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Cultural Democracy

The Arts, Community, and the Public Purpose

James Bau Graves

Publication Year: 2004

Cultural Democracy explores the crisis of our national cultural vitality, as access to the arts becomes increasingly mediated by a handful of corporations and the narrow tastes of wealthy elites. Graves offers the concept of cultural democracy as corrective--an idea with important historic and contemporary validation, and an alternative pathway toward ethical cultural development that is part of a global shift in values. _x000B__x000B_Drawing upon a range of scholarship and illustrative anecdotes from his own experiences with cultural programs in ethnically diverse communities, Graves explains in convincing detail the dynamics of how traditional and grassroots cultures may survive and thrive--or not--and what we can do to provide them opportunities equal to those of mainstream, Eurocentric culture.

Published by: University of Illinois Press

Title Page

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Copyright Page

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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-xii

This book reflects the prolonged engagement of hundreds of artists, community activists, nonprofit administrators, foundation directors, and scholars in an ongoing experiment in making culture meaningful for ordinary citizens. Any lesson that I’ve presented in these pages was gained through the work that I have shared with all of these collaborators. ...

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pp. 1-22

In 1994, I posed the question to a group of elders from Watt Samaki, a Cambodian Buddhist temple in Portland, Maine. We were seated on hundred- pound sacks of rice in the back room of an Asian grocery, sipping soy drinks and passing a paper plate of shrimp crackers. ...

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1. Communion

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pp. 23-40

Early in my career as a facilitator of community cultural programs, I thought it might be possible to build some social bridges between Portland’s African American community and our newcomer population of African refugees.1 They are all of African descent, I figured, so they must share some common cultural roots. ...

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2. Tradition and Innovation

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pp. 41-61

Community heritage comes to ground in tradition. Tradition needs continuous innovation to maintain its vitality. Tradition and innovation are synergetic opposites; neither can stand alone, since they both provide justification for their counterpart’s existence. ...

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3. Presentation and Participation

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pp. 62-85

At an Irish community meeting, I pressed the assembled activists to define what their culture required to sustain itself locally. “We need access to the best Irish artists,” said one woman. “Our children don’t even have the opportunity to reject their heritage,” she moaned. ...

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4. Conservation and Commercialization

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pp. 86-107

In 1954, Elvis Presley recorded his own rendition of a song that had been written by bluegrass pioneer Bill Monroe. “Blue Moon of Kentucky” had been a small-time hit for Monroe, and he used it as his band’s theme music in every performance. Although Monroe’s musical style had been innovative in the 1940s, ...

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5. Donation and Deduction

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pp. 108-126

Historically, the arts have depended on patronage from large institutions: royalty, religion, the aristocracy. Most of the world’s major ancient monuments— the Egyptian pyramids, the Great Wall of China, India’s Taj Mahal, Machu Picchu of the Inca—were built by the state. ...

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6. Education

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pp. 127-144

The events of September 11, 2001, cast the work of our schools in sharp relief. Because of the hour of the attacks, most children were in class at the time, and it fell to teachers to inform students and help them try to process the incoming data. ...

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7. Mediation

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pp. 145-174

A group of unhappy-looking Sudanese men sat on one side of the conference table. They’d come to protest against a daylong Sudanese conference that we’d planned at our Center as a way of bringing the community together.1 Our ultimate goal was to foster cultural initiatives that would grow from the discussions and feel compelling to community members and their families. ...

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8. Globalization and Localization

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pp. 175-195

When the great Sardinian vocal quartet Tenores di Bitti flew to the United States for a tour of a cappella folk choirs, they smuggled through customs several large Coke bottles filled with wine from their own presses.1 I asked them why they brought so much wine along, and they explained that they weren’t sure that they’d be able to find anything drinkable in America. ...

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9. Revolution

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pp. 196-220

Ann Carlson, the visionary performer-choreographer-director, was asked to describe the purpose of her art on a fellowship application. She responded with a single word: “Revolution.” The challenges addressed in this book can only be met through the combined ripples from a seismic shift in everyday personal activity. ...


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pp. 221-234

Works Cited

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pp. 235-246


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pp. 247-256

E-ISBN-13: 9780252091407
Print-ISBN-13: 9780252029653

Page Count: 272
Publication Year: 2004

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • United States -- Social life and customs -- 1971-.
  • Arts and society -- United States.
  • Arts, American.
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