Creating Inclusive Community Art: Avoiding Cultural Appropriation and Tokenism

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Tuesdays 7:30-9:30PM and Fridays 3:00-5:00PM. Tuesdays 11/8, 12/2, 12/16; Fridays 12/5, 12/12, 12/19

Working as a community-based artist working mainly in South Minneapolis–diverse in every sense of the word–I have been involved in dozens of community art projects, performances, and events. Some of these have included a broad spectrum of community members at every level of planning, organizing, and attending, and some have lacked in one or all of these areas. I, and the groups I have worked with, have often come up with (well-intentioned, though admittedly, not always culturally sensitive) questions such as:

Why are the majority of decision-makers in this organization white/raised in the middle-class? Can anyone else even afford to work here?

How do we get a more diverse audience (especially if performers/planners have not been terribly diverse, but sometimes even if they have)?

Is it ok if mostly white/straight/etc people are interested in this event? Does every project need to cater to every demographic?

What stories are we allowed to tell? Are we amplifying voices or speaking FOR others? Why are their voices not present in the first place?

If we, as mostly white people, use this symbol from Latin American culture for part of a public event, will we make the Latinos in the neighborhood feel used or included?

Why do people keep asking the Native American/Black/Gay staff member to speak for an entire culture/verify historical details on the spot? Are we using the presence of the one Black staff member to authorize our use of symbolism from African-American culture?

How does/can radical, community-based art TODAY differ from that of past decades, when cultural appropriation was a go-to form of trying to be inclusive/use a global perspective?

I am bringing experience, rather than answers, to the discussion, and my hope for the course is to encourage more informed thoughts and actions in the work and life of class participants.

Contact Angie at cour0097@umn.edu, 612-298-4537 to sign up

I am a May Day and BareBones staff artist, as well as community-based artist, organizer, and teacher. In my work, I continually face and confront issues of inclusion, tokenism, cultural appropriation, “othering,” and the like–even within what is arguably a radical counterculture. I am not claiming to have all the answers, or even any answers, but believe that critical thought, discussion, and learning about these issues can lead to positive action.

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