Sunday, 22 March 2015 18:02

Intercultural Work: A Project Towards Equity

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".



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.

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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.

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