• Maribel Alvarez, Ph.D.
    Excerpts from There's Nothing Informal About It, Participatory Arts within the Cultural Ecology of Silicon Valley, 2005, Maribel Alvarez, Ph.D., with research assistance from Lisa van Diggelen, published by Cultural Initiatives Silicon Valley.

    "The driving goal of this research was to imagine a Silicon Valley-based initiative aimed at improving the ability of local residents to engage in participatory arts, and what types of interventions are most likely to accomplish this without altering the essential informal and communitarian nature of these practices."

    Maribel Alvarez = There's Nothing Informal About It

    One of the recommendations: "Partnerships that broaden participation and reverse the high/low distinction can be forged across a variety of social registers, constituencies, and locations...art-making at the crossroads of entrepreneurial, commercial, corporate, nonprofit, and independent producers. The ideology that sustains the gap that makes possible these bifurcations should be confronted intellectually and pragmatically through imaginative undertakings by savvy, clever, and highly principled organizations committed to making art "by" the people, and not only art "for" the people.

    Maribel Alvarez, Ph.D., is an anthropologist, folklorist, curator, and community arts expert who has documented the practice of more than a dozen of the country's leading emerging and alternative artistic organizations. She holds a dual appointment as Associate Research Professor in the English Department and Associate Research Social Scientist at the Southwest Center, University of Arizona. She was Executive Director (1996-2002) of MACLA/Movimiento de Arte y Cultura Latino Americana, San José, which she co-founded. Under her leadership, MACLA became nationally recognized for the depth and innovations of its community arts programs, and in 2001, the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts recognized MACLA as one of the most effective alternative art spaces in the country.

    While Cultural Initiatives Silicon Valley had a limited life (1996-2006) and their website is no longer in existence, the study results exist at CPANDA, a national data archive.

    Additional information and reports can be found on the Arts Council Silicon Valley website.

  • John Kreidler
    Excerpts from his Preface for There's Nothing Informal About It, Participatory Arts within the Cultural Ecology of Silicon Valley, 2005.

    Art is an action that occurs in many places, by many people, and for many reasons. Much art by professional artists and arts institutions is presented in formal arts settings: concert halls, museums, theaters, movie houses, and bookstores. However, much art is also produced by everyday people in informal spaces not typically associated with art: commercial storefronts, a street corner in East San Jose, a downtown Vietnamese restaurant, and a coffeehouse in Campbell.... Overall, 81% of adults express an interest in the arts, and 37% say that arts activities play a major role in their lives (John Kreidler and Phil Trounstine, Creative Community Index, Cultural Initiatives Silicon Valley, 2005).

    As a means for understanding more about this wealth of participatory culture, Cultural Initiatives commissioned...cultural anthropologist, Dr. Maribel Alvarez, to conduct ethnographic field research in Silicon Valley.... Dr. Alvarez explicitly sought out cases of art-making in a range of commercial, non-commercial, as well as nearly invisible settings, and found not only a breadth of motives, but also a strong strain of arts made in conscious counterpoint to the performances, exhibitions, and writings of professional artists, and institutions.

    Kreidler, Executive Director of Cultural Initiatives Silicon Valley, 2000-2006, worked to implement a ten-year cultural plan for Silicon Valley. Following is information from his 2010 blog post about Cultural Initiative's final project, Medici's Lever, 2009, an online suite of two games and one simulation laboratory probing regional cultural policy.

    "The objective is to advance the cultural life of a regional metropolitan area to new heights in which people, acting with deep cultural knowledge, engage in an active cultural life that involves both personal creativity and engagement with professionally produced cultural goods and services.

    "Cultural policy has been a backwater in the U.S., and for its small circle of practitioners, it often has been focused on the narrow issue of governmental funding for the arts. As one broadly trained in public policy, I like to believe that the starting point for a robust cultural policy should be the matter of advancing the public's cultural interests. At several points over the past 30 years, I have written on this subject, commissioned others to write about it, and developed computer simulations of cultural policy."

    Medici's Lever's purpose is "to provide an interactive online learning laboratory for exploring the complex interplay between culture, society, and the economy, with emphasis on the role played by culture." One of the games is entitled SJ Renaissance.

    For more information see interview or go directly to Medici's Lever.

  • Nancy Hom
    Excerpt from "On Arts and Civic Engagement," Nancy Hom. Written for a presentation and artist panel at Euphrat Museum of Art, 1/24/06, with Sonja Manjon, Director, Center for Art and Public Life, California College of Arts. In conjunction with the exhibition Change 2005/2006.

    Nancy Hom - Culture Is The Seed
    Nancy Hom Culture is the Seed, 1996. Mixed media 22"h x 22"w.

    An artist who is concerned about civic engagement has to have a willingness to try new things and a desire to connect with people. Civic engagement in the arts starts with artists who understand the importance of openness and interconnectedness between them and the community.

    At a time when people were very much into identity issues - around ethnicity, sexual orientation, political issues, artistic disciplines, etc. - I tried to stay open to other cultural influences and experimented with different art forms. I painted murals with Latina artists, mounted exhibits for an African American gallery, silkscreened posters at Mission Graphica and in Japantown, danced in Carnaval, read poetry at Asian American open mics. My artwork has served many communities. Organizations that I've been associated with since their inception include Asian American Women Artists Association, Manilatown Heritage Foundation, Galeria de la Raza, Somarts Cultural Center, and Kearny Street Workshop.

    Wherever I go, whatever I do, I try to connect people and organizations to each other. For example, when I was working as a curator at the Western Addition Cultural Center in a predominately African American neighborhood, I showed work by Japanese American artists and produced concerts featuring African American and Japanese American musicians. To get the elderly Japanese community to show up at some openings, I hired people to escort the seniors into the building.

    I have been with Kearny Street Workshop for over 30 years and served as its executive director for almost 9 years. It is the oldest Asian Pacific American arts organization in the country. Founded in 1972, our services include classes, workshops, publications, exhibitions, presentations and readings. Education, art, innovation, and community are the four cornerstones of KSW's programming. Our main focus is to build community, using art to inform, celebrate, challenge, and transform.

    To feel responsible for, and be responsive to, the community takes compassion, patience, understanding, a realization that we are part of a bigger picture, a collective identity. That is the perspective that I tried to instill at KSW, and one that continues to sustain me. Since our beginnings in the International Hotel, we have used art as a way to raise public awareness of historical and social issues in the Asian Pacific American community. We have created a space for artists and community members to interact, exchange ideas and discover their common roots and identity.

    Nancy Hom is an artist, writer, curator, and arts consultant. She moved to San Francisco in 1974 and initiated ground-breaking projects for several non-profit arts organizations, most notably Kearny Street Workshop, an Asian American arts organization, of which she was executive director from 1995-2003. For over three decades, Hom has produced numerous images for community events and causes. Since 2010, she has created large-scale installations using a variety of media. Awards include the Gerbode Fellowship (1998), the KQED Local Hero Award (2003), the Joan Mitchell Foundation Painters and Sculptors Award (2012) and the SF Foundation's Helen Crocker Russell Award (2013).

    For more information, visit www.nancyhomarts.com and www.facebook.com/nancyhomartist.

  • Cozetta Gray Guinn
    Excerpts from Californians Keeping Culturally Connected, A window for viewing art, crafts, and memorabilia within the African American and African Diaspora, with selections from the 2002 exhibition, Cozetta Gray Guinn, 2012, published by the California History Center and Foundation, De Anza College.

    Artist Cozetta Gray Guinn, elegant in her vintage chic, a lover of Delta Blues, is one of the pioneers in the development of an inclusive arts community in Silicon Valley. Californians Keeping Culturally Connected is ambitious as a community, arts, and educational tool with its history, timeline, and suggested readings. Guinn involves the college and community, including students in "their own words," addresses major social issues, and shares her own paintings and stories within an engaging process.

    From the Introduction:
    "... Soon, it was evident that within the collection there were bits of information and memorabilia historically linked, revealing that Californians were literally "holding on to" cultural history.

    "Participants shared things that spoke to their identities, including such items as pottery, baskets, quilts, smoothing irons, tools, photographs, musical instruments, sheet music, books, legal documents, posters, and other cultural and utilitarian objects.... One commonality was that each item within the exhibit showed how tradition, customs and values were passed along to educate, inform and keep individuals connected to their pasts.

    Cozetta Gray Guinn - Californians Keeping Culturally Connected (Front Cover)

    "Among the items collected were authentic bills of sale for slaves... photographs and a recently written history of a black pioneer family who came...in the mid 1850s [and the] adverse social/political climate in the Bay Area at that time... a page from a replica of the newspaper The Black Chronicle of July 25,1862, which described an event wherein a young slave, Robert Smalls, stole a Confederate gunboat and turned it over to the Union Navy...

    "This exhibit was intended to expand on the Hughes-Meltzer concept of the African American experience in the United States (Pictorial History of the Negro in America, 1963, Langston Hughes and Milton Meltzer) by chronologically arranging documents, photographs, and three-dimensional objects...scenarios of a complex story within a given time frame. ... Contributors were an important aspect of the legacy inherent in the exhibit. In addition to telling individual stories that would merge into a single story, each lender, in his or her own way, has been a significant participant in the greater history of the place called Silicon Valley."

    From the Epilogue:
    "California Keeping Culturally Connected identifies factors that, when critically viewed, explain the importance of putting together this project conveying many stories... having a common strand, one of self-identity and what it means to be who we are. It is in part a record that validates the existence of individuals who lived and moved within the confines of the communities surrounding De Anza College in 2001. The...memorabilia...were communiqués dealing with social issues from the past and present. They represented a variety of themes that focused on achievements, joy, pleasure, and pride, as well as atrociousness, sadness, struggles, and the fight for justice.

    "Reviewing the assorted images and stories in the exhibit has given me a broader insight into the social, economic, and political state of affairs that has permeated African American life for the past 300 years. Adding a chronology of events has been helpful in allowing me to see panoramically the time and context of the pieces displayed. ... The interconnected stories of war, slavery, freedom, economics, education, labor, lynching, music, theater, art and religion...."

    Cozetta Gray Guinn - Californians Keeping Culturally Connected (Back Cover)

    Californians Keeping Culturally Connected, which took ten years to complete, is a labor of love. It is exemplary as a creative exploration of community connections in historical context. Artfully constructed, the book is like a painting. Says Guinn: "As a painter, I tell stories on canvas and on paper... [a form of] social realism...." While her quietly interspersed art, such as Sunday Morning at Bethel Church, 1984, propels the story, Guinn emphasizes the contributions of others. She stresses the importance of knowing both the individual cultural strands and the larger woven tapestry. We often don't know the people who live down the street.

    In 1968, with her physicist husband, Isaac "Ike" Guinn, Cozetta introduced different cultural experiences to a valley loaded with white engineers. The couple established Nbari Art, a shop and museum-quality gallery in Los Altos, begun by connecting with students at Stanford and UC Berkeley. From a modest beginning, Nbari Art has shone for four decades as a cultural resource and a business featuring imported African art, African-American art, and Cozetta's own paintings.

    Cozetta Gray Guinn, raised in rural Arkansas, attended a segregated Julius Rosenwald elementary school. Later, with a Master of Arts in Social Science from San Jose State University, she taught in the Cupertino Union School District at Hyde and Kennedy Middle Schools, determined to be inclusive. "All cultures," she says, "we did Alaska to Peru." She proudly asserts, "I taught Sheila Presley, now director of Art Education at the de Young Museum." She has always researched, e.g. in 1977, while volunteering for the National Museum of Nigeria, she helped develop a booklet, 2000 Years of Nigerian Art.

    Guinn has continued to work as an artist, educator, and exhibition curator in all subsequent decades. In her various roles she calls on her experience to help others see and develop communal history. She has served as a volunteer and docent for The Mexican Museum, the de Young Museum, and the Legion of Honor. She is an instructor in the Intercultural/International Studies Department at De Anza College, a former board member of the Euphrat Museum of Art and the California History Center, and past coordinator of the Peninsula Book Club, an African American group promoting black authors since 1983.

Copyright © 2013-18 Jan Rindfleisch. All rights reserved.