"How do institutions and artists negotiate between sincere attempts at 'bridge-building' and creating productive 'multicultural' explorations without falling into the potential traps of audience pandering or cliché?"
Breaking it Down: Open Up, Reach Out, and Listen
Let’s take the term “bridge-building.” Where is this bridge leading? What distance will it span? Is it connecting a city, community or one ethnic group? Which one of the many ethnic groups in your city are you trying to reach?
What kind of bridge are you trying to build? Artistic? Academic? Educational? What materials will you need?
What aspect of the community are you trying to address? Poverty? Racism? Marginalization? Success? Achievements? History? Who can you bring in to address each individual topic? What is the amount of funding you will need to make this bridge sturdy? Will it stand the test of time or is it a temporary connection?
Once you have decided on the type of bridge, then you find someone to build it. Bridge building requires expertise. Who better than to hire someone from the community or ethnic group you are trying to connect with? How about someone who has experienced the complexities of navigating a world as a person of color? What is your hiring process? Is it an organic interview that covers questions about individual convictions or do you focus solely on whether they know how to create budgets? What questions are you not asking that you should be?
Now let’s look at multiculturalism. The dictionary defines it as constituting several ethnic or cultural groups within a society. Multi is for multiple, having many different parts and elements. Complex. Each culture with its own set of customs and contributions, each group with its own unique aesthetic, history and legacy.
Multiculturalism requires specific knowledge about the demographic population you are trying to reach. It requires that you acknowledge the different ideologies and mores of a community. It requires that you do your homework and research and engage.
After seeing all the work that bridge-building and multiculturalism requires, why would you have just one person at your institution to handle them? Why only one show a season about one ethnic group when there are so many in your city?
Why would you want to hand this job to someone who is attempting to build a bridge and create diversity from reading a manual?
It’s a tough job but someone has to do it. Hire artists of color who want to do it.