Voices In My Head
Where Is My Arts?- Building a Creative Community
A visiting Latino playwright from San Francisco asked me a fairly innocuous question, “Where’s your Latino Theatre Group?” I stumbled on my answer. “Uh, you mean in Long Beach?” Simple enough question. And I couldn’t come up with anything better then “There is none.”
The conversation then turned to what else we got. I listed them. Museum of Latin American Art. Homeland Cultural Center (Well, not exclusively Latino and the groups use the space for performance, Great program though.). Cultural Alliance of Long Beach (Not exclusively Latino but one of the diverse groups). The art program of Centro CHA (One of the many things they do and bless them for at least trying to do something). The ArtExchange (Not exclusively Latino but they do great stuff and their Director is a Latina). And then, I stopped and realized that I was just throwing out names and quickly running out of them.
With the exception of the Museum, there are no other exclusive Latino Arts program or institutions in Long Beach. “How could that be?” he wanted to know. Isn’t the city 42% Latino? And then, he got crazy and asked me about Black and Cambodian arts groups.
In a city where the majority are people of color, why aren’t there more arts programs and institutions reflecting the diversity of the city? Well, it’s no one’s fault but ours. For years, I’ve asked the same question, “Where are our Arts?” Yes, there’s a local Folklorico group, but what else you got besides that? Where are the theatre groups, the dance companies, the spoken word artists, and the visual and digital artists? Silence.
I love that the Museum of Latin American Arts exists. Love their arts and cultural programs that demonstrate the diversity of the Latino cultural history. And that now they will feature U.S. born Latino artists. I know that there are other groups and individuals out there doing ad hoc projects. One-time exhibitions and projects. Open mic nights. And, I’m grateful that International Theatre Company includes diversity in their productions. Great that Homeland Cultural Center, CALB, ArtExchange and Centro CHA exist. But. I want more.
You cannot live in a city this large with as many Latinos, Black, Cambodian, Pacific-Islanders (Yes, they have a museum), Filipinos, and every other group of color and not have an active, vibrant and permanent arts and cultural presence that reflects that diversity.
Why doesn’t it? In every city I’ve lived in, it came organically from the community. With a caveat. Community leaders were often joined by city leaders to recognize the importance of Arts and Culture as part of the development of the city. Economic. Political. Community. The communities of color that proudly showed their arts and cultural stuff took on even greater leadership roles.
From New York to Washington, D.C. to Miami to Chicago to San Francisco to Los Angeles. While we may not be those cities, we are Long Beach, the most diverse city, after Los Angeles, in the country. Our Arts and Cultural landscape should reflect that.
How does that happen? The Latino and other communities of color in Long Beach must come together to decide that this is an important enough priority. They need to see that arts and culture are an important element when you’re considering strategies for economic development, violence prevention, improving affordable housing, and community development. It’s through the arts that we find expression and direction. It’s through the arts that we find the vibrancy of a people and encourage them to leadership. It’s through the arts that we create active and economically powerful communities.
On November 3, 2007, I organized, with a number of partners, an important Town Hall meeting, Re-Imagining the Arts in Long Beach, hosted by the Museum of Latin American Art and videotaped by Charter Communications for a two-hour television special. That forum led to a years long effort to update the city’s Cultural Master Plan in 2010. While these efforts were important, there is still today a drought of participation by communities of color in the big arts picture.
To change that, we’re going to need a new coalition of all arts groups, community organizations, individual artists, elected officials, government representatives, educational institutions, business people and other creativity advocates to be re-engaged in new dialogue and planning. The communities of color must ask themselves if they want to commit themselves to the future of arts and culture in our communities and in the city. If not for them, then for our children.
That future can be whatever we want it to be. It only needs our vision, our leadership, coordinated planning, and a commitment by all of us to make it happen.