AABC board member Lynn Curtis sends us the following. We’d be interested in hearing your thoughts.
Subject: AFC Lecture: Cultural Democracy in a Time of Diminished Resources
The American Folklife Center presents a lecture in the 2010 Benjamin
Botkin Folklife Lecture Series
Cultural Democracy in a Time of Diminished Resources
presented by Bau Graves, Old Town School of Folk Music, Chicago
July 22, 2010, 12:00 noon – 1:00 pm
Mary Pickford Theater, 3rd Floor, James Madison Building, Library of
Simply stated, “Cultural Democracy” is the notion that everybody’s
heritage and cultural expression is worthwhile and deserving of an
equitable share of whatever resources are available. In recent years,
Cultural Democracy has also gained traction as a descriptor for the
whole realm of participatory, community-centered arts activities,
practiced by millions of Americans everyday in their homes,
backyards, public parks, places of worship, schools – pretty much
everywhere except in the designated art spaces of our museums and
concert halls, where they happen infrequently.
The mechanisms that we have inherited for the support of public
culture were inspired by the practices of the fine arts economy of
the first half of the 20th century, and were designed to validate
This is the top-down version of culture.
Financial and programmatic decision-making is vested in highly-
trained, credentialed individuals who are positioned to determine
what the entire community should see, hear and experience.
Cultural Democracy requires a paradigm shift away from this curatorial model,
and towards a process of continuous and intense community engagement,
using culture as a catalyst for addressing social issues: art of the
people, made by the people, and presented for the people.
James Bau Graves is Executive Director of the Old Town School of Folk
Music, in Chicago, Illinois, the largest community school of the arts
in the United States.
His work is focused on exploration of the personal, political, aesthetic and
ethical issues embedded in the concept and practice of public culture.
He is the past Director of the Jefferson Center Foundation, in Roanoke, Virginia,
and co-founder of the Center for Cultural Exchange in Maine, where he facilitated
the creation of an extended series of programs, in close
collaboration with community groups and artists, addressing grass
roots cultural aspirations, questions of identity and social/
financial power relations.
Bau’s work as a field researcher, arts presenter, community organizer,
project manager and tour director has been prolific, winning numerous
awards from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Wallace Foundation,
Americans for the Arts’ Animating Democracy program, the Rockefeller Foundation,
and many others.
Bau has performed and recorded with several jazz and
traditional music ensembles, and composed original scores for two
collaborative projects with dancer/director Ann Carlson. He holds a
Masters degree in ethnomusicology from Tufts University, has
published essays concerning cultural issues in both the academic and
popular press, and has appeared on and/or produced numerous
Bau Graves’ first book, Cultural Democracy, was published
in 2005 by the University of Illinois Press.
For more information, please visit http://www.loc.gov/folklife/events/
botkin-lectures.html#july22 or call 202-707-5510.
American Folklife Center
Library of Congress