Standing for Cultural Democracy

An Act of Collective Imagination By, For, and Of The People

On November 19, 2016, the people-powered U.S. Department of Arts and Culture launched Standing for Cultural Democracy: The USDAC’s Policy and Action Platform.

We offer this platform to amplify ideas that can advance social healing and bring us closer to a future that countless Citizen Artists have told us they wish to inhabit: cultural democracy grounded in equity and engagement; full cultural citizenship, belonging without barrier; and deep respect for the right to culture—expression, participation, recognition—underpinning any just and caring society.

We recognize how profoundly these rights are imperiled in a Trump presidency, making it even more essential to protect the right to culture and resist all attempts to damage it. Some of the platform points will be immediately doable; others are aspirational, pointing us toward the cultural democracy we deserve regardless of who occupies the White House.

We hope this call to action will transcend and unite across lines of difference, uplifting the public interest in culture and culture in the public interest. We stand with all those acting to counter policies that deny belonging and imperil security based on gender, orientation, immigration status, race, ethnicity, religion, ability, and other categories of identity. We offer these ideas as tools, and ourselves as collaborators in guaranteeing the right to culture.

We invite all to endorse, share, discuss, propose, experiment with, and advocate for this platform, which we hope will inspire reflection and action at many levels: national, regional, local, individual. The USDAC is ready and willing to assist and collaborate with allies looking to implement any of these ideas, at any level. Call on us! hello[at]usdac.us.

*The full platform report includes many additional examples and resources, including templates for local policies.

CALL FOR PROJECT PROPOSALS

We’re looking for pilot experiments that show how the Platform can be put into action. We’ll select up to ten projects; provide $500 to support execution and documentation; and support with strategic technical assistance throughout. 


10-POINT POLICY AND ACTION PLATFORM (at-a-glance):

1. INSTITUTE A NEW PUBLIC SERVICE JOBS PROGRAM. Twice before—in the 1930s with the Works Progress Administration and the 1970s with the Comprehensive Employment and Training Act—this country’s response to widespread unemployment led to public service jobs. The WPA and CETA put thousands of artists and creative workers (along with those in other sectors) to work in strengthening cultural infrastructure and social fabric, giving all Americans access to social goods that the marketplace deems a privilege for those who can afford them. This case for a Culture Corps is being made via programs in creative aging, arts and health, intensive after-school arts programs, and in correctional institutions, saving costs and improving lives.

  • We call for publicly funded public service jobs programs that address cultural fabric as well as physical infrastructure; expanding Percent for Art Ordinances to include artists in residence, community-engaged projects, and creative social cohesion activities led by artists; and using existing public service jobs to employ artists to strengthen cultural fabric and advance social goods.

2. SUPPORT A CULTURE OF JUSTICE AND EQUITY. Cultural rights are only as real as the resources used to protect, express, and extend them. Even a glance at the numbers reflects more lip-service than investment in human rights and racial equity through our local, state, regional, and national arts agencies. Private-sector support to artists and groups tilts strongly toward big-budget Eurocentric organizations that can mobilize wealthy patrons. From the municipal level to the national, the picture is the same.

  • We call for a fair share of federal, state, and local resources and power for all communities; and support for a national learning community to engage allies for racial justice through online and in-person learning venues.

3. REDEEM DEMOCRACY WITH CREATIVITY. The recent presidential campaign revealed a stark and alarming truth: public space is being distorted and democracy eroded by the treatment of big money as protected political speech. Virtually all of our systems need an infusion of creativity to enable and serve a vibrant, functioning democracy. The culture of politics needs the full participation of artists.

  • We call for arts-based modes of political dialogue and deliberation; and hacking democracy with creativity, deploying powerful methods developed through design labs, hackathons, and other collective creativity approaches to call for arts-based redesign of our electoral system to reduce the influence of entrenched money and vastly expand the level and diversity of participation.

4. REFORM THE CULTURE OF PUNISHMENT. The U.S. has earned the nickname “Incarceration Nation” for our massive prison population, punitive sentencing practices, the scale of our criminal justice system and the associated taxpayer-borne costs. From people of color being killed in police custody to a school-to-prison pipeline,  this is not a single problem, but a complex, interlocking set of problems that deny people of color full cultural citizenship

  • We call for support  through a new Creative Breakthrough Fund for artistic creation and learning opportunities to change the criminal justice system, focusing on arts-based projects created to align social attitudes with awareness of Incarceration Nation and its impact, and positive actions to ameliorate and respond to it.

5. INVEST IN BELONGING AND CULTURAL CITIZENSHIP. Our chief cultural deficit is belonging. How many Americans feel deprived of full cultural citizenship on account of race, ethnicity, religion, social class, ability, orientation, or other categories that experience social exclusion? To sustain a functioning civil society that even aspires to this aim, the challenge of belonging and dis-belonging must be acknowledged and addressed.

  • We call for widespread adoption of a Policy on Belonging; support for long-term neighborhood residencies by artists with experience and skill in community cultural development; support for community-based centers that engage people directly in art-making and art experiences; creative use of underused spaces such as schools, houses of worship, and public plazas; and repurposing disused spaces such as vacant lots and empty storefronts as pop-up community cultural centers.

6. INTEGRATE COMMUNITY CULTURAL DEVELOPMENT AND THE WORK OF ARTISTS INTO ALL SOCIAL PROGRAMS AFFECTING CULTURE. Across the U.S., we see rips in social fabric tear communities apart. Anti-immigrant feeling obscures the positive impacts of immigration; rural communities lose their younger generation for lack of opportunity; in urban centers, people fear crossing the invisible boundaries dividing neighborhoods. These are cultural issues that demand multidimensional creative responses to bring people into authentic, equitable, constructive dialogue.

  • We call for learning experiences and materials that communicate essential content about artists’ work and value in advancing social goods, using the language and ways of learning relevant professions favor; and incorporating artists with relevant skills and experience into all programs and initiatives related to social well-being—policing, education, health care, environmental protection, community development, and other social sectors.

7. SUPPORT ARTISTIC RESPONSE TO NATURAL AND CIVIL EMERGENCIES. The USDAC will soon release a Rapid Artistic Response Toolkit offering guidance to artists and creative organizers who support communities facing natural or civil disasters, be they floods or protests and crackdowns focusing on police killings of local residents in custody.

  • We call on funders, disaster relief agencies, law enforcement, and arts and cultural agencies and organizations to recognize the crucial value of arts-based rapid response and provide resources to sustain it; Integrating cultural strategies in longterm recovery and resiliency planning; and providing adequate training for all parties.

8. ADOPT A CULTURAL IMPACT STUDY. Community development policy is marred by a widespread proclivity to see communities of color and low-income communities as disposable in the face of economic “progress.” Longstanding neighborhoods and cultural and social fabric are demolished to make way for new freeways or sports stadiums. Longtime residents are displaced by gentrification. The disturbing fact is that culture has no legal standing in such decisions, no grounds for protection.

  • We call on all agencies and organizations with public planning responsibility to adopt a Cultural Impact Study (CIS) for every project with potential negative cultural impact, assessing impact on cultural fabric just as do Environmental Impact Studies with respect to the natural environment.

9. RECONCEIVE EDUCATION TO SUPPORT CREATIVITY’S CENTRAL ROLE.  We’re emerging from an era in the annals of education in which skills seen as “hard” (science, technology, engineering, math: STEM), those required for certain types of employment and measurable with standardized tests, were valued above other subjects. Increasingly, these notions—that the primary purpose of education is banking knowledge for job preparation, that the most important learning can be acquired by rote—are being discredited.

  • We call for supporting creativity as an integral capacity for all public and private education; investing in jobs for teaching artists; including curriculum devised by and for teaching artists and artists working in participatory, community-based contexts in every higher education program engaging artists, starting with first-year orientation; and supporting community-based purpose-built curriculum for community cultural development practitioners.

10. ADOPT A BASIC INCOME GRANT. Economic challenges for artists and cultural organizers are the same as for other workers. The current system mandates overproduction, often exacerbated by under-compensation. This is not special pleading for artists: in virtually every field, decision-makers fail to prioritize necessary time for reflection, restoration, and conviviality. It’s a challenge to discern, integrate, and act on cultural development needs or other social goods when competition for survival eats what could otherwise be time for creativity, connection, and pleasure.

  • We call on Federal and state governments to introduce a basic income grant covering basic needs (e.g., food, shelter, medical care) and available without a means test or conditions. The full platform contains links to a wealth of domestic and international resources demonstrating the workability and affordability of this proposal.

Download the full document here and join us in standing for the right to culture.