From the controversial depiction of Emmett Till in the 2017 Whitney Biennial to the Confederate statues in Charlottesville and New Orleans, cultural representation and cultural appropriation is at the center of a debate about who speaks for whom, when and where. In my classes last spring (Creative Placemaking online, and International Cultural Policy on campus), we talked a lot about how to figure out what kinds of cultural speech makes sense in what space. I found that students were really excited by these questions, and many of them wrote about them in their final papers, wanting to keep the conversation going. I reached out to one student, online student Salina M. Almanzar, and approached her about the possibility of presenting a paper at an academic conference and possibly writing an article together. We plan to travel to the Urban Affairs Association conference in Toronto in April, and send out an article to an academic journal shortly afterwards. It’s extremely rewarding when faculty and students get to collaborate in the production of knowledge!
While it’s easy to designate victims and perpetrators of cultural appropriation, Salina and I argue that there are many spaces in between, and these are the ones in which decision makers can benefit from understanding the nuances and complexities of cultural agency. We intend to push the conversation around cultural policy and planning to consider whose voices are heard in the pursuit of more equitable practices. Planners, designers, artists and other urbanists need guidance on how to evaluate cultural production to ensure that urban public spaces are both dynamic and broadly hospitable. By examining several cases of cultural conflict and appropriation in the US and abroad, we hope to offer practitioners a way to evaluate the consequences of various kinds of cultural production. We look forward to our continuing collaboration and opportunities to bring this work, generated right in the Arts Administration classroom, to the broader public!