SchoolArts Room

Celebrating Cultural Diversity through the Arts

By Nancy Walkup, posted on Oct 7, 2015

What does the word “culture” bring to mind? Cultural diversity or cultural traditions? Cultural appropriation or cultural appreciation? Popular culture or visual culture? Cultural assumptions or cultural stereotypes? Multicultural perspectives or multicultural comparisons? No matter your interpretation, I believe art teachers are the most suited to investigate these ideas with students.

Stevie Mack and Nancy with artist Roxanne Swentzell this past summer in our SchoolArts/CRIZMAC Celebrating Pueblo Art and Culture seminar in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Why art teachers? As works of art reflect the cultures in which they are produced, the arts present a most effective medium through which to promote and encourage an appreciation and respect for cultural diversity in our schools. The visual language of art provides access to the interpretation of ideas, values, and concerns from cultures both contemporary and historic, even without the knowledge of a written or spoken language.

The integration of multiple perspectives into art education also promotes a wider, more inclusive definition of art that recognizes and celebrates cultural diversity. A work of art from any culture and time period can be studied through an examination of universal concepts, themes, and issues. In a multicultural curriculum, concepts, problems and themes can be viewed from the multiple perspectives of diverse cultural, ethnic and racial groups.
Quality multicultural art programs require students to apply critical and evaluative skills to compare and contrast diverse perspectives, and to examine stereotypes, cultural assumptions, and students’ own prejudices. Global awareness and a celebration of the multiple perspectives represented by the arts of many cultures offer students an opportunity for the development of an empathetic understanding of diversity.

An understanding of empathy is crucial for the acceptance of others and the reduction of preju- dice. Dignity and pride in one’s own heritage and respect for self and others may be promoted most effectively through multicultural perspectives. Both individual differences and universal com- monalities need to be recognized and valued if we are to ever live in harmony in an interdependent world. Genuine acceptance of others comes only with the realization that we are all more alike than different—the world of art may offer our best hope for a world of both diversity and harmony.