Hints for the Artist in a Multi-Cultural Setting

Culture can be defined as a dynamic, creative and continuous process- including behavior, values and ways of thinking shared by people to guide them and give meaning to their lives. Differences of cultures exist for historical and geographical reasons, and each culture works for its people. As people have come together over time, the opportunity to share other cultures has given many of us additional patterns of behavior, values and ways of thinking. This additional cultural knowledge allows us to gain valuable perspectives and move more freely in the world.

Often, the concept of culture is confused with that of race. Although racism has made many of us relate to others on the basis of color and physical appearance, those others may be quite different from the expected notions we carry.

Artists in Residence must take care that a negative evaluation is never placed on the cultural practices of others. By learning about the range of responses to cultural differences in human societies, both artist and participants will be better able to become aware of culture in themselves and to avoid the conflicts and misunderstandings that often arise in cross-cultural situations.

All people have culture. Popular view is that only ethnics are possessors of culture. One oftentimes fails to see one’s own culture very clearly.

Find out more about the cultures of your participants. What art forms are seen as most valued? Is tradition being carried on? What things are shared with your own culture? What is different?

Bring in resources and guest artists that reflect the cultural backgrounds of your participants.

Investigate sources of information about different cultures in your community. The Office of Bilingual/Bicultural Education of your local school district (or neighboring districts) or cultural centers may have a wealth of information to share.

Discrimination is not dead. Individuals and groups may share frustration and anger from past prejudicial behavior or racist practices. Expressions of those experiences may be intense or comical. Don’t be put off by it – art may be a vehicle for resolving some of it.

You, yourself, may be seen as a member of a cultural or racial group. Participants behavior may follow according to their own learned responses to your group. You may have to deal with suspicions, stereotypes, hostility or curiosity. You may also be seen as a member of a group defined as artists. You, perhaps, are already familiar with responses to all that implies.

Source: Performing Tree, an Arts Education Organization in Los Angeles