What Can We Do? Part 1

Like many political moderates, I was stunned by the outcome of the recent presidential election. My children, who are politically to my left, are bereft; I worry for them personally while they worry for our country and our planet. Because I have come to realize that the act of writing is, for me, the act of thinking and information processing, I am planning several posts (4 so far) that address the question “What Do We Do Now?” This first is about connecting the data dots and cultural opportunity. The second is about the epistemological existential crisis of the election; the third is on the woman thing; and the fourth on servant leadership.

What can cultural leaders do?

 I have been teaching a class on Opportunity Recognition in the Creative and Cultural Industries to a group of students in the Curb MA in Creative Enterprise and Cultural Leadership. 100% of the students in the program fall into one or more of the following demographic categories: woman, person of color, immigrant, LGBTQ. I don’t know how they voted and won’t make assumptions based on demographic markers, but I would say that the mood in my classroom on Wednesday was very somber.

More than anything else, this class is about the cognitive process of “connecting the dots” to recognize opportunity, and how to ask the right questions to achieve creative solutions. So, without making assumptions about how they voted, I asked the class:

What does the election data tell us about the country and what opportunities are there for cultural leaders if we connect the dots?

screen-shot-2016-11-10-at-9-52-16-amA lot of attention is being paid to demographic outcomes like “the women’s vote,” “the Latinx vote,” the “White working class vote,” and so on, many of which defied the expectations set up by pollsters and analysts. Looking at the geography that uses actual voting results is, in my opinion, more accurate than any exit polling can be (we have seen that polling is inaccurate; more on that in the next post). What the maps of election results show us is that there is a deep divide between urban and non-urban Americans. In general, the densely populated (and well-educated) cities went for Clinton and the less dense (and less well-educated) rural Americascreen-shot-2016-11-10-at-9-52-39-am went for Trump. (One notable exception is the rural counties of my state of Arizona, two of which are populated largely by Native Americans.) We will see in the coming weeks what the inaccurate pollsters think went wrong, but my guess is, they didn’t seek out or listen to rural America. So, based on connecting the dots between election result geography and inaccurate polling, here are some opportunities for cultural leaders:

  • Listen to the stories of rural America
  • Amplify the stories of rural America
  • Celebrate the rich culture of rural America, which, as one of my students pointed out in class, gives us country music, bluegrass, Zydeco, and more.
  • Employ culture makers in rural communities, from Navajo jewelry makers to Amish quilters, to West Virginian banjo players.
  • Empower rural and urban citizens to join together, to collaborate, and to build a future for America together.

What can cultural leaders do? Listen, amplify, celebrate, employ, and empower. Let’s get to work!

About lindaessig

Linda Essig is Dean of the College of Arts & Letters at Cal State LA and principal/owner of Creative Infrastructure LLC. The opinions expressed on creativeinfrastructure are her own and not those of Cal State LA. You can follow her on twitter @LindaInPhoenix.
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5 Responses to What Can We Do? Part 1

  1. Pingback: Shock and Solace. Trump and the Arts. The Week in New York Theater. | New York Theater

  2. Pingback: What Can We Do? Part 4 | Creative Infrastructure

  3. Pingback: What Can We Do? Part 3 | Creative Infrastructure

  4. In the 90s I directed Idaho’s state arts agency, with the most Republican legistuure in the nation at the time. Our appropriations increased 7 years out of 9. How?
    1)Summer town “open mike”meetings across the state with legislators. I think many were stunned by the turnout.
    2) 7 simultaneous press conferences anchored by legislators annually to announce grants.
    3)systemic approach to growing local arts councils from four to over 40 with capacity building support through salary assistance grants and non-profit training through Idaho Rural Development Council
    4)more diverse panelists so bias towards larger cultural institutions diminished.
    5)strengthening literature and folk arts programs.
    6)being aggressively non-partisan and believing arts support wasn’t limited to Democrats.
    I think successful rural arts projects have a lot to offer to this conversation.

  5. Pingback: What Can We Do? Part 2 | Creative Infrastructure

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