Imagining Equity: Cultural Documentation, Independent Film, and Cultural Sustainability — Introduction
I’m writing in the San Francisco International airport, bleary eyed after 17 hours in transit from Auckland. My brain is bubbling as I reflect on my last four weeks in Aotearoa New Zealand (Aotearoa, usually translated as “land of the long white cloud,” is the Maori name for New Zealand) where the quest for Cultural Sustainability is palpable in and among various groups, particularly Maori and other indigenous and displaced peoples, and also for the descendants of the Pacific’s British colonists, all of whom are attempting to defend, establish, or discover their “place” in the cultural olio of this small, but important Pacific country.
After more than 20 years of doing cultural documentation as a “contract ethnographer,” I am currently entering a new phase of my career. My new thing has to do with moving beyond contracts — with a client, a well-defined set of objectives, a good sense of the resources available to me, and a relatively certain financial outcome, all clearly set out in a scope of work — to the shakier ground of making full-length documentaries as an independent filmmaker/producer.
One aspect of my move into this indeterminate and open-ended (read “money sink”) ground is that I am constructing my personal and project goals in a larger arena. When I ask myself what I am “really” trying to accomplish, the answers are not easy to pin down, but they revolve around ideas of promoting diversity and cultural sustainability, and formulating and expressing (i.e., “publishing”) a positive vision of cultures in balance — I am “imagining cultural equity.”
As a documentarian, I work to accomplish this goal by positively framing my subject matter according to the affective engagement of people with their emic sense of “owned” culture/cultures — I focus on the depth of their feeling for whatever it is that “belongs” to them, and to which they belong in turn. Based on ethnographic (and often self-ethnographic) personal, intracultural renderings, I look to construct a larger, intercultural landscape where a myriad of diverse cultural performances are dynamically displayed on a quasi-ethnological field. This field constitutes a new “world” of sorts. And in this imagined world, “visibility” is based on depth of feeling and engagement, as opposed to brute force or institutional power.
So I’d like to talk a little about some of my recent experiences in New Zealand. One of the objectives of this trip was to begin work on a film that I have been planning for some time. I am exploring the cultural landscape of Aotearoa in order to highlight and construct notions of “New Zealand music” and cultural performance framed on the basis of how New Zealand people feel — about what belongs to them, where they feel the greatest attachment and where they make the greatest (affective) investment of themselves. So I am seeking to film people as they engage in various aspects of cultural performances that are closely associated with the place — performances that “belong” in the broadest and most nuanced sense.
On this trip I filmed a group of transplanted Cook Island musicians “jamming” in a field behind their homes, a Tongan brass band traveling house-to-house and playing impromptu concerts in a post-Christmas tradition, Keneti Muaiava, a New Zealand-born Samoan master dancer, as he rehearsed a group of young men developing new expressions of traditional dances, and Bernard Makoare, a kaiwhakaairo (traditional carver) who is deeply involved in cultural recovery, rediscovery and protection of maoritanga (“things Maori”) and particularly the cultural heritage of his tribe, Ngati Whatua.
Each of these performances constitutes “local culture” in that they all have an immediate focus — they are primarily situated in relation to local groups or communities. A question is how do these locally embedded purveyors of culture interact across borders and how do they contribute to more globally imagined ideas of culture and heritage?
The question for me then is, “How do I imagine equity into the equation?” As an ethnographer and a filmmaker, it seems to me somehow that in the motion from local to global or perhaps in the interstices between vernacular culture and “fine art,” or maybe in movement from the village to the city (or the university), that cultural inequities creep in.
In future installments of this blog, I will elaborate on some of these performances, particularly as they relate to more macroscopic constructions and narratives of larger “national” (and global) identities. I will talk about some of the participants in Aotearoa/New Zealand’s cultural mix and their histories, a subject that I’ve explored over a period of many years. I will also compare my experiences in New Zealand with analogous encounters and work that I’ve done in the United States and elsewhere. In the process I hope to show some different perspectives on Cultural Sustainability and what it means in practice.
Passing this along, looks interesting!:
The EASA call for papers is still open till March 1st. This year’s EASA biennial conference (European Association of Social Anthropologists) will take place in Maynooth, Ireland: 24-27th August http://www.easaonline.org/conferences/easa2010/ This is a call for papers for workshop number W039: “Selling tradition by the pound: intangibile cultural heritage and the marketing of localities” The list of all workshops is available at http://www.nomadit.co.uk/easa/easa2010/panels.php5?View=Workshops
To propose a paper, follow instructions at this link or contact directly email@example.com
Short Abstract The notion of immaterial patrimony needs a critical review. Labelling landscapes, foodstuffs and traditions as ‘heritage’ involves commercial and political strategies as well as cultural. Ethnographic evidence and critical reflection are needed to review the commodification of territories.
Long Abstract The notion of immaterial patrimony needs a critical review. The recent debate on communities of practice and participatory development (e.g. in ecomuseums, or EU “Leader” projects), and the varying degree of actual local involvement, have highlighted an increasing interlacing of cultural strategies with commercial and political enterprises, in the “re-evaluation” of landscapes, foodstuffs and traditions as “heritage” and “patrimony” – each of these expressions being per se ambivalent. In Europe, both developing areas and regions struggling with industrial stagnation have invested on tourism, typical products and all things “traditional”, to gain visibility on local and international markets, tourist and media circuits. Localities seem to express entrepreneurship, especially in the promotion of cultural patrimony, whether under institutional pressure by local élites, or by democratic participation. In either case, economic and commercial considerations weigh heavily on the dissemination of cultural events, on the choice of conservation projects and on the reinvention of ceremonial practices and local foods. These are interpreted as icons of the territory and of local identity, and are treated as political and economic resources. In the Seventies, the ambivalent relationship between “folklore and profit” has been an object of anthropological critique. Today, new ethnographic evidence and critical reflection are needed, to review the commodification of cultural heritage and territories. In times of crisis, the relationship between local communities, cultural activisms and institutional promotion can be read imaginatively, especially within a comparative view that goes beyond parochial dynamics, in the face of cultural standardization and commercial instrumentalization. Convenors Dr. Cristina Grasseni (Lecturer in Cultural Anthropology, University of Bergamo) firstname.lastname@example.org Prof. Letizia Bindi (Associate Professor in Cultural Anthropology, Università degli Studi del Molise) email@example.com
The Southern Foodways Alliance documents, studies, and celebrates the diverse food cultures of the changing American South.
We stage symposia on food culture, produce documentary films, publish compendiums of great writing, and—perhaps most importantly—preserve, promote, and chronicle our region’s culinary standard bearers. We’re talking white tablecloth chefs and fried chicken cooks, barbecue pitmasters and peanut farmers.
The SFA is a member-supported organization of more than 800 people. Chefs and academics, writers and eaters: all are active participants. Though we are a lean and efficient organization, our work has great impact. In the Atlantic Monthly, Corby Kummer dubbed the SFA “this country’s most intellectually engaged food society.”
And for those interested in an oral history internship with them, deadline feb. 15 click here
As the term cultural sustainability becomes more and more part of the general discourse, it turns up in unexpected places. This post shares information about designer Katherine McCoy’s ideas on cultural sustainability in design:
Design can honor cultural diversity, rather than spread a homogenous cultural veneer over the world, whether it be the current “high design” expression or pervasive Western consumer culture.
The Association of American Cultures (TAAC) is accepting proposal submissions for its next symposium
Open Dialogue XII: Building the 21st Century Agenda for Cultural Democracy.
TAAC Open Dialogue XII
Thursday, August 12 thru Saturday, August 14, 2010
Hosted by the Illinois Arts Council
What is Open Dialogue XII? A symposium of local and national leaders discussing policies and programs which individuals, organizations, foundations, and policy makers are encouraged to strategize and organize around in order to further advance cultural democracy and cultural equity platforms AND programs in today’s new era of change. Recognizing some quantitative progress in equity and diversity issues over the last three to four decades, it is most urgent at this historic time of change to evaluate and set forth action-agendas around TAAC’s foundational pillars for real, substantive, long-term change:
- Equal participation in policymaking,
- Equitable funding for all cultural institutions, and
- Equity in multicultural leadership.
200-300 people are expected to attend Open Dialogue. Arts administrators, individual and teaching artists, arts educators, board members and cultural policy advocates and more are welcome. Participants come from communities across the country and abroad, from varied arts backgrounds and levels of experience.
Open Dialogue XII will begin on Thursday, August 12, 2010 with a networking event Thursday evening; Friday, August 13, 2010 will continue with presentations, sessions; and Saturday, August 14, 2010 will conclude with a keynote speaker and lunch.
Submitting a proposal
We are open to broad interpretations of the symposium theme and want to include facilitated interactive discussions, expert-led presentations and direct learning opportunities. We are seeking proposals with sharing, inclusiveness and opportunity at their core. We also appreciate innovation and the willingness to consider the refinement or abandonment of traditional models. Above all, we seek proposals that illuminate the environments in which we all work and that set forth practical organizational and institutional strategies and plans to achieve in the short-term TAAC’s foundational pillars.
What we’re not looking for is talking head panels, mind-numbing lectures and sessions wherein presenters attempt to sell products or programs, or simply rehearse equity philosophies and general directions to achieve the foundational pillars.
TAAC is pleased to accept proposals from individuals, collectives, or organizations. The symposium registration fee will be waived for all speakers. Small honoraria may be available for those traveling from out of the greater Chicago area.
5-page application form, session proposal document and resumes or curriculum vitae must be mailed to TAAC Open Dialogue XII CALL FOR SESSIONS, c/o Illinois Arts Council, 100 West Randolph Street, Suite 10-500, Chicago, IL 60601 orEMAIL proposals to TAACultures@gmail.com.
Deadline for submission: Friday, February 5, 2010 (postmark and email deadline). Incomplete or late applications will not be accepted.
Jennifer A. Armstrong
TAAC Board Member / ODXII Co-Chair
Director, Community Arts Development Programs
Illinois Arts Council
100 W. Randolph St, Suite 10-500
Chicago, IL 60601
Maja Subasic, Ross Peterson-Veatch, and Lara Justis consider our co-creations and interpretations of cultural sustainability at the first program residency.
This is a powerful multimedia essay on an endangered garden in Chicago. This quote really resonated with me:
A friend with much experience working to advance “sustainability” within corporate and academic institutions once told me, endearingly, that she doesn’t know what the word means. That strikes me as a good place to start. The question then becomes: what sort of process will, over time, give concrete meaning to the term, while guarding against intellectual corruption?
Perhaps we would do better to think of “sustainability” as a verb grounded in practical activity rather than a noun skewed toward abstraction. If we did, we would find ourselves thinking less like social engineers and more like gardeners who learn things by practicing close attention to place, humility before mysteries they don’t fully comprehend, and hope for renewed inquiry in the spring.