Academic journal article The Journal of Race & Policy

Reflecting the Nation: Race, Ethnicity and A Culturally Inclusive Arts Policy

Academic journal article The Journal of Race & Policy

Reflecting the Nation: Race, Ethnicity and A Culturally Inclusive Arts Policy

Article excerpt


One of the most pressing issues in the nation's cultural landscape is diversity in the arts. Arts practitioners and cultural policy makers argue that the relevance and impact of the arts in the 21st century are dependent on racial and ethnic diversity. Given the increasing importance of racial and ethnic diversity in the arts, it is critical to examine if the policies and practices of a president of the United States advance culmral equity. In this paper, I begin to explore this question by examining two arts policies in the Obama Administration and their impact on African Americans. I argue that both by displaying art by African American artists in the White House and supporting funding for the National Museum of African American History and Culmre, President Obama advances a culturally-inclusive arts agenda that positively impacts African Americans. Specifically, this is accomplished by incorporating African American art into the nation's shared heritage; casting the historical experiences of African Americans into the broader narrative of the nation; expanding the category of "American" art to include art and culmre associated with African Americans; legitimating African American art and culmre; and affirming the identity of African Americans. These policies provide evidence of how President Obama is moving the nation forward in furthering culmral equity.

Next, I describe how culmral inclusion has been conceptualized and articulated within culmral policy in the United States. This is followed by a discussion of culmral inclusion within Obama's arts policy. In this discussion, I draw on my own research with over 100 black consumers of black visual art (Banks, 2010a; Banks, 2010b). I conclude with a discussion of how culmral inclusion undergirds other aspects of Obama's culmral policy, and the significance for racial and ethnic minorities across a range of groups.

Culmral Policy and Culmral Inclusion

Increasing racial and ethnic diversity in the arts is one of the most important challenges facing culmral policy makers in the United States (American Association of Museums, 1992; Barry Gaither, 2004; Brown, 2004; Commission on Museums for a New Cenmry, 1984; Grams and Farrell, 2008; Loukaitou-Sideris and Grodach, 2004). While concerns over culmral pluralism in the nation are decades old, they have become heightened as the proportion of racial and ethnic minorities in the United States grows and intensified by the expectation that in the near future racial and ethnic minorities will comprise a majority of the nation's population. Critics charge that museums and other arts instimtions in the United States have focused on the artistic productions favored by elite white audiences while ignoring the culture of racial and ethnic minorities. In short, they argue that the arts in the United States have not been culturally inclusive.

Culturally inclusive arts policies address racial and ethnic inequality in the arts by helping to create an art world in which all racial and ethnic groups are fully engaged.1 Underlying culturally inclusive arts policy is the principle that the arts should not be the domain of any particular racial and ethnic group, but rather that all groups should participate in the public life of the arts. Culturally inclusive arts policy recognizes that cultural producers across racial and ethnic groups have made valuable artistic contributions, and that art should have relevance for individuals across the racial and ethnic spectrum, no matter which group produces it.

In recent years, new culturally inclusive policies and practices have been instimted in the art world as policy makers recognize that the arts must become more diverse in order to maintain their relevance in the 21st century. In this vein, majority arts instimtions have broadened culmral repertoires to include art and culture associated with racial and ethnic minorities; there has been growth in "ethnic" museums which focus on the art and culture of specific racial and ethnic groups; and, professional organizations, such as the American Association of Art Museums, have developed working groups to better understand and increase diversity in the arts. …

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