Academic journal article Social Justice

A Reciprocal University: A Model for Arts, Justice, and Community

Academic journal article Social Justice

A Reciprocal University: A Model for Arts, Justice, and Community

Article excerpt

IN FALL 2002, CECILIA O'LEARY INTERVIEWED RICHARD BAINS AND AMALIA MESA-Bains to learn more about an experimental arts education model they have created at California State University, Monterey Bay, called the Reciprocal University Arts Project. (1)

Cecilia O'Leary: To begin, could you explain what reciprocal learning means and how you are trying to create a different kind of connection to communities surrounding the university?

Amalia Mesa-Bains: I think the Reciprocal University Arts Partnerships program at California State University, Monterey Bay (CSUMB), is an innovation in the field of community arts and arts education. We are attempting to break from the traditional mold of arts education outreach. In the past, I experienced attempts to provide services for ethnic communities as a one-way relationship. My own background, as a representative of community arts organizations, was often to try to broker the relationship between community organizations and larger, more mainstream institutions. The efforts of the latter were missionary at their core- we used to call it outreach. Many of our community-based organizations, like the Mexican Museum in San Francisco, were experimenting with other models of service and community. Lorraine Garcia Nakata, a very good colleague at the Mexican Museum, was the first person I knew to use the notion of reciprocity.

Later, when I was on the board for the Center of the Arts at Yerba Buena Gardens in San Francisco, Lorraine was our educational director. She again instituted the idea of reciprocity, which is like a mobius loop--the idea being that relationships have influence on both sides of the line. When Richard Bains and I came to CSUMB in 1995, we found the university struggling as a new entity with how to best serve the surrounding region. At that point in the university's history, the notion of service was defined by the idea that we had something we should go out and give to people who did not have anything. Having grown up in community-based organizations, I knew that it was more likely the opposite -- that there were values, strategies, and practices in those communities that could help the university to realize its own very lofty goals and vision. Consequently, Richard and I decided that reciprocity would be the organizing concept we would use for working with local communities.

Cecilia O'Leary: Could you tell us a little more about the communities surrounding CSUMB, and how you began to implement a strategy of community service based on the concept of reciprocity?

Amalia Mesa-Bains: Richard came here with very strong experience across multiple communities in San Francisco. He had helped develop a school-based program with the San Francisco Symphony in 1989. It created an arts education model based not on classical music, but on world music. Richard was able to fundraise and deliver an arts education program to the elementary schools in the San Francisco Unified School District even after the passage of Proposition 13 in 1978, which deprived public schools of funding for the arts. When we combined our experience in thinking how we might serve the communities surrounding CSUMB, we began with an analysis of the region. We observed that this was a very segregated area. At its front gate, the California State University, Monterey Bay, faced Monterey, Pacific Grove, Carmel, and Pebble Beach -- rather upscale communities with more aging, white, and affluent neighborhoods. Adjacent was Seaside, with largely Black neighborhoods that were becoming increasingly multiracial as th e Latino population grew. On the other side is Marina, which is one of the most multiracial cities in the country, with a very large Asian population. Salinas, at the university's back gate, has a very, very large Latino population -- mostly Mexican and Central American farm workers' families, as well as a rising Latino and Anglo middle class. …

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