Creating Change Through Arts, Culture, and Equitable Development

March 30, 2017

By: ArtPlace America

We are proud to share with you a new paper from our partners at PolicyLink: Creating Change through Arts, Culture, and Equitable Development. This is a policy and practice primer that highlights approaches that can be brought to scale through policy change, addressing communities of color, low-income communities, and immigrant and rural White communities, drawing on their cultural roots, lifting up creative expression, and steering public resources to the transformations of their neighborhoods, cities, and regions. As policymakers invest in arts and culture that reflect and strengthen increasingly diverse communities, cultural communities can be anchored against displacement. Each month we will bring you a snapshot that is relevant to the sector we are examining This month has been about immigration, so we are sharing a story of some of the work they have highlighted. 

Arts and culture are essential for building community, supporting development, nurturing health and well-being, and contributing to economic opportunity. Collectively, arts and culture enable understanding of the past and envisioning of a shared, more equitable future. In disinvested communities, arts and culture act as tools for community development, shaping infrastructure, transportation, access to healthy food, and other core amenities. In communities of color and low income communities, arts and culture contribute to strengthening cultural identity, healing trauma, and fostering shared vision for community.

The nation’s evolution points to a new national majority, one increasingly made up of people of color, a change that has already occurred in the nation’s most populous states and cities. Workers, leaders, entrepreneurs, artists, innovators, and culture bearers will increasingly come from communities that historically have been left behind. As the nation changes, equity is more than a moral imperative, it is an economic one as well. Prosperity depends on embracing inclusion, ensuring opportunity for all, and honoring the wisdom, voice, and experience of diverse communities.

Arts and culture vividly express that wisdom and experience, and reflect the hopes and aspirations that people share. The lush variety of artistic and cultural practices is one of the great treasures of a diverse America, and so deeply embedded in community fabric that it can be taken for granted. These traditions are reflected in food, dances, songs, murals, crafts, barber shops, cafes, bodegas, clubs, parades, festivals, and countless other ways. They are beloved fixtures on the American landscape and a source of pride and empowerment in communities of color and low-income communities. Federal, state, and local policy must intentionally lift up and support the cultural riches that join people together, nourish the spirit, enliven communities, and create a vibrant nation.


Connecting Open Space to the Needs of Low-Income, Refugee, and Immigrant Communities Peralta Hacienda Historical Park

In Oakland, California The Peralta Hacienda Historical Park [] assigns a portion of space in a historical park for community gardens and culturally specific celebrations connects the cultural, political, and ecological context of Oakland to the contemporary issues and needs of low-income, refugee, and immigrant communities. Located on six acres of open space with a historic house museum, the park, with the help of the Friends of Peralta Hacienda Historical Park and in collaboration with Lao Family Community Development, supports community garden space for Mien women who grow more than 30 vegetables unique to their culinary traditions. The park brings together Mien elders with their own youth and other youth to build bridges through the arts of cooking and gardening. Peralta Hacienda also provides operational support and space to Mexica Dancers, who, as community gardeners and artists, invite the community to dance celebrations in the site’s California Native Plant Garden, demonstrate their recipes in the Peralta House kitchen exhibits, and perform blessings and special dances at many events at the site. The Cambodian community holds its annual New Year celebration, now in its fifth year, in the park. It affirms resilience in the wake of Pol Pot’s killing of an estimated 90 percent of Cambodia’s artists, musicians, dancers, and teachers between 1975 and 1979 by sharing its music with more than 1,000 attendees. 

The report begins with a look at the arts and culture sector and the disparities that send the lion’s share of public arts support to large institutions and projects that predominantly reflect the expression of White and Euro-American culture. It moves on to examine places and policies that are advancing more equitable arts and culture investments, and the broad benefits that accrue from those investments. It also argues for restructuring public investments in the arts and culture sector to support capital projects, operations, and programming that can become cultural and economic engines in underserved communities. As the report details, significant policy opportunities and funding resources far beyond the arts sector can be tapped to support artists and cultural organizations as catalysts for equitable development. We delve into arts, culture, and equitable development opportunities by devoting additional chapters to the sectors of transportation, housing, infrastructure investment, economic development, health and food, youth and education, parks and recreation, and technology. Each month, we’ll pull something out and highlight it.