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What's Next: Design Standards for an Evolved & Equitable Cultural Support System

Recently I’ve been thinking a lot about some questions my friend David O’Fallon posed a while back to a group of cultural leaders pondering the cultural future:

· which aspects of our cultural support systems work,

· which need to be tinkered with,

· and what systems need to be created anew.

My response is informed by my recent experience working some interesting cross-sector arts projects that involved questioning the assumptions, and notions of success that define existing systems and structures in various arenas, like education, community development, human services.

These experiences have reinforced my belief that like most individual humans, human systems are inherently resistant to fundamental change. The reasons are obvious, most systems persist because they generally work for the people and institutions that create and control them. And, by their nature, these systems seek to strengthen and reinforce the patterns and influences that brought them into being.

Even when the need is obvious, institutional change is very hard. By definition, real change disrupts those old and familiar patterns of privilege and influence. Revolution's also require new learning --- lots of it. It's not surprising then that status quo stakeholders fight hard so to both avoid losing their power AND to avoid feeling untethered and incompetent.

It’s obvious that we, the human race, are in desperate need of our most powerful and dynamic capacity, namely, our imaginations. It is also abundantly clear these status quo systems are exerting a paralyzing grip these "what's next" muscles. That proverbial box that we are supposed to think outside of can be a powerful force for maintaining the “same old same old.”

At the Center our approach to changing this story has been to work with a constituency or community to decide first why change is needed, then where it needs to go, and finally what structures and processes will needed to advance the eventual journey. These guidelines or design standards then become an armature upon which an evolving "what's next" social sculpture can be based.

Given all this, my response to the above questions has been to begin identifying some of the characteristics that an evolved and equitable cultural support system might include. These are shared with the caveat that this example of prototype design standards is missing its most important element—namely the critical input of the community that will be most affected by them.

So here are the ones I've come up thus far:

Underlying Assumptions:

· Arts-centered learning is necessary for the healthy development and growth of every human.

· Humans need the arts make sense and meaning in the world and bear sensate witness to those things that are fundamentally beyond our comprehension.

· Robust and pervasive cultural development is necessary for the creation of healthy, equitable, and sustainable communities.

· The development of a worldview that supports an equitable and sustainable future is not possible without the active participation of society’s creators.

Design Standards for an Evolved and Equitable Cultural Support System

Moving forward our cultural support systems should:

· Clearly define and aggressively advance equitable access to cultural resources and participation at every level of our society.

· Recognize and respond to the overlapping and interdependent nature of local, regional, national and global cultural ecosystems

· Advance the development of cultural ecosystems that are fully integrated into the broader social, political, and economic landscapes in which the they function.

· Support and incentivize the development of new, equitable strategies for managing and supporting art making and presentation both inside and outside of the non-profit framework.

· Significantly increase both the stability and the creative risk-taking capacities of the cultural sector.

· Prioritize support for the originating, indigenous creative capacities of individual artists and community-responsive arts organizations.

· Be respectful of, and responsive to the complex and diverse cultural histories, values, belief systems, and practices that define our communities.

· Employ documentary processes that emphasize first voice representation and are contextually sensitive to those different histories, values, beliefs, and practices.

· Invest in the advancement of cultural leaders as community leaders.

· Commit to clarity of intentions, outcomes, and definitions of success.

· Have ultimate accountability to the people and places that bear the consequences of the successes and failures of community cultural development efforts.

· Recognize, and be responsive to the moral and ethical issues inherent to community cultural development work.

· Invest in community cultural infrastructure that includes professional development, research, advocacy, network and policy development, and of course material support.

The questions posed above are certainly not new. In fact, many of the guests on our podcast, Change the Story / Change the World have shared stories about how they are working to address them in concrete ways. A collection of these stories can be found at the Change the Story Collection on this website.

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