But Why Do People Want More Diverse, Locally Focused Stories Told?

Last year (December 31, so technically) I had a post on Arts Hacker taking a look at the work LaPlaca Cohen and Slover Linett Audience Research had done interpreting the Covid edition of the CultureTrack survey through the lens of race and ethnicity.

My post focused on the findings which indicated an interest in having arts organizations offer more inclusive and community focused programming that reflect the stories and faces of everyone. There were some interesting findings about how some communities saw arts and cultural organizations as a trusted source of information whereas it was barely on the radar of other communities. Most everyone saw value beyond just fun and entertainment, though those characteristics are highly valued.

This greater emphasis placed by some BIPOC Americans on the social, civic, emotional, therapeutic, and creative-expression roles of cultural participation may help practitioners and funders think more broadly about service and relevance to communities of color during difficult times.

One thing I didn’t address in that post that stood out was a question the researchers raised about why people want a greater diversity of local stories told.

It reminded me that a lot of assumptions are made about the “why,” but no one has really sought out the answers in a deliberative way. The overall conclusion of the report was that the data raised a multitude of questions in need of study. (i.e. surprising Native American affinity for photography and strong digital consumption of classical music by Black/African-Americans.)

It’s worth reflecting on how a desire to celebrate one’s cultural heritage is connected to other desires; people who are interested in celebrating their cultural heritage are also more likely to want arts and culture organizations to feature “more diverse voices and faces,” focus more on local artists and the local community, and offer stories that reflect one’s life — all of which Americans of color are more likely to express than White Americans…Perhaps White Americans don’t think of arts and culture activities or sites as places to do that kind of celebrating — or perhaps they don’t recognize the extent to which some of those activities and sites do, in fact, celebrate and exemplify European cultural heritage. Might Multiracial Americans feel that their backgrounds and identities are too complex or nuanced to be celebrated in the arts? All of this begs for further research into why many people want more diversity, localness, and stories that reflect their experiences and whether they see those things as tied to their — or their community’s — cultural heritage


Plan For An Inclusive Post-Covid Cultural Experience

About Joe Patti

I have been writing Butts in the Seats (BitS) on topics of arts and cultural administration since 2004 (yikes!). Given the ever evolving concerns facing the sector, I have yet to exhaust the available subject matter. In addition to BitS, I am a founding contributor to the ArtsHacker (artshacker.com) website where I focus on topics related to boards, law, governance, policy and practice.

I am also an evangelist for the effort to Build Public Will For Arts and Culture being helmed by Arts Midwest and the Metropolitan Group. (http://www.creatingconnection.org/about/)

My most recent role was as Executive Director of the Grand Opera House in Macon, GA.

Among the things I am most proud are having produced an opera in the Hawaiian language and a dance drama about Hawaii's snow goddess Poli'ahu while working as a Theater Manager in Hawaii. Though there are many more highlights than there is space here to list.


2 thoughts on “But Why Do People Want More Diverse, Locally Focused Stories Told?”

  1. Hi Joe,
    I am writing from Germany. I wonder about the use of the word “race” in the US. In Germany we discuss to eliminate the word “race” from our constitution because it is basically meaningless as a a descriptor for anything. Instead is has been used for so many years to discriminate and segragate that the word is not in use any more (except maybe for the far right).
    Many times race and ethnicity is being used simultaneously which also sounds weird to me. I checked on the Internet and “race” was viewed by many as a “social construct” – because biologically there is so little difference among the various ethnicities (to stay with this word) that it makes no sense to use it.
    Of course, Germany has a special history with the Nuremburger Rassegesetze (aimed at the jewish population in 1934) and the consequences of WWII and the holocaust that we are being extra careful, but …
    Can you maybe shed some light on this for me?
    Best regards

    • Oh boy that is a complicated question. Yes, race is recognized as a social construct but not really broadly across the entire population. Race is a deeply entrenched issue in the US history. Our Constitution recognized slaves, who were Black, as 3/5 a person for when it came to allocating legislative representation. The indigenous population was displaced/forcibly removed many times and treaties broken. Laws were created to exclude Chinese and Japanese immigration (among others). Japanese were put into internment camps during WWII because it was assumed they would betray the country due to their racial identity.

      It would probably confound you to learn that groups like the Irish and Italians were not originally considered white and then they were. So to a great extent who is “white” has been a matter of who is viewed as an outsider rather than any set definition –so yes, race has definitely been a social construct.

      You may look at some of those examples I use and say these are ethnic or national identities rather than race, but there is a lot of overlap in definition and perception between the three so our non-discrimination laws include the categories of race, ethnic or national identity as protected classes.


Leave a Comment