ACTA Launches a Series of Online Dialogues about Cultural Equity

ACTA - Posted on 14 May 2010

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Hirokazu Kosaka and Anna Beatrice Scott at ACTA's cultural equity forumWhat does cultural equity mean from your point of view?  What actions need to be taken to change systems resulting in cultural equity in its broadest sense?

On February 11, 2010, the Alliance for California Traditional Arts (ACTA) hosted a community forum, Building Cultural Equity through the Traditional Arts, facilitated by Jerry Yoshitomi of Meaning Matters LLC, in Los Angeles, raising these questions to a group of traditional artists, arts funders, community leaders, and cultural equity advocates.  The result was a rich, broad-ranging discussion about cultural equity from diverse perspectives.  Personal stories and challenges were shared, along with questions, and ultimately, a call to action.

Building on this effort, ACTA is now working to expand and deepen this conversation.  Over the next four months, we present four different topics related to cultural equity – Leadership, Media, Artistic Marginalization, and Sustainability one each month.  We will post comments and discussion from the community forum in Los Angeles.  We then invite you to think about this topic and post your own comments and stories.  Our hope is to develop an online community dialogue across California, and beyond – expanding and building on this topic.

The topic for May is Leadership.  Please click the Read More link below to follow the discussion as it began in February and post your comments on this topic.


Jerry Yoshitomi, Meaning Matters LLC
How can communities better prepare cultural leaders? What training opportunities exist or can be developed informally or formally? Through the work of cultural transmission? Or through training in institutions for administrators, technicians, producers, writers, funders, etc.? Is the development of networks an important strategy? If so, what kinds of networks would support leadership development in folk & traditional arts?

Leslie Ito, Program Officer, Arts, California Community Foundation
In thinking about leadership in this particular part of the ecosystem, I really want to think about re-centering our thinking and really looking towards folk and traditional arts to help guide our larger arts and cultural field to think about both leadership development and leadership succession. I really want to explore how the larger field can learn from traditional and folk culture and apply this to an organizational structure. So for instance, how are leaders groomed within the folk and traditional sense? And even more important to me is, what is the role of our elders in this process? Because I think that for leadership, in the larger arts and cultural context, we're really sort of stuck on this point. We're developing new leaders. Where are the current leaders? What are the roles and responsibilities for those current leaders?

So I think that in looking at folk and traditional, there's a path and a way of thinking from which we can really learn. And I think this is a way for the folk and traditional to really position itself as a leader, as the center. Not as the peripheral, but really taking the lead in terms of, we have ideas and ways of working that have been working for hundreds and hundreds of years. And everybody else can learn from this. And I think it could have a major impact on not just the arts and culture but the larger non-profit field and how leadership is developed and what those roles are.

My other thought around leadership is that as folk and traditional and marginalized cultures, we need to have a seat at the table, whatever that table is. To have a voice and be able to put our experiences out there. But once we have this seat at the table, we also need to be able to train our folks at the table how to find their voice. I don't know how many times I've been at the table where I'm wearing multiple marginal hats. I'm the only West Coast representative. I'm the only under-forty representative. I'm the only media arts, or Asian American. And that's a lot of pressure to wear. And so, how do you break beyond that and find your voice? And I've learned how to advocate in an effective and efficient way.

Danielle Brazell, Executive Director, Arts for LA

I'd like to speak to what Leslie has said. I love this idea of using existing ways and traditions that have been passed on for generations upon generations, and to infuse that within the succession planning for new leaders. It's really such an exciting concept. I'm such a structural person—I think it's the Virgo in me. But I immediately think, well how does that work when more non-profits within our non-profit structures are moving to that very hierarchical kind of business model? And how do we maintain that adaptability within that framework?

The other piece that resonates with me in doing advocacy work is finding one’s voice at the table. How do we nurture the diverse voices of our field to really effectively advocate and claim their space at the table? Those are two pieces that really resonate for me.

Hirokazu Kosaka, Artistic Director, Japanese American Cultural & Community Center

I think I need to question that question first. The word leader from the Japanese idea of leader is a form of vertical space, if you will. It is an accumulation of accomplishments. And the question before, the word interdependent, it originates from this kind of an interdependency. That leader, perhaps, is a follower. Both words are conjoined, rather than separate. In the Japanese language and traditions of language, there is not conjunction between two words. For example, space and time, you and I, leader and followers—there is no a-n-d between two words in the Japanese language. They all are conjoined. So it's interdependent.

And I think to me, again, that question is a vertical question. It's this accumulation of accomplishments that builds in vertical space. In traditional Japanese language, it's more a horizontal space. One example is looking at the Japanese garden that we have at our JACC. There is no such thing as water fountain, because water flows vertically. And everything flows. Again, it's a Buddhist term—the impermanence of all things. So I think my question is to question that question. That is my answer.

Cindi Alvitre, (Tongva), PhD Candidate, UCLA Department of World Arts and Cultures

I understand what you're saying. And I'm going from this space that you put me in, which is vertical space. I would also call that dimensional space. And in particular with leadership, especially when we're dealing with culture, with cultural people, you have to have a leader who has—to borrow from Ozanne Hinari, a Maori scholar—wakadowooa. Wakadowooa. In many indigenous cultures and within the Maori, we have two dreamtimes. The one dreamtime for cultural people who are inserted into the reality of who we are is the constant conversations we have with our ancestors. Whether it's your grandmother, whoever. Mother Earth, the spirits, whatever.

The other one in our bi-cultural competency is switching into this mode of the way we are now. It's like multi-lingualism that you're switching, constantly switching the way you articulate. And leadership requires people who are versed in that, who can define where they're inserted within their culture and be able to switch out. And it is an interconnectedness, it is a relative. But the term wakadowooa has a significant meaning in this.

Gema Sandoval, Founder and Artistic Director, Danza Floricanto/USA
The concept of leadership and the concept of bi-culturalism is something that I finally understood within the last ten years or so. Only then do I think I became a better leader for my community. That is because within my community, the concept of a woman leader has many forms.  And it is not until you reach a certain point in your life, where it is not important whether you are a leader or not but that you follow your heart in what you're doing, that I think you become a real leader. And that takes years.

So, I would say that in terms of creating leadership, it really has to go hand-in-hand with the multi communities that we have, and not violate that. In terms of being a leader outside of the community, that becomes secondary and almost as if the old are not important. Because if you are a real leader in your community, that other part will happen, possibly not for you, but for the next generation. The impact that my work had on my community after I left, I suppose, was a leadership role.

Karina Muñiz, Community Outreach Coordinator, Los Angeles Conservancy
I want to respond to what both of you were saying about the concept of understanding leadership in vertical terms, and then bringing more people to the table. I see a true leader as someone who serves. And so, the leader serves. The whole idea is serving, so that as we have more stakeholders at the table, we’re not marginalized voices out there. To me, as I'm sure most of us have heard before, true leadership is serving. So if we're in certain places because we've had access to certain privileges or power, how then do we use that to bring in more people and continue to use that voice?

We invite you to share, reflect, inquire, and discuss by completing the comment form below.  Learn more about making comments on

ACTA's Comment Disclaimer

Our cultures and traditions have survived thousands of years under sometimes dire and difficult circumstances.  And communities have stepped forward to ensure that survival and to imbed our cultures and traditions very strongly within our daily lives.

For me, one of the several important take home messages is that regarding leadership, other arts and cultural organizations have much to learn from the Folk and Traditional Arts.  We may not be the biggest or best known to the general public, but we will continue to be strong and provide important cultural continuation resources to our communities and people.

Leaders come in many forms and sizes and situations. It's been attested that if materials to build a house/s or a bridge or something is put in front of a group of people that have been given no instruction, that a leader will emerge. No one voted for this person, no was born to this position, they just know what to do. The leader goes into action you might say, he/she picks up the hammer (or cause) and nails and puts on the carpenters belt. He/she grades wood and starts to frame the house, others see whats happening and decide to pitch in. It doesn't matter what the project is, be it a bridge to get to the other side or building a village or a rocket to the stars.

There are natural leaders you might say, everyone likes them, they have a great smile, they make you feel comfortable and maybe charismatic. so they make you feel good. There are leaders that are born to a position of authority, we might call these people of royalty or people that have been privileged with the silver spoon. We have leaders that have been appointed or voted upon to accomplish certain task as a representative. We also have the reluctant leaders, the ones that want "nothing to do with it" (what ever that might be), yet they know the task that must be done.

Spiritual leaders, a calling from the creator?  A special person indeed. Is that person a Christ, a Buddha, a Ghundi, or are they your next door neighbor or perhaps your grandmother/grandfather.

Be that as it may, a gifted leader has certain qualities, the most important is inspiration, the most addicting drug on the planet. Be it good bad or ugly, people will follow. It doesn't matter if the leader is of a gang, a chief of village or president of a country. "INSPIRATION", skillfully handled, to have vision to see into the future by understanding the past, who has experience, wisdom, sympathy and that uncanny ability to truly listen to the people, the creator.

Elders in the village would often times see talents of the young ones and help guide the future of the youth and allow those natural abilities to emerge. Now we live in age of being led by Ad agencies and propaganda that fill the air, that see people as sheep or cattle that need to led into their corrals. Schools, churches that have you seat while they explain the universals to you from a pulpit,  never seeing inside the needs of the people.

Leaders are inspired and the ability to inspire others, the best ones are following a truth that comes from and thru the heart! "The quiet understandings that it is the right thing to do or that lightning bolt that hits every nerve in your body to do what needs to be done."

As stated above who will pick up the hammer and nail first and who will follow? There's your leaders and your followers.

I think we need to build our own tables and chairs, stop looking for other to give to us.  We need to empower ourselves and stop giving the power to others to control us. Become your own leader, follow your heart!

They say, Elites rule by agreeing on more things than they disagree on. Building a consensus you might say for accomplishing any need or task.

Hopefully with wisdom, vision and understanding anything can be done. Lots of prayers doesn't hurt, many blessings to all.

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