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Making a Difference Through the Arts

Strengthening America's Links with Asian Muslim Communities

Indonesian children playing gamelan after school. (Yayah Khisbiyah)

Indonesian children playing gamelan after school. (Yayah Khisbiyah)

Strengthening America's Links with Asian Muslim Communities

We agree wholeheartedly with the recommendation of previous reports that arts and culture should play a central role in strengthening mutual understanding between Americans and citizens of Muslim-majority nations. These reports have presented persuasive evidence and arguments to support their position. Our own priority has been to profile actual arts and culture projects and initiatives that provide compelling models for strengthening cross-cultural connectivity, and, in so doing, to illuminate the qualities that make them successful. Consequently, in place of policy recommendations, Making a Difference presents six core principles and strategies synthesized from the empirical case studies featured in the report.

These principles and strategies exemplify best practices in seeding and cultivating cross-cultural connectivity, and are applicable to a broad constituency of interested parties. The six principles and attendant strategies are summarized as follows (see the report's Conclusion for a fuller presentation):

1. Knowledge and accurate information are crucial to strengthening cross-cultural understanding. The arts offer a powerful domain in which individuals and communities can acquire knowledge about the achievements, values, and aspirations of other cultures.    

Strategy: Create strong cultural contextualization for cross-cultural arts projects, such as documentary films, translations of texts, lecture-demonstrations, and debates, that contribute to nuanced cultural translation.

2. Cross-cultural collaborations should be formulated in a way that creates parity and equity between and among collaborators.

Strategy: Build programs from the ground up, rather than the top down, with frequent consultation, sharing of information, and consensus building about tactics.

3. Successful cultural initiatives and advocacy work need sustained investment over a long duration.

Strategy: Invest in building relationships with a minimum five- to seven-year time frame, focusing on support for creative work as well as organizational capacity building.

4. Powerful forces for social change are linked to the invention of new technologies, such as the printing press, the Internet, cell phones, and digital media.

Strategy: Exploit new communications technologies to promote connectivity.

5. Rather than viewing cultural production as a mechanism for "monetizing" creativity, culture should be viewed as a unique form of social currency that serves as a positive force in building community.

Strategy: Explore new forms of noncommercial cultural dissemination and sharing (such as the Creative Commons model) that challenge conventional models of cultural ownership.

6. Direct people-to-people connectivity retains an abiding power in the age of the Internet and digital mediation. Events that bring together artists and audiences from different cultures create a frisson—difficult to replicate in mediated forms—that can open new, potentially transformative modes of perception.

Strategy: Invest in programs built on promoting direct, personal experience of high-quality artistic performance, ideally accompanied by cultural interpretation that renders performance accessible to nonspecialists.

This report is supported by Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art's Building Bridges Program.


Download the complete report

Making a Difference Through the Arts is part of Asia Society's Creative Voices of Islam in Asia project and is made possible, in part, by generous funding from the Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art and by the New York State Council on the Arts.