I just returned from conferencing and vacationing in the Southwest. While there, I got a jolt when someone mentioned that Taos, N.M., had recently celebrated its TRI-centennial. That’s 300 years to Cleveland’s 200-plus-a-few.
We forget – or at least I hadn’t thought much – about how this country was settled by historic invaders that arrived from several different points on the compass. Our sensibilities here in Northeast Ohio lean easily toward an historical affinity for the culture brought by English settlers. We are the Land of the Western Reserve, after all, and were once “owned” by New England’s Connecticut colony as their land grant for western expansion.
But while the southwestern territories may have taken a little longer to join the union, the invasion of the Mexican and native peoples’ lands by the Spanish – and the cultural influences melded from those contacts – establish a more uniquely fused continuum of culture than the more European-focused and imitative aspirations of our colonial forefathers (my opinion, and for now I’m stickin’ with it).
While in New Mexico I visited several native American Pueblos and had the chance to experience the deep roots and the exciting fusion of the Indian, Mexican and Spanish culture of that region. Looking down through the eons of the Grand Canyon Gorge and walking the vast expanses of unchanging and untouched desert (plus a short encounter with two tarantulas) gave me a sense of timelessness that predates our man-made boundaries – physical, political, cultural and spiritual, for that matter.
All this is resonating for me as I contemplate the early-stage development of a new initiative in the arts that our board has just approved. Tentatively titled “Cultural Fusion,” it will attempt to “broaden the footprint” of global culture in Cleveland.
While still in the early, exploratory stage, this new program will provide opportunities for greater presence and impact to cultures not in the current mainstream here, fostering an exchange of ideas and sensibilities between artists of different cultures (here and elsewhere). It will also offer the community experiences that showcase both the rich differences and common human ideas that form the creative impetus across all peoples’ urge toward creative expression.
Over the next few months we will consider what funders in other communities are doing to support global culture and exchange, and we will meet with many, many segments of our local community – not just arts organizations – to listen and learn as the basis for shaping our program.
Although it’s still very preliminary, our core values for this initiative are collaboration, creative exchange and sustained impact. We are not looking to found new or grow existing nationality or culture-specific organizations. This will be a project-based initiative. The energy we hope to spark will be in the exchange and sharing – across cultural boundaries – of the richness of the human experience as expressed by the world’s serious artists.
Given the foundation’s emerging interest in international business attraction, we will be looking to align this initiative, in ways that make sense, with our economic development agenda.
Stay tuned: More about this initiative’s progress in future blog entries.
My favorite new expression, courtesy of Arts Kentucky:
“ART is not a thing; it is a WAY.”