Give me freedom, give me fire, give me reason, take me higher ~ K’NAAN – Waving Flag
Understanding Cultural Competence
The Arts have always created safe, joyous, learning zones for nurturing cultural competence. They have given students of diverse origins a tangible sense of collective belonging. Many of today’s young and enlightened Canadian leaders would themselves have benefited from early heritage arts programming in their classrooms. When programs exploring tradition and culture are designed effectively they make a lasting difference.
Culturally inspired arts programming continues to evolve and improve. Early in Canada’s multi-cultural education years, programs were designed for meeting and greeting new cultures and welcoming them into the mainstream. In the 1980’s a more socially perceptive arts practice began developing. Educators moved away from over simplified cultural descriptions and began exploring complex nuances in Canadian diversity. The arts were used successfully to begin dispelling stereotypes and to deconstruct racial apprehensions.
Today we continue to fine-tune our efforts to strengthen cultural competence. Sometimes, being more culturally competent is understood as using politically correct vocabulary and manners. However, arts educators move beyond veneers of political correctness, and use various media to trigger deep inquiry, build cross-cultural understandings, and celebrate difference. Rapid globalization and a more polarized political scene have created complex layers of muddled understandings and cruel misunderstandings. In this current context, the arts have an even more important role to play.
To develop salient arts programs educators can take inspiration from an amazing and feisty cadre of contemporary artists. Tanya Tagak, Zaki Ibrahim, and K’naan, are Canadian heritage treasures. Outside of Canada, artists like Keith Haring, Basquiat, Oscar Murillo, and Ya Yoi Kusama, have raised the international arts bar, opening gates for contemporary, alternative, and outsider artists all over the world. Artists with exceptionalities, such as the late Judith Scott who had Downs syndrome, and Stephen Wiltshire, who is autistic, have solo shows at the most famous galleries in the world. Carmen Herrera – once marginalized because she was a woman and a Cuban – still rocks New York’s art scene at the age of 101. Ghana’s El Anatsui makes young students gasp as they look at his recycled metal cascades in the Royal Ontario Museum. Today’s students connect deeply with these modern role models, particularly those with whom they share a cultural background or personal attributes.