of the changing differences and newness that have gone through the Leadership Institute, that original idea remains at its heart".

 

This idea had to be flexible enough to include existing pillars of knowledge in the field of arts and cultures, while strong and resilient enough to integrate emerging, less defined, sets of information that secure both the longevity of our project and its intentional goals. We knew it required individuals capable enough to embody such mission and transmission, individuals with unforeseen abilities to both teach and seamlessly learn the swift currents shaping our professional practice. So in comes our core faculty of nationally recognized professionals and leaders in the Latino arts and culture sector: Maribel Alvarez, Ph.D. (University of Arizona, Southwest Center -Tucson, AZ), Abel López (GALA Hispanic Theatre -Washington, DC), and Rosalba Rolón (Pregones Theater/Puerto Rican Traveling Theatre -Bronx, NY). The NLI has also been incredibly fortunate for the participation, overwhelming support, and astounding teachings of Dr. Tomas Ybarra-Frausto and Dudley Brooks. We think it's plenty fair to say that the NLI would be a great although inoperative template or format without our Faculty, Guest Faculty, and Keynote Speakers to catalyze its realization. Especially when, through the years, our Keynote Speakers include Dr. Arturo Madrid, Pablo Miguel Martinez, Raul Salinas, Jesse Borrego, Norma Cantu, John Philip Santos, Sandra Cisneros, Guillermo Gomez-Peña, Carmen Tafolla, Carlos Gallego, Christine Ortega, and now Luis Valdez. For these and many other reasons, at our fifteen year mark, we feel a remarkable gratitude.

 

Although both agile and nimble, this idea called NALAC Leadership Institute consists of a proper physical structure too: an operational place to interact, to house spatial activities. Quite simply, a material hub for the continual exchange of information and knowledge. Our first year, the NLI was held at San Antonio College and the following years it took place at Trinity University and St. Mary's University. For many years thereafter, we were so generously hosted by Our Lady of the Lake University. Suffice it to say, the NLI has also very much been a taut mobile structure -one often made into place via institutional partnerships. This goes directly to the question of how its ongoing development comes about.

 

In its nascent phase, the NLI was and very much continues to be shaped by the values and coexisting needs informing NALAC as a service-based organization with transformational purpose at core. In other words, it's part of our understanding of the organization itself as a social function. Its inception was also based on the several yet limited tangible or concrete resources that we had access to. Over the years, and perhaps most important to note, these initial resources expanded, yes, because of the entirety of NALAC's evolving programs, but, they also grew out of the precise activities and relationships built through the NLI (the production of culture, knowledge, affects, communication, informational infrastructures, codes, services, etc ). We cannot gloss over this part because what it says is that unquestionably tangible or material resources (be they funds, space, supplies, and so forth) can be generated through seemingly intangible or immaterial kinds of work -like the production and exchange of understanding that constitutes learning, network-building, leadership development, conviviality, and so on. These being, to some degree, all forms of pliable currencies. After all, the inscription of new knowledge into our lives -a primary benefit of learning- is seldom accompanied by hard, physical evidence: education is by nature an investment on some future return.

 

There is also a substantial need, one that's not easy to articulate, that prompted the creation of the NLI and, to this day, fuels its ongoing development. It has to do with providing an efficient service to the field of Latino arts and culture which, in turn, strengthens the field overall. Such training of Alumni and Fellows is indeed an investment in our field as a whole, one that goes beyond the spheres of our immediate Latinidades and quite often extends even further into multiple sectors, unrelated to the arts, as crossover talent. Nonetheless, the fulfillment of our service first means that we must produce a space through which the necessary experiences -discussion, inquiry, learning, inventiveness, solidarity- can take place. In some very obvious ways, many Latin@ artists, arts administrators, and culture bearers aren't offered these experiences through the dominant circuits providing professional development and career networking tailored to the arts and cultural sector. These often more traditional consortiums seem inherently capable of overdetermining our work and discourse (which is many times connected to themes of social justice, equality, and the several political dimensions of culture) in ways that, if left unchallenged, can minimize our efforts. Despite their variegated renditions, they can be surprisingly oversimilar. That is to say, our work and research is prone to the failures of re-presentation. And quite often, when it is present in these settings in the shape of first-voice, it is prone to be included in isolated or tokenistic quantity -like an offshore subplot. Other times, the ticket for inclusion demands such rigorous decontextualization that our work gambles with the risk of coming across as stereotype, or simply gets 'othered' enough to appear incoherent and frankly unintelligible.

 

So, sometimes, we take on the challenge of tactfully shifting the public conversation of how our artistic and cultural work intervenes into an unfolding American narrative. In that sense, the NLI is an ever-evolving strategy for the kind of cultural interface that is modeled on equitable inclusion, a substrate interface that joins together different voices and stories as peers, as intercultural colleagues with a knack for creative problem-solving and a principled commitment to building better leaderships.

 

Of course, by now it's become exceedingly common to reference the premises of rhetoric that have defined either the limited scope or, according to some, the uncharted possibilities of our present social/cultural/economic realities. Sometimes it's useful to bear in mind that the very need to make and constantly repeat such arguments is a symptom (or syndrome, depending on who you ask) of how they haven't been properly absorbed or assimilated by dominant policies or servile efforts in the field. It is also a healthy reminder to expect various forms of disengagement from entities whose role is precisely to creatively pursue the preservation of our cultural status quo or unapologetically serve the interests of stillness. The fact is that our trajectories of mixed histories and social movements do not have a monopoly on progress. And awareness of this fact is a feature that only activates our imaginative capacities to render learning a sign of equality, and the development of new leaderships throughout our communities as an act of freedom.

 

###

 

ABOUT NALAC:

The National Association of Latino Arts and Cultures (NALAC) is a legacy organization investing in the Latino heritage of this nation. For over 25 years, NALAC has built a strong foundation for the promotion of Latino arts and culture and its advocacy efforts have advanced issues of cultural equity and raised the visibility and understanding of Latino artistic and cultural expression. The National Association of Latino Arts and Cultures (NALAC) is the nation's leading nonprofit organization exclusively dedicated to the promotion, advancement, development, and cultivation of the Latino arts field. In this capacity, NALAC stimulates and facilitates intergenerational dialogues among disciplines, languages, and traditional and contemporary expressions. NALAC serves thousands of Latino artists and hundreds of organizations representing a national and international community of multiple Latinidades; a network that crosses many cultures across the Latino Diaspora.

For more information visit our website at www.nalac.org or like us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/Nalac.arts1.

 

NALAC 20150323 ILIPlanning 0011
Intercultural Work: A Project Towards Equity
 

NALAC is incredibly fortunate and therefore proud of the opportunities we have to collaborate with and learn from different organizations that work with culturally specific communities in efforts to elevate the appreciation, understanding, and support of creative expression. In 2004, these values helped initiate our relationship with Alternate Roots and First Peoples Fund as we joined the Ford Foundation's New Works Cohort . It was through that support and setting that we began to recognize the commonalities in the histories of our communities and understand each other's distinct cultural practices. Consequent long term support from the Ford Foundation made our continued interaction possible. The relations that grew from this experience were a result of dialogue, mutual respect, and an ongoing awareness of the inherent strength, knowledges, and creativity in the communities that guide each unique organization.

 

We could say that, in many ways, these initiatives set forth the conditions necessary for the realization of something truly new in our field. Part of that newness is the emergence of an intercultural network through our core partnership with First Peoples Fund, Alternate Roots, and PA’I Foundation as well as collaborative partnerships with other organizations working to address issues of social justice, inclusion, and representation. "This investment of support over a long period of time was the catalyst that made our intercultural work possible", says our own Maria De Leon, "such intentionality allowed us to transform ourselves and our networks strategically, so that our values of equity and justice are repositioned at the center of a national arts dialogue." One especially meaningful and exciting result of our shared commitment to work together on projects, ideas, and policies that benefit the lived experiences of our varied constituents is the collaborative creation of an Intercultural Leadership Institute (ILI).

 

The Intercultural Leadership Institute (ILI) is part of an extensive, joint leadership initiative that reflects an intercultural sector whose goal is to achieve cultural equity through heightened solidarity among artists, administrators, funders, and culture bearers. According to Vicky Holt Takamine, Executive Director of PA'I Foundation, "the Intercultural Leadership Institute will formalize the relationships that have organically grown out of our convenings and provide structure and support for the leadership development projects that we know are especially valuable to the continuous struggle for social justice in our communities". In its entirety the program is one year and begins with three weeklong intensive trainings in three distinct regions of the country. The curriculum developed for this initial phase is itself the result of a decisive intercultural and strategic cooperative process, one based on an ethics of difference, inclusion, and empowerment. As described by Carlton Turner, Executive Director of Alternate Roots, " the spirit of the work is in tune with the aspirations of our communities: the desire to live their lives to the fullest potential and show deep respect for each other -this is where our work intersects across cultures." Within this context of intersectionality, where our commonalities are no less present and where the value of collaborations or alliances between a spectrum of social identities is clear, a group of up to 25 intergenerational leaders from diverse historical, racial, and ethnic backgrounds will convene to gain more robust levels of leadership and management competencies.

 

Our partner organizations themselves are each deeply engaged with leadership initiatives that demonstrate a complex understanding of what is necessary -and what is at stake- when it comes to building sustainable, collective, and just practices amidst a professional field where less egalitarian trends can all too often seem at the helm. For example, Lori Pourier, President of First Peoples Fund indicates their support of "artists and culture bearers from across Indian Country, Hawaii and Alaska through our three programs, the Community Spirit honorees, the Artist in Business Leadership and Cultural Capital; our place-based work supports leadership development through our nonprofit partnerships with Native Community Development Financial Institutions.” Correspondingly, Alternate Roots has a weeklong convening for over 200 artists each summer called Roots Week that Carlton Turner describes "is a space that supports networking, professional development, artistic development, and critical analysis -this event has been going strong for almost forty years."

 

These efforts are joined by NALAC's Leadership Institute (NLI) and Advocacy Leadership Institute (ALI). In its 15th year, the NLI is a week-long rigorous program in arts management and leadership development that delivers innovative and practical strategies for successful business practices in the arts -its goals are to foster core capacities in areas that include arts management, networking, marketing, and fund development. The ALI is a three-day intensive, hands-on training that builds advocacy skills and knowledge about the role of government and public institutions in the field of arts and social justice. It takes place in Washington, D.C., where Congressional Staff and experienced arts advocates impart a deeper understanding of the frameworks involved in shaping cultural policy and its consequent impact on Latino artistic production.

 

As a result, the ILI benefits from and is a direct response to the individual work of each partner. Yet the challenge is how to envision new ways of doing between communities of color -ways to intervene or really alter deep, systemic flaws that regulate and overdetermine our effects on the broader field. In other words, our goal is to produce new forms of understanding and knowledge-building instead of new categories of apportionment and pseudo-belongings that can nonetheless still be vertically arranged in some kind of social hierarchy.

 

The key to avoiding such pitfalls is perhaps found in our embrace of 'interculturality' rather than a multicultural or cross-cultural approach. Multiculturalism allows for a social order where distinct groups live alongside each other and emphasizes tolerance as a primary value -for the most part because power differentials are kept unaddressed.  Cross-culturalism implies dialogue across some social boundaries and grants comparative representation or the comparison of chosen cultural aspects between groups, but ultimately considers each community separately or definitely in relation to an overseeing and far dominant community. Interculturalism, on the other hand, implies lateral interaction between different communities and renders culture a matter of group creation with justice, equality, and purposeful togetherness at the forefront. Such culture of interactivity prompted the ILI.

 

When Lori Pourier states how "the value of the ILI collaborative is that it is founded on trust, compassion and commitment by the partnering organizations", her words locate aspects of our situation which, if cultivated, can change the most basic coordinates of our shared awareness and, ideally, of our communitarian practices. Although we know ourselves, our partners, members, and colleagues as part of a tangible network with our sights set on immediate, concrete progress, we also understand each other as an open group of imaginers. At the core of this imagining lies a palpable shift from 'tolerance' towards 'solidarity'. Vicky Holt Takamine encapsulates this responsiveness when sharing her excitement and inspiration "to continue the collaborative work to develop opportunities for the next generation of artists working at the intersection of arts and social justice -to connect, support and collaborate with each other to strengthen their individual work as well as to support a national movement".

 

###

 

ABOUT NALAC:

The National Association of Latino Arts and Cultures (NALAC) is a legacy organization investing in the Latino heritage of this nation. For over 25 years, NALAC has built a strong foundation for the promotion of Latino arts and culture and its advocacy efforts have advanced issues of cultural equity and raised the visibility and understanding of Latino artistic and cultural expression. The National Association of Latino Arts and Cultures (NALAC) is the nation's leading nonprofit organization exclusively dedicated to the promotion, advancement, development, and cultivation of the Latino arts field. In this capacity, NALAC stimulates and facilitates intergenerational dialogues among disciplines, languages, and traditional and contemporary expressions. NALAC serves thousands of Latino artists and hundreds of organizations representing a national and international community of multiple Latinidades; a network that crosses many cultures across the Latino Diaspora.

For more information visit our website at www.nalac.org or like us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/Nalac.arts1.

Main photo: Intercultural Leadership Institute Planning Meeting in San Antonio, TX Site Visit to Mujer Artes, Patricia de la Garza, Mujer Artes; Lorie Pourier, Fisrt People's Fund; Keryl McCord, Alternate Roots, Photograph by Luis M Garza.

 

Placemaking and unmaking

How is it possible for creative placemaking projects to be more inclusive?  What would that look, sound, and be like? For the most part, these projects occur in either underserved communities or they try to bridge the gap between unevenly developed communities and sectors; uneven, that is, from the standpoint of the more financially prosperous partner involved.  Because these projects seem to naturally rely on long-established cultural channels, they tend to reflect the interests of individuals and entities already supportive of the existing social framework.  This means that, if left unchecked or incurious, they can exacerbate existing structural inequalities -be they racial, ethnic, financial, environmental, or gendered.

 

Given this scenario, how do we engage with and help secure creative placemaking as a practice that really does benefit all parties involved, especially the less privileged?  A first step could be to understand why there is a need for placemaking and what its function is meant to be.  Although for some of us in the field this type of cultural work may sound novel, it is indeed a strategy conditioned by research from different fields that have guided, and continue to guide, economic development work across our country.  In other words, there is a trajectory of development that we can learn from.  This hindsight makes the all too common results of modern-day development not so mysterious, as many of us can see from the outcomes of both domestic revitalization projects and specific global endeavors in state-building.  Whereas the practice of artmaking may still be enigmatic for many Americans, there is little that remains mystifying about city planning, transit layouts, zoning, real estate, neighborhood displacement, and economic inequality.

 

Often, it is poor communities and communities of color that experience the side-effects of revitalization projects.  So the question becomes: how can heightened artistic and cultural competency lead community development or planning towards different outcomes?  An option would be creative-placemaking methods that consist of equitable participation from cultural sites and art organizations already in place within a specific community, rather than methods that focus on finding 'innovative' ways of absorbing a targeted community's immaterial labor, cultural network, and social capital.  We believe part of the appeal should be working with communities of color and poor communities to help leverage their own sense of place -this is where ethics comes into play directly.  In this regard, NALAC is quite hopeful about the more beneficial approaches creative-placemaking initiatives are currently exploring.

 

For example, ArtPlace and the NEA's Our Town initiative prioritize the value that arts and culture have in communities.  ArtPlace describes itself as a "ten-year collaboration that exists to position art and culture as a core sector of comprehensive community planning and development in order to strengthen the social, physical, and economic fabric of communities".  By focusing on "creative placemaking, the set of practices in which art and culture are used to help strengthen a place", they intend to support successful models in effort to make these more prevalent.  Our Town is "the NEA's primary creative placemaking grants program, and invests in projects that contribute to the livability of communities and place the arts at their core".   A key aspect of Our Town's work is documenting and learning from the projects they support in effort to increase our overall knowledge of how to make this process more beneficial for different communities.  Ultimately, the goal for both these initiatives is to circumvent foreseeable obstacles to this social practice while, at the same time, do away with the unnecessary and usually negative byproducts of development.

 

A key thing to bear in mind about placemaking as a practice is that part of its logic includes displacement.  This leaves many of us struggling with how our current communities and their pre-existing places are unmade to give way to placemaking.  For  the most part, these concerns spring from some fairly unoriginal ideas about freedom and cultural knowledge which, in the end, prompt our search for a social ethics that is able to guide the manner in which arts and cultures are placed at the service of economic development.

 

One thing we can do is look at what the descriptions and language that serve to define arts-based community development projects (placemaking) reveal about the kinds of knowledge shaping the general understanding of this social practice.  The National Assembly of State Arts Agencies provides an excellent compilation of material and information that is really geared towards a comprehensive view on this subject.  Similarly, the Executive Summary on 'Creative Placemaking' put forth in 2010 by the National Endowment for the Arts offers a key perspective -one that continues to resonate strongly with the field of arts and cultures.  When it comes to our need for a critical framework in terms of the challenges in placemaking, Roberto Bedoya, a long-standing and invaluable voice in our field, published two recent articles that are vital for any meaningful discussion (1) (2).

 

As an evolving practice, placemaking consists of a worthwhile synthesis between work and research from fields previously understood more separately, like anthropology, economics, sociology, urban planning and of course democracy-building.  In that light it is very much an example of co-operation between particular fields of research now focusing on a community development project.  This in itself is significant because part of the purpose of this work is to ultimately increase collaboration and modes of cooperation among our broader populace.  The breadth of these efforts can leave many of us with far more questions than answers concerning the goals of such social projects, the means by which they are pushed to realization, and their outcomes.

 

The 'place-based' field refers to the professionalization of this social practice and is meant to generate, among other things, a new form of community leadership, one that understands the importance of artists within their own communities along with their roles in creative placemaking.  Over the last fifty years, this emerging field has incurred a significant amount of complex knowledge on development as an ongoing, profitable enterprise along with the kind of corresponding national and regional infrastructure (public and private entities to obtain and mediate  everything from informational, financial, and cultural resources) needed to secure its ongoing-ness.  This means that communities and new leaderships must be savvy about perceiving the many possible relationships between arts and economic development as situationally variable; they must be clear on what they are going into, what their goals are, and what everyone is accountable to.

 

Such current ideas about Placemaking are part of an ongoing and fairly organic conversation for NALAC.  We also see how most of us out in the field find ourselves unable to separate the many individual projects associated with placemaking -their intention and goals- from their actual outcome.  It's important to hold on to this connection between intention and impact, especially because it often seems the main result of this activity is to precisely generate a discourse and set of policy changes that legitimize furthering these efforts while, at the same time, focusing away from the direct outcome or effects of creative placemaking.   Given this translucency, how are creative placemaking projects held accountable?  Beyond meeting an initial criteria for funding, what and whom are they accountable to?

 

###

 

ABOUT NALAC:

The National Association of Latino Arts and Cultures (NALAC) is a legacy organization investing in the Latino heritage of this nation. For over 25 years, NALAC has built a strong foundation for the promotion of Latino arts and culture and its advocacy efforts have advanced issues of cultural equity and raised the visibility and understanding of Latino artistic and cultural expression. The National Association of Latino Arts and Cultures (NALAC) is the nation's leading nonprofit organization exclusively dedicated to the promotion, advancement, development, and cultivation of the Latino arts field. In this capacity, NALAC stimulates and facilitates intergenerational dialogues among disciplines, languages, and traditional and contemporary expressions. NALAC serves thousands of Latino artists and hundreds of organizations representing a national and international community of multiple Latinidades; a network that crosses many cultures across the Latino Diaspora.

For more information visit our website at www.nalac.org  or like us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/Nalac.arts1.

Main photo: The Buena Vista Gardens Building Mural by Lead Artist Valeria Aranda in collaboration with the San Anto Cultural Arts Mural Program, 2006.
This mural was painted by San Anto Cultural Arts.
Top things to know photo: Magdalena Gomez from TRGGR Radio.