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Guest MINDSETTER™ Raymond Two Hawks Watson: Art vs Culture

Tuesday, June 16, 2015


So I’ll be honest.  The City of Providence does a tremendous job with promoting arts in the City. No one can take away from the tremendous work that the City of Providence Arts, Culture & Tourism (PACT) Department has done over the past decade to make Providence the “Creative Capitol of New England” and beyond.  Waterfire, Art Gallery nights, and more recently the 1st Providence International Arts Festival are just a few of the tremendous initiatives that help to promote the artistic vibe that justifies Providence’s reputation in this regard.  Like I said, the City does an excellent job with art… but what about the culture?

As a Providence resident, born and raised, I'm extremely concerned and disappointed that in a City with a majority population of people of color, coming from a diverse array of cultural backgrounds, and with the past two Mayors being of Latino heritage, that PACT continues to focus mainly on arts and artists of European heritage. In fact, for the most part only Eurocentric artwork is considered "Art". Everything else that's not Eurocentric is pretty much considered folk or cultural, which is foolishness in my opinion.  Am I to somehow believe that in this whole wide world, European culture is the only culture that has created anything that is worthy of the title of being called and treated as real “art”?  I mean honestly; it’s insulting.

Not only is PACT aware of these issues, but they made an attempt to address them last year by collaborating with AS220 to convene a discussion with cultural groups with the intent of developing a better relationship to better support their efforts and work.  This initiative was highly unsuccessful, in my opinion, as it was held in downtown, and as the majority of the attendees were older, more affluent white residents of downtown.  Not the best focus group for PACT to be getting feedback from on how to better engage more culturally diverse populations and organizations, in my opinion.

After voicing my concerns at this and a number of other community meetings, I was personally invited to discuss my concerns in this regard with PACT.  The discussion not only addressed my previously expressed issues, but also PACT’s need to support more initiatives directly in the City’s neighborhoods, where the culture already exists and is vibrant. Ultimately this discussion resulted in a request to assist PACT in connecting and working with cultural groups in this regard.  As I am always eager to make something positive happen for the City, I reached out to a number of my own personal cultural contacts and developed a list which I sent to PACT, with the understanding and commitment that we would collaborate to set an agenda to inform and assist the Department in this regard. Long story short, my contacts got taken, there was never any follow up from PACT, and yet we have just witnessed another "Arts" festival with mainly European artists, artwork and performers being held in Downtown.  What was the point in meeting?

Not only that, but PACT didn't even have the respect to acknowledge Donald King, former Director of the Providence Black Repertory Company, as the visionary behind everything that they're currently doing with the International Art Festival.  I mean, let’s just get to the truth of the matter; were it not for Donald King and the fantastic weeklong, groundbreaking cultural festival called SoundSession that he developed, there would be no framework or history upon which to build a Providence International Arts Festival in the first place… and that’s just the truth of the matter.  So to add insult to injury, not only does PACT not wish to concretely address any of the cultural concerns that are raised, they also prefer to cut out the cultural foundation of their current efforts, which is why we have another “Arts” festival being held in downtown that apparently everyone, but Donald King, had a hand in shaping.  SMH.

You know… it’s one thing to lie to me and take advantage of my willingness to support... but to not acknowledge Donald King and the impact he has had and continues to have on the artistic development of this City? That's unacceptable, in opinion. Where's the integrity or respect?  Oh that's right. Unless your artwork is Eurocentric in nature, PACT doesn’t feel the need to.

In the end, it seems that once again, we will have to organize ourselves and present an agenda for how we, as cultural groups, would like OUR PACT to support us, because apparently being a tax payer in the City doesn’t matter and apparently one on one discussions seem to fall on deaf ears.  Fortunately the City of Providence has fantastic individuals like Shea Rivera from AS220 and Elena Patino-Calderon from RISCA, who have not only been proactively working to address these concerns in our City, but who are also willing to collaborate directly with the cultural groups to better support their “non-traditional forms” of art work.  (How absurd that Native American culture is considered non-traditional or “folk” in the art world?  We were here first!  Who’s artwork could possibly be more traditional than ours in our own land?!?!?)  It’s because of individuals like this that I am confident that in some form or fashion, we will get this situation rectified. 

It’s just supremely frustrating that for a Department titled Arts, CULTURE and Tourism, in a city of predominately people of color, and with an expressed mission of ensuring “the continued development of a vibrant and creative city by integrating arts and culture into community life while showcasing Providence as an international cultural destination.” somehow, someway communities of color and cultural organizations still seem to get left out in the cold.


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