Archive for the ‘cultural identity’ tag
Fort Collins is one of many cities around the world where citizens and economic development initiatives such as Beet Street work to distinguish a city as an “intellectually vital community that fosters, celebrates, and inspires human creativity through diverse cultural experiences and programming.” These endeavors have wonderful implications for present and future citizens and economies where cultural events and programs provide opportunities for intellectual and business growth. But growing a vital community requires continual mental work and the kind of creative thinking that asks us to stretch and reevaluate what we think we already know and understand about ourselves. Diverse cultural experiences and programs ask participants to see things from new perspectives, because seeing things from new perspectives is fundamental to inspiring human creativity. Multiple approaches to history, ideas and living together lead to multi-faceted, individualistic or even idiosyncratic points of view that complicate ideas about who we are and who is allowed to define the parts of our collective culture. When opposing histories and experiences are routinely acknowledged and valued, it is more likely that people will become involved, more interested and more active in the cultural life of a city. So what happens in a city where past economic and historical experiences create seemingly vast divides in how individual citizens create a sense of place?
Linz, Austria is an interesting example of a city where history could create seemingly irreconcilable differences. Since 1985, one or two cities across Europe have been selected to represent Europe as “European Capital of Culture” for a year, with the list of future capitals until the year 2019 already named. The aim of this program is to “showcase the richness, variety and similarities of European cultures and help European citizens to gain a better understanding of one another.” This year, Linz is the European Capital of Culture and in its efforts to attract visitors and host diverse Europeans, the city has chosen to openly address the fact that it does not exist in a social, historical and political vacuum. This means that although arts and cultural events are part of creating exciting and memorable celebrations, Linz is consciously addressing the fact that how it promotes itself as well as who is considered important in the city will have lasting effects. That is, Linz is actively preparing for the future by coming to terms with its past rather than passively letting “history repeat itself.” In the past, Linz existed as a “Führerstadt” or “Führer City,” encircled by the extermination camps of Mauthausen, Gusen, Ebensee and Hartheim. Today, architectural evidence of the crimes of the past mingle with contemporary life in Linz and its vicinity. For example, “Hitlerbauten,” the industrial facilities of the VOEST built on the foundations provided by the “Hermann Göring Werke,” and other seemingly uncontroversial public buildings, were constructed from materials like granite—materials that concentration camp prisoners paid for with their lives.
Historically, the concentration camp Mauthausen was the final destination for deportees from all over Europe and this year, the city of Linz would like more Europeans to visit the area. They could have chosen to ignore the past and only focus on celebrating arts and culture in collective denial. Instead, they are attempting to find new ways of talking about the past that defy collective amnesia and are relevant to both the region and the rest of Europe. Projects are making sure that people have accurate knowledge of the past but go further than allowing people to merely evade guilt. Leaders in Linz have identified their task as that of encouraging discussion about the developments and social mechanisms that made it possible for historical events to occur in the first place. They want participants to question the ideology underpinning the Nazi era, and make connections to how it continues to subtly affect and inform European societies to this day.
For example, the mission statement for Linz09 identifies that history will be dealt with by using different narrative styles, including “the polemical, factual, sober and provocative.” Different projects throughout the year are intended to encourage diverse audiences to engage with the area from new perspectives. The idea is that cultural discourse can exist in multiple forms that include dissent or feeling uncomfortable. One project supported by federal and national funding, “The Invisible Camp,” is designed to reactivate the hidden memory of parts of the region where citizens now live and relax. Using an i-Pod, visitors walk through residential developments listening to a soundtrack of reminiscences from survivors and witnesses as to what happened there. The voices include present day inhabitants, soldiers and even members of the SS who were responsible for sending people to concentration camps. The stories bring to life what is normally left unsaid and visitors cannot ignore what they can no longer physically see. You can visit Linz, the city that Hitler wanted to make his cultural capital, to explore its museums, cyberart Ars Electronica center, street celebrations, cultural and religious sights and even tour the city from above on rooftop scaffolding. You can also be asked or ask uncomfortable questions.
Another project in Linz uses signs to make a point. During 2009, the most important access routes leading into Linz will be relabelled. The new street names use languages that are “foreign” to many of the city’s citizens in order to bring attention to the present day ethnic complexity of Linz. The proactive goal for the signs is to point out that the reality of living in Linz demands the “kind of democratic attitude that is so needed and so necessary in all areas of a life lived together rather than merely side by side.” The project also works as a test case to determine how cosmopolitan the majority of Linzers really are as hosts to the rest of Europe. It’s an exciting examination of cultural identity–real and perceived! You can read more about Linz09 here. If Linz can combine tourism and address conflict while celebrating contemporary life, do you think cities of all sizes and in other parts of the world can put their model to use?
Art and community make life!
A few years ago, I attended a conference in Chicago and for part of the morning, a group of us walked in pairs through the streets, one with their eyes closed, and the other, well, making sure they didn’t fall over. We were listening to the sound of the city and after each of our turns, we would write notes about what we so intently ‘heard’, the sounds that make up space and in turn, create place. I will never forget the sound of stilettos on a marble floor inside a large atrium. As we move through space, we fill it with musical notes of our own. Our own little community symphony. Next time you’re sitting still or even walking with someone, try it. Close your eyes and listen to the music of place.
Now, if you were lucky enough to see the Laser Harps at this month’s Imagination Fair, then you have probably already experienced the ways in which our movements in space also interact with waves of light to create particular sounds and forms of music. At the North Carolina Museum of Life and Science, they have a soundSpace, where people can “…’play’ the room as if it were a musical instrument” as Scott Lindroth, Associate Professor of Music at Duke University puts it. The more you move in the space, the more the music comes to life as your movements are captured on web cameras positioned around the installation. Such an interactive installation adds new meaning to composing live performances in an unusual amalgamation of dance and music mutually creating each other. For a wonderful video on how children respond to such a space, see below.
As you’ve probably guessed by reading this far, there is an intimate relationship between sound, space and place, not to mention who we get to be through, in, and with them all.
This month, the place in which we live — here in Fort Collins — will reverberate intensely with many different kinds of sounds and understandings of space and place as we welcome a series of artists and scientists to our community. A few blogs back, we posted a video of Wynton Marsalis, jazz artists extraordinaire performing The Ballad of the American Arts at the 22nd Annual Nancy Hanks Lecture on Arts & Public Policy and taking the audience on a historical ride of cultural identity as performed through jazz. Jazz, as a musical form, has proven hard to define and even harder to agree upon in terms of its pedigree. Still most jazz critics and scholars agree on some critical characteristics of the music and the artists that produce it, such as the importance of improvisation, its ability to absorb and transform influences, its special relationship with time (the ‘swing’ rhythm), its fundamentally democratic creative nature in terms of the freedom given to performers to add their own ‘touch’ to a piece of music, and its grounding in collaborative, group interaction. Jazz spans a wide range of styles and continues to evolve in rhizomatic fashion due to these fundamental characteristics and the influences of those who play it as well as the places from which they come. You could say that jazz as a particular sound creates a space that many from diverse places can share.
From July 9-11, The Fort Collins Jazz Experience, hosted by the Downtown Business Association, welcomes the Ramsey Lewis Trio and Al Jarreau to our community. The Ramsey Lewis Trio will kick off the event at the Lincoln Center Performance Hall on Thursday, July 9 from 7:30pm with Al Jarreau following two nights later on Saturday, July 11 at the same location but starting at 8pm. Ramsey Lewis of course, is known as “The Great Performer” — a jazz icon, composer, pianist and radio personality while Al Jarreau is the only vocalist in history to win Grammys in jazz, pop and R&B. I am looking forward to hearing him use his voice as several diverse instruments!
Speaking of diverse instruments, on July 25, Doc Severinsen and El Ritmo de la Vida roll into town to bring us their own unique compositions featuring Doc on trumpet (he’s a virtuoso trumpeter and for a long time was the musical director of Johnny Carson’s big band on the Tonight Show as well as playing in major orchestras throughout the US and Canada), Gil Gutierrez on guitar and Pedro Cartas on violin. For a taste of what is to come in what has been called an ‘electrifying display of their virtuosity and blending of instruments’, click here. Doc and El Ritmo de la Vida will be at the Lincoln Center Performance Hall on Saturday, July 25 at 7:30pm. This trio got together when Doc visited Mexico thinking about retirement. Instead, he says, “…when I heard them play I knew that I would be playing with them for some time to come. Latino music, along with the blues, has always been among my favorites, and Gil and Pedro do it along with a European style that I love and so do our audiences.” The place of Mexico, opened up a new space for a new sound for all!
In between both these magical musical events, we have an equally enlightening discussion of life in space by Dr. Bob Phillips, Former NASA Space Station Chief Scientist at July’s Science Cafe on July 15 from 5:30pm to 7pm at the Stonehouse Grille. As usual, this event is free and will present some of the changes that occur in space flight and how and why we change form, function and behavior to accommodate this strange new environment. Dr. Phillips trained as a veterinarian and holds a PhD in physiology and nutrition. His life story and how he came to be involved with NASA and become an in-flight researcher on the first dedicated Biomedical Research Space Shuttle flight as well as how these experiences have fueled his work with NASA’s Life Science Education and Outreach program should make for a fascinating evening. We look forward to seeing you there, and please feel free to post a comment with any feedback you have from the evening!
Sound + Space = Place. Here’s to a wonderful July in Fort Collins and Northern Colorado!
Entrancing. Provocative. Celebratory. Poignant. Mythic. These are just some of the ways I have heard people in the community describe their engagement with the ideas and performances shared by the Imagination Fair and Laurie Anderson this past weekend. My family was downtown on Friday evening to capture the performances and music there on an early summer evening and witnessed the atmosphere created by That 1 Guy and others on the Oak Street Plaza. So caught up were we in the relaxed, fun filled atmosphere, we did not even make it to see what was happening at Opera Galleria! Others, however, journeyed on to be captivated by the Laser Harps and the works of local artists presented in CoCOA’s annual member exhibition at the Poudre River Arts Center as they voted on the People’s Choice Awards and celebrated our own local art community at the First Friday Gallery Walk.
Then on Saturday, a close to full house at the Lincoln Center witnessed the extraordinary talent of Laurie Anderson as she mixed music, metaphor, social commentary, light, life and air to fill that space with imagination, laughter and reflection. With stories ranging across the continent and beyond, Anderson enthralled the audience with accounts of small Amish boys learning to kiss without affection, hitch-hiking to the North Pole, staying in bed all day and teaching adult students at night school, narrowly escaping a hatchet and more successfully escaping the burn ward as a child, not to mention the precise performances of working at McDonald’s. She, the “ugly one with the jewels”, also spoke on indigenous people’s encounters with that strange tribe that calls themselves ‘anthropologists’, all the time reminding the audience of the ways we learn to be with each other and the multiple and diverse motivations for our actions, be they money, salvation, education and of course, self-preservation and identity.
Outlining “the stories of stories”, Anderson asked the audience “what are days for?” and to reflect on what some have described as the end of ‘American Empire’, when the people realized, like her little dog, that “attacks could come from above as well.” It was an evening of remembering (re-membering, or the ways in which we bring people from the back of our mind to the forefront of same) and forgetting, not to mention reflecting on what we choose to remember and forget in our stories. As I watched her skip lithely on stage to acknowledge her standing ovation for the third time, I dreamed that I might find myself at her age, capable of such wit, energy, art and love of life. It was an evening that will stay with me for a long time.
Tomorrow, the Science Café presents Dr Arlyn Andrews of the NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Laboratories) in Boulder. Dr Andrews’ presentation is entitled “Carbon Detectives” and discusses her colleagues’ efforts to monitor and understand the global carbon cycle and the importance of taking quick action to reduce carbon dioxide pollution. The event is free and starts at 5:30pm at the Stonehouse Grille - we hope to see you there!
Don’t forget to leave us a comment on your experiences of these events – it would be great to hear from you!
If an artist sings deep enough, he takes you to the frontiers of your soul.
—Wynton Marsalis, 2009 Nancy Hanks Lecturer
How can I be me without allowing you to be you?
After our month of finding home and discussions of art, identity, history and community, I was reminded of Wynton Marsalis’ lecture and performance of The Ballad of the American Arts at the 22nd Annual Nancy Hanks Lecture on Arts & Public Policy earlier this year. For Marsalis, the arts tell us who to be, and throughout his lecture, he discusses how American virtuosity rose from its diverse class roots to show us that who a person is, is always more definitive than what a person is.
Marsalis also asks us to assess the value of an artistic heritage, arguing that music, as does all art, carries memory and therefore, meaning. Spirituals, and their singing, for example, give community a purpose, making people believe and providing them with a home. Tracing an entangled social and artistic history through many of the turning points of emerging cultural identity and progress in the US, Marsalis provides an inspiring, enlightening and humorous portrayal of a people’s struggle through and for their artistic heritage.
Just as our arts call to us on a very deep, spiritual, emotional and physical level, so do our festivals. I never really understood the power of a good festival until I lived in Japan. As I watch the cherry blossoms bloom over the last few weeks, I am transported back to celebrating Hanami, which for me, always indicated Spring had arrived. Hanami (flower viewing), involves gathering with friends and family wherever the trees bloom to feast into the night. There are processional walks through larger municipal parks and the flowers provide an opportunity to reconnect with the community after the winter and renew people’s spirits.
Summer and early Fall though, is real festival time. There is barely a weekend without some deity being celebrated at local temples where everyone gathers in the warm evening air to eat, drink, pray and come together. Some of my most powerful memories of Japan involve the smell of grilled mochi, yakisoba and teriyaki from the festival stalls, shaved ice drinks for walking with the processions, the smell of incense which clouds the temples, wearing yukata and the dark, dark blue of the sky against the brightly lit paper lanterns which swing in the evening breeze.
One of my all time favorite festivals is the Kurama fire festival, one of the three most famous in Kyoto. In the evening, watch fires are lit at the entrances to local houses in this little town, and at 6:00 in the evening, the town is lit up with torches carried by children. Soon after that, the local people, wearing straw warrior sandals, parade through the streets carrying larger and larger torches, including the great torch weighing near 100kgs, and yelling along the way until they gather at the sacred precincts of the shrine. Two portable shrines are hoisted on shoulders amid the sparks from the torches. It’s spectacular, primal and communal and it connects you to past and present experiences of home in extraordinary ways.
If there are no good fire festivals, cherry blossoms or temples near you though, how about a pillow fight and/or neighborhood party? Believe it or not, April 4 was World Pillow Fight Day. Next year we need to get Fort Collins on the map for this event. If Boulder can do it….you get the picture…Follow the link above for a how to guide! For something on a smaller scale, we had the pleasure of attending a friend’s neighborhood party this weekend, a pot luck affair where complete strangers brought an international dish to share with everyone that lived in the area. The weather was not great and a group of people completely unfamiliar with each other found themselves thrown into a kitchen and conversations. What was most astounding though, was how quickly friendships and community connections sprang forward so that after three hours, a new set of friends spilled back out into the neighborhood, brought together by food, drink and small children bringing a piñata to its knees. Imagine if as a community, we all decided to have a ‘neighborhood party weekend’ and every neighborhood held a party simultaneously. Makes you wonder what would happen with the collective consciousness (there have been studies connecting collective community meditation and a simultaneous reduction in violence in large metropolitan areas, you know).
Through song, nature, history and food, we reconnect with each other and realize how we need each other to live to our fullest potential as individuals and as a group. As we march through spring and into summer, how can we hold onto the conversations started in our ‘finding home’ series? What new promises can we make to take different routes around our community and explore the hidden gems of where we are? What diverse cultural contributions can we celebrate and bring into our ‘homes’ for our children? I’m going to the Museo de las Tres Colonias. Where are you headed?
Remember – art is part of our everyday life.
There is much talk in globalization circles that we are moving closer and closer to the eradication of the nation-state and the rise of a global society and world system. It would be easy to say that those who propose such ideas are fantasists, yet there is no doubt that the world faces global issues, on a global scale, with no easy global solutions at hand. Many of these global issues have been wrought by the movements of people, their belongings, their cultures, their food and their homes. It’s funny what kinds of cultural diversity we celebrate and which ones we deem catastrophic. The Politics of Open and Shut.
Last year, as I tended to my garden at the University Village, my Indian neighbor was educating me on what he was growing in his plot. I asked him where he got the seeds to grow the spices and vegetables fundamental to his native cuisine. He said, “oh you know, my friend’s cousin sent them from India and we all shared them around.” He then told me how to cook them, what they are used with in the cuisine of Goa where he was from and later that afternoon, I went home and wrote my Indian colleague in New Zealand to learn some more. The Politics of OPEN.
This weekend, my colleague shared a story with me about a scholar who had lived in the Village for several years with his family (3 children, one an infant), and who at the end of his stay had tried to return to his home in Gaza, only to arrive in Egypt to find he did not have appropriate documentation and the border was closed under current circumstances. The family was then sent to Austria who did not know what to do and sent them to Jordan where they remain in a refugee camp and hope to return home one day. The Politics of SHUT.
Seeds travel. Stories travel. Images travel. People travel. Homes travel and sometimes unravel. My thesis research was conducted on the border of Arizona and Mexico, in a small town called Douglas on the US side and Agua Prieta on the Mexican side. Every day I would conduct fieldwork at the local high school, the soup kitchen and the post office (amongst other places). I watched people come across that border to get their mail, do their shopping, get something to eat and go to school. Then I saw them go home. My friends would tell me of the tunnel that ran under the border where drugs ran both ways. Holes you could drive a truck through. Packages of food and clothes left by charitable folks on either side for those who risk their lives to cross. They would also tell me of shootings in the alleys and disappearances; always calm, always matter of fact. This is what it means to live on the border, they would say. Borders. Outer edges. Lines. La Frontera…where you walk the line between life and death, figuratively and literally.
I would get on a bus to travel back to Tempe to see my advisor. “Make sure you carry your documents”, she would say. See, I’m an immigrant too. At Bisbee, or before, the bus would stop for a siren. Armed men would get on the bus, we would all produce our tickets and our papers; those of us who had them, that is. Every time, 3 or 4 people would leave the bus and get into a van, arms handcuffed behind their backs. I would watch them from my window as we drove away. Me, with my white face, shaking like a leaf.
Immigrant tales. They are as diverse as the people from whose tongues they roll. I admire people who have a clear position on immigration because my immigrant life has no clear position. That’s what makes discussing immigration difficult. But on Tuesday, April 21, at 7pm at the Lincoln Center, we hope to try and hear diverse voices on this most human and global of topics — the Politics of Open and Shut. Frank Sharry, of America’s Voice, a nonprofit communications organization dedicated to winning immigration reform and previously of the National Immigration Forum of Washington DC, one of the nation’s leading immigration policy organizations will engage our community in a lively dialogue on fresh perspectives on immigration as the 5th presenter in Beet Street’s Thought Leader series. Frank Sharry, himself, while pro-immigration reform, is the first to admit there is no easy answer to the country’s immigration challenges and he is accustomed to his views being contested. Described by some as a common sense voice of reason and by others as a controversial radical, we hope you will join us to entertain your brain and make up your own mind about this extraordinary speaker and topic. For more information about Frank Sharry and other Finding Home events, visit Beet Street.
We would love to hear what you think of the event afterwards! Just post a comment below…:)
Home is where they understand you.