I as at an informal gathering recently with the Bush Foundation. We were talking about the issues of access and our growing diversity, and my new friend Alexandre Cyusa from Rwanda said something I can’t shake. He said, “I think the arts should be the second language of Fargo.”
This was in reference to creating a cultural and artistic center that is intentionally inclusive of all the people in our community. A place where African art intermingles with traditional Western art. A place where Indian, Somali and Panamanian food is brought to one table to be shared as a cultural exchange as well as nourishment. A place where Middle Eastern music is learned and played by musicians from all over the world, where the common denominator is art and culture and, more specifically, a place where our artistic differences are celebrated, not misunderstood or ignored.
I keep thinking about access, diversity and the arts in this community. I’ve even written about it in this column recently, but there’s so much more to think about and do.
I am proud that The Arts Partnership partnered with the three city library systems to create the Metro Arts Pass for people to check out and have access to all kinds of arts and culture programming at free or greatly reduced rates.
I am proud that ChalkFest is free and open to everyone. We created that event intentionally to attract a diverse audience, and we more than achieved it in August. We will continue to reach out to all of the community for this annual event.
I am proud to be part of a small working group talking about providing access in our arts facilities — for all kinds of disabilities. Ramps and elevators are just the tip of that iceberg, and we are determined to be active leaders in this area. As Maureen Kelly Jonason of the Historical and Cultural Society of Clay County says, “It’s not just the right thing to do, it’s the law.”
I am proud of the HCSCC for hosting multicultural, community-wide events like Pangea; of Theatre B for recently producing theater about multicultural issues and for beginning to do non-traditional casting; of local gallery spaces such as The Spirit Room, Nichole’s Fine Pastry and Plains Art Museum for featuring minority artists.
But there’s much more to be done.
There’s no question that our community’s population is evolving, but when I attend many arts events, I rarely see that diversity represented in the performers, the programming or the audience.
I don’t believe that’s because people who are not native to our area are not interested in the arts. I think it’s because we haven’t yet found a way to be inclusive. We haven’t yet merged our comfort zone and Western understanding of art with people whose culture and art is different from ours.
Are we comfortable assuming that our understanding of harmonic music, mostly white depictions in art and linear storytelling are the only art of value?
There’s no question that trying to blend cultures and different artistic practice can be complicated, but surely art and culture are more of a common denominator and uniter than a common divider.
I would like to be part of a community that welcomes those who are “not from around here” and thinks, acts and programs in a more globally artistic and cultural way. I would like our arts and cultural programming to engage a wider audience because they see and hear pieces of their own culture.
With over 50 languages being spoken in our community today, it’s absolutely true that English is not everyone’s first language, but we can all work on learning a second language of art together.
Dayna Del Val, executive director of The Arts Partnership, writes a monthly column for Variety. For more information on the arts, go to theartspartnership.net.
This column is part of a content partnership with The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead and originally appeared in the Monday, October 5, 2015, issue of the paper.