Are the Arts in America Really for Everyone?
I was born and raised in a country abundant in culture, where we were taught to celebrate art and creativity. This mentality quickly shifted when my family and I migrated to the United States.
Since then, art became a hobby and no longer a lifestyle. It is the unspoken rule within immigrant households. Parents come prepared with the mentality to work hard in the U.S., while children are brought here to get an education and a chance at college, for a better life.
And it has been a better life, a life full of opportunities and career growth. However, growing up in an immigrant household, there was a scarcity of art in my life. Regardless how diverse my new hometown was, it became a disadvantage. Most everyone in my community are immigrants or first generation Americans, mostly from South and Central America. We all have the same mentality—work or school. We were told to educate ourselves to go to school and become nurses, business men/women, or doctors. Now, as adults, we are all playing catch up when it comes to the arts, because growing up it was never encouraged.
My parents have never set foot in a museum, art gallery, or anything arts-related in America. When I ask them why, they seem indifferent about it, or just say “we didn’t know about it.” My parents aren’t the only ones with this experience: I asked family, extended family, and friends. They all mentioned going to national monuments or parks, but never museums, art galleries, or plays.
This is still a disbelief for me; even though I was a late bloomer in the arts, I came to fall in love with it, and understand that art is for everyone.
My current role with Americans for the Arts has helped me realize that this is a problem that goes way beyond my own community. There is a lack of minorities in the arts, especially when it comes to immigrants and first generation Americans.
The arts today have a tendency to advertise to their vast majority audiences, and that excludes my community entirely. Not that it excludes my community from participating, but it means they are often unaware of arts opportunities. I see ads in places my family and friends would never look, in newspapers that they never read. The only ads I read in our local newspapers are apartments for rent, divorce lawyers, and restaurant openings.
Despite the fact that minority communities are the emerging majority, diversity in the arts isn’t growing at the speed of reality. This paints a very troubling picture of what can be the “future” of arts in America—a future which, if trends continue, is less diverse than the American public. The arts will serve a smaller part of society.
What can arts organizations do differently to include the emerging majority in their audience engagement plan? It may take more effort or more research—maybe even translating and going out of the way—but it will all be worth it. Back in my country I was taught to love art and to appreciate it. How are the arts in America teaching us if they aren’t reaching us?