Film, Video Cultural Democracy in a Time of Diminished Resources

About this Item

Cultural Democracy in a Time of Diminished Resources
Simply stated, "Cultural Democracy" is the notion that everybody's heritage and cultural expression is worthwhile and deserving of an equitable share of whatever resources are available. In recent years, Cultural Democracy has also gained traction as a descriptor for the whole realm of participatory, community-centered arts activities, practiced by millions of Americans everyday in their homes, backyards, public parks, places of worship, schools -- pretty much everywhere except in the designated art spaces of our museums and concert halls, where they happen infrequently. The mechanisms that we have inherited for the support of public culture were inspired by the practices of the fine arts economy of the first half of the 20th century, and were designed to validate curatorial authority. This is the top-down version of culture. Financial and programmatic decision-making is vested in highly-trained, credentialed individuals who are positioned to determine what the entire community should see, hear and experience. Cultural Democracy requires a paradigm shift away from this curatorial model, and towards a process of continuous and intense community engagement, using culture as a catalyst for addressing social issues: art of the people, made by the people, and presented for the people.
Event Date
July 22, 2010
-  James Bau Graves is Executive Director of the Old Town School of Folk Music, in Chicago, Illinois, the largest community school of the arts in the United States. His work is focused on exploration of the personal, political, aesthetic and ethical issues embedded in the concept and practice of public culture. He is the past Director of the Jefferson Center Foundation, in Roanoke, Virginia, and co-founder of the Center for Cultural Exchange in Maine, where he facilitated the creation of an extended series of programs, in close collaboration with community groups and artists, addressing grass roots cultural aspirations, questions of identity and social/financial power relations. Bau's work as a field researcher, arts presenter, community organizer, project manager and tour director has been prolific, winning numerous awards from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Wallace Foundation, Americans for the Arts' Animating Democracy program, the Rockefeller Foundation, and many others. Bau has performed and recorded with several jazz and traditional music ensembles, and composed original scores for two collaborative projects with dancer/director Ann Carlson. He holds a Masters degree in ethnomusicology from Tufts University, has published essays concerning cultural issues in both the academic and popular press, and has appeared on and/or produced numerous recordings. Bau Graves' first book, Cultural Democracy, was published in 2005 by the University of Illinois Press.
Related Resources
American Folklife Center:
Running Time
51 minutes 7 seconds
Online Format

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Credit Line: Library of Congress

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Chicago citation style:

Cultural Democracy in a Time of Diminished Resources. 2010. Video.

APA citation style:

(2010) Cultural Democracy in a Time of Diminished Resources. [Video] Retrieved from the Library of Congress,

MLA citation style:

Cultural Democracy in a Time of Diminished Resources. 2010. Video. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, <>.

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