Cultural Democracy: The Arts, Community, and the Public Purpose

By Higgins, Lisa L.; Hollingsworth, Teresa | Western Folklore, Summer 2005 | Go to article overview

Cultural Democracy: The Arts, Community, and the Public Purpose


Higgins, Lisa L., Hollingsworth, Teresa, Western Folklore


Cultural Democracy: The Arts, Community, and the Public Purpose. By James Bau Graves. (Champaign: University of Illinois Press, 2005. Pp. xii + 256, acknowledgments, introduction, photographs, charts, table, notes, bibliography, index. $45.00 cloth, $20.00 paper); Federalizing the Muse: United States Arts Policy and the National Endowment for the Arts, 1965-1980. By Donna M. Binkiewicz. (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2004. Pp. xii + 295, acknowledgments, introduction, photographs, table, notes, bibliography, index. $59.95 cloth, $24.95 paper)

Both of these titles should be added to the folk-arts administrator's reading list, and both should be included in syllabi for public-sector folklore courses. We advise the same for arts administrators and arts-administration curricula. These two volumes provide historical context and useful insight into funding mechanisms and program development.

In the first volume, Cultural Democracy (the term is defined here as "social agenda"), James Bau Graves provides a view of the evolution of this movement in the United States, its relationship to corporate America-and its potential global impact. He offers strong arguments for the economic benefits of cultural democracy and the sustainability of traditional culture. He explores the conflicts and blessings of corporate and foundation funding in addition to addressing the impact of America's political agenda and private sector sphere on the rest of the world.

An ethnomusicologist and the director of the Center for Cultural Exchange in Portland, Maine, Graves draws extensively from his own experience working with immigrant communities over twenty years. Because he readily admits his own foibles in establishing relationships and developing projects within ethnic communities, Graves presents the reader with honest assessments of his own work as a self-described "cultural mediator." Most of his examples are reflective of his work with new immigrant communities, with less attention paid to tradition bearers from African American and Anglo American communities. In fact, he usually writes of cultural democracy as it relates exclusively to minority communities.

Graves weaves chapters addressing subjects as broad as education, economics and globalization into thought-provoking discussions about the conflict between an implied greater good and corporate power. Chapter one, "Communion," is essential reading for arts administrators who truly strive to involve local communities in arts planning. The most useful portion of the book is chapter seven, "Mediation"; here Graves introduces ten specific, insightful examples for cultural mediators to employ when working in collaboration with communities. Throughout, he offers suggestions for implementation often with projected, sometimes lofty, outcomes.

Although he cites impressive and extensive research from a number of sources, Graves relies too heavily on the theories of economic-development specialist Richard Florida. However, Graves' own research is thorough and he uses information from a variety of perspectives including arts educators, academic and public sector folklorists, and journalists. Other resources include publications from the federal government (National Endowment for the Arts) and various funding organizations.

In the second volume, Federalizing the Muse, Donna M. Binkiewicz traces the history of the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) from its precursors to the present, though her emphasis is primarily on the Endowment's first fifteen years. …

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