March 23, 2008

The Elusive Urbana Public Arts Commission, Part Two

This morning I wrote another letter to the members of the Urbana City Council. They are to discuss the proposal to create a Public Arts Commission on Monday night, after tabling it two weeks ago. Money is the sticking point. I am always concerned that I sound like an academic (which, of course, I am) so I tried to keep it short:

Toby Miller in his most recent book _Cultural Citizenship_ (2008) states that we are in a “crisis of belonging.” He uses the phrase “cultural citizenship” to discuss the “seemingly indirect processes [including arts policies] by which members of society” are engaged with their governments and local civic organizations. Other authors like anthropologist Renato Rosaldo have used the phrase to describe how communities use culture to come together—-in neighborhoods, workplaces, churches, and activist groups. To distill these authors’ arguments rather crudely: pluralistic groups need cultural endeavors to bring them together and begin or continue the difficult job of thriving together. This urgent need to work toward common civic goals is the main reason why I support the public arts commission. The arts provide ways to build relationships across diverse groups that build trust, bring joy, and sometimes provide “neutral” ground for dialogues around challenging and divisive issues.

Miller’s recent book focuses on television, expanding on material he discussed in his book, Technologies of Truth: Cultural Citizenship and the Popular Media (Minnesota, 1998). Renato Rosaldo has published a lot I am sure, being as he is a full professor at Stanford, NYU, and other similar institutions. But the article that I mentioned above is over ten years old: (1994)”Cultural Citizenship and Educational Democracy,” Cultural Anthropology, 9(3): 402-411.

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