Heritage Ambassadors Leadership Collective


Cultural organizations and funding institutions, particularly in New York City, have done a great deal to study, support and celebrate the diverse expressive lives of immigrant New Yorkers. But this inclusivity of difference tends to fade when the more systemic and structural inequities within the arts administration ecosystem are being considered.

The Heritage Ambassadors Leadership program aims to equip a generation of cultural leaders whose life’s work is to further the cultural and artistic wellbeing of their communities, and to provide them with the tools they need to accomplish that. It is designed to build a cohort of cultural heritage leaders who can overcome these inequities and become functioning leaders and ambassadors for their respective communities’ arts and culture.

We will recruit five new Ambassadors from five different NYC communities to engage in a multi-year training program. In addition, we will also develop a special publication/website and a tool kit designed to help community activists to mount performances and programs both for their own communities and the general public.

Controlling the Narrative through Documentation

The Heritage Ambassadors Collective will provide a sense of ownership among diverse cultural communities with regard to how their traditional arts are preserved, presented, and documented.

Heritage Ambassadors will be mentored to deeply engage with and share observations of folk and cultural arts practices within their own communities, while sharing with the broader public.  Through the Citizen Folklife training program, they will become local researchers by studying, collecting, presenting, safeguarding and advocating for traditional and community-based art forms. They will be trained to use digital tools and ethnographic methods to document cultural expressions in their community to reclaim the narrative about who they are, what art forms they practice, and what they believe.

Media collected will be used achieve the following goals:

(1) to be a force for the future of media diversity by confronting the bias of today;

(2) to foster digital inclusion and design methods informed by social justice to amplify the voices of communities often excluded from the public sphere;

(3) to uncover underlying stereotypes, associations, and modes of narration that media produces and reproduces when covering minority related events;

(4) to control the narrative about who they are, what art forms they practice, and what they believe in order to to combat modes of narration that media produces and reproduces when covering minority related events and the communities as a whole.

(5) to assess the economics of keeping components of their traditional practices sustainable.

(5) Be used as work samples for grant applications

Equitable Digital Distribution

Digital media will be used to create work samples of traditional arts demonstrations, and interview artists about their tradition, and background.  These materials will be deposited into the NYSCA Living Traditions website.  Created by the New York State Council on the Arts (NYSCA) and City Lore as a statewide initiative, this online content management system was specifically designed to highlight and archive cultural traditions. Unlike YouTube, Instagram, or Vimeo, this site empowers communities to equitably manage, share, and exchange their heritage digitally. It is designed to allow users to implement their own cultural practices for sharing materials and narrating them. The site strives to rebuild trust between culturally rich communities and museums, historical societies, and libraries, which are often the curators of such materials belonging to native cultures.

Equitable and Accessible Event Production Skills

Public presentations of folk and traditional are an important form of communication for diverse cultural communities of New York.  They provide opportunities for them to share their systems of beliefs and values through their traditions, to a wider audience.  They also serve as pillars that reinforce the importance of safeguarding traditions inside the cultural community.  However, lack of funding, diverse income streams, inability to navigate complex technical barriers (sound reinforcement, staging, promotion) and municipal bureaucracy (fire, sound, and event permits) leaves traditional arts presentations vulnerable to curatorial control outside of their community, as well inequitable partnerships with venues and presenting organizations. [It’s rare for contextualized learning, etc.]

Co-Curation and Shared Learning

Each ambassador will partner with one other member of the collective. Each pair will produce two public programs, one for each of their respective cultural communities.   One program will be currated for an audience outside of their cultural community, and the other will be focused on inreach —within that cultural community.   This enables a shared learning experience that draws from  both successful and unsuccessful experiences to deepen collective knowledge. This also supports the idea of distributed leadership while offering a wide range of leadership roles and skill-building opportunities.

Sound and Stage production techniques

– When to use a PA

– How and when to hire sound engineers

– How to run a sound board

– When to get a sound permit

Promotion (outreach and inreach) or just communication?

– crediting sponsors

– Advertising for outsiders

– Advertising for insiders

– Working with local media

– Cultural responsive and responsible social media

Connecting to City Agencies

In order to move toward a more inclusive cultural ecosystem in New York City, we will teach them how to work with government authorities including the Office of Nightlife, NYC Police and Parks Department on public programs or the Department of Cultural Affairs and Materials for the Arts for funding and other support.

Equitable Access to Funders

We also passionately believe it is important to not only place the onus of improvement on the Ambassadors, but also to help address the unfair policies and administrative systems that they have to navigate. So in addition to increasing the skills of participants, this program also seeks to pilot equitable approaches for funding agencies that encourage multilingualism and an openness to traditional cultures in the grant application process.   Each Heritage Ambassador will experiment with video grant proposals.

  1. Video Grant Proposals for Local Arts Support (Regrants): folklife specialists are trained to do ethnographic interviews. Within arts councils, the grant process offers an opportunity to do a deep dive of the problems community cultural leaders art trying to address.  Why not use these ethnographic interviews for grant applications?  These video interviews can be done with a translator on site through simultaneous translation, or translated in post-production. Or, these interviews can be translated and transcribed for English speaking panelists.   This would also give the folklife specialist an opportunity to have the artist perform their tradition and have it recorded.  This also fills another gap in the grant process—high quality work samples.

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