June Topic: How Can Art-Making Foster Collaboration Across Cultures?

How are organizations creating opportunities for individuals with different cultural identities and experiences to collaborate with each other?

Organizations like the Music Center in Los Angeles are creating participatory opportunities for individuals of varied cultures, identities, and experiences to create art collaborative.
Organizations like the Music Center in Los Angeles are creating participatory opportunities for people of a range of cultures, identities, and experiences to create art collaboratively.

This post is the fourth in a monthly series of investigations into the practices, processes, and behaviors that organizations undertake in order to stay continuously adaptive. Learn more about this series.

We’re continuing with our new editorial direction, in which we’re deeply exploring our 2014 Research Question: How do organizations stay continuously adaptive?

In June, we’re focusing on organizations fostering artistic collaborations that cross cultural boundaries in authentic, meaningful ways.

How do organizations foster artistic collaborations across cultures, identities, and experiences?

We’re looking at instances where organizations are opening up space for deep exchange with a specific cultural community. We’re also looking at how organizations are creating opportunities for individuals with different cultural identities and experiences to collaborate with each other.

In a nation that is increasingly diverse, we’re finding that having an adaptive approach to cross-cultural participation is a critical part of an organization’s ability to stay vital to their communities.

We’ll be exploring why these kinds of collaborations are important and what makes them authentic (or not). We’re also trying to understand how to measure their success, and whether we may actually need new measures.

Social bridging

I started thinking about cross-cultural collaboration last year in my blog post for the Emerging Leaders Blog Salon on the Americans for the Arts blog, where I wrote about the role of arts organizations in social bridging. At the time, I said:

“I would argue that what my community [New York City] needs, and what communities across this divided country need, is more opportunities to connect with people across difference—what sociologists call “social bridging.” Moreover, I would argue that arts and culture organizations are uniquely poised to become a platform for social bridging in our communities, and that it’s essential that they do so or risk irrelevancy.”

A year later, I’m even more convinced that the arts play a vital role in creating space for connection across cultural difference. Extraordinary things happen when boundaries dissolve.

Practices that support collaboration across cultures

Across all of these examples, there are some common practices that I see emerging:

  • Creating safe space: In each instance, the collaboration required a space that felt free of judgment and assumptions.
  • Equitable exchange: It was important that the collaborations were non-hierarchal, with each individual’s, organization’s, or community’s contributions valued equally to all others.
  • Acknowledging difference: In each case, the process of owning and naming differences was key. Whether it was difference in race, ethnicity, class, skill-level, or personal experience, it was important that differences were openly acknowledged, not ignored.

As I take a look back at some of the stories we’ve shared on ArtsFwd in the past, I’m reminded that there’s a lot of evidence that this kind of thinking is picking up speed in the field.

Creating opportunities for individual music makers to come together

I see a compelling example of collaboration in the Music Center’s participatory programming, Active Arts, which brings all kinds of different people from Los Angeles’s diverse community to “do” and “make” together around a common interest, from dancing to singing to playing the ukelele.

Read the full Active Arts profile in our Innovation Stories collection.

Developing a play by and for Cleveland’s Latino community

I see a powerful example of organizations collaborating with growing local communities in the Teatro Publico de Cleveland, which opened up space within the Cleveland Public Theatre to the area’s Latino community. Together, community members and organization staff created a new play that was by and for the Latino community.

Read more about Cleveland Public Theatre here, and an earlier update on their project here.

Mural making connects local youth, artists, and transportation agencies to create awareness of local safety issues

In New York City, Groundswell created space for a long-term collaboration with students in Hunts Point, Bronx and the city’s Department of Transportation. Together, they created a series of murals that engaged the community to participate in direct advocacy around neighborhood issues.

Read the full Groundswell profile in our Innovation Stories collection.


How does your artistic work foster collaboration across cultures?

This month, we’re exploring these three questions:

  1. Why do you think cross-cultural collaboration is important in art-making?
  2. How do you measure the success of cross-cultural collaborations? Do we need new measures?
  3. What do authentic collaborations look like in practice? What do inauthentic ones look like?

Use the form below to share your responses.

Karina Mangu-Ward is the former Director of Strategic Initiatives at EmcArts.