Deciphering Culture

Cultural Exchange vs. Cultural Tourism (@Community Arts Network)

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Interesting essay by James Bau Graves, director of the Old Town School of Folk Music (Chicago) on the slippery distinction between cultural exchange and cultural tourism.

Cultural Exchange vs. Cultural Tourism

“Cultural exchange” is often cited as one of the few tools for dismantling tensions with other countries that doesn’t involve force or coercion. The arts can bridge misunderstanding where military adventures and the flood of consumer goods usually just make matters worse. It is assumed that the power of art is attached to universal human values, and that the sharing of these distillations of meaning from disparate communities will reveal our commonalities. It’s a small world after all, and all you’ve gotta do to join is sing it the next time it comes around on the guitar.

Musicians from Chicago’s Old Town School of Folk Music performing in Finland

Anybody who has traveled abroad will find this assertion self-evidently valid. When you encounter another culture, even on a very cursory level, abstract foreign-ness becomes human and personal. Distant, amorphous categories — the Chinese; Africans; Arabs — suddenly have an individual face, the man whose home you visited, the woman who made a special effort to accommodate you in her country. Direct, personal encounters inevitably color our impressions of entire nationalities. The more intensive the interaction, the more aware we become of the nuances of another community’s modes of life and thought, the more secure we feel in our comparative assessments of the Other, and the less prone we are to inaccurate generalizations and stereotype. (Continued here...)


Written by Jeffrey Callen

March 25, 2010 at 10:21 am

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