Toward diversity that works: Building communities through arts and culture

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

1 Scopus citations


Cities, neighborhoods, college campuses, and even businesses often herald diversity-the tolerance and celebration of difference-as a selling point, making the case that it broadens perspectives, enriches lives, promotes compassion and even leads to innovation. But just what does it take to have diversity, particularly racial and ethnic diversity, in a context where racial and ethnic groups have been divided by racism, discrimination, competition for resources, and fear of change? How can tolerance and celebration of difference that leads to compassion and innovation thrive in such a context? Within urban planning and related fields, concern for fostering racial and ethnic diversity has resulted typically in attention to eradicating housing segregation and redistributing wealth and economic opportunity (Cashin 2004; De Souza Briggs 2005; Rawlings et al. 2004). While these are areas that warrant analysis and action, not enough attention has been paid to understanding or affecting the actual processes by which people express or work to change racial ethnic dynamics within and among different groups. Much of this is being achieved through arts and cultural participation. This chapter uses examples of arts and cultural activity in communities around the United States to discuss how arts and cultural activity-through which people affirm, preserve, challenge, and transform racial ethnic identity and dynamics-is a precondition for true diversity, the tolerance and celebration of difference, and how that precondition is being achieved on the ground. Based on these examples, the chapter also discusses important implications for urban planners and policymakers concerned with efforts to create more equitable and diverse communities. My ultimate argument is that, without consideration for and inclusion of arts and cultural activity, such efforts are inherently flawed. I draw in my discussion from a decade of research on the presence and roles of arts and cultural activity in many different types of communities around the United States, including moderate- and low-income neighborhoods, communities of color, and immigrant communities. This research has included participant observation in cultural events, hundreds of interviews, and scores of focus group discussions with neighborhood residents, community leaders, artists, people who run cultural organizations and others involved in a range of community institutions. The research-which focuses always on the kinds of cultural activity that people value in their communities and the reasons why these are valued- is being done by the Arts and Culture in Communities Project (ACIP).1 Before launching into a discussion about how cultural participation contributes to diversity in communities, a few words are in order about how we interpret arts and culture in our work.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationTwenty-First Century Color Lines
Subtitle of host publicationMultiracial Change in Contemporary America
PublisherTemple University Press
Number of pages15
ISBN (Print)9781592136926
StatePublished - Dec 1 2009
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Sciences(all)


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