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Killacky: New Cultural Tapestry

One-third of the children in Burlington and Winooski public schools are students of color, including new Americans who are English language learners. With the demographics in our region shifting so dramatically, government agencies, educational institutions, businesses, and nonprofits are grappling with inadequate cultural competency in trying to serve these myriad populations.

Tomorrow, the Flynn Center, along with Burlington City Arts, the Vermont Arts Council, and the Vermont Community Foundation, is hosting a forum in Burlington called New Community Visions with Americans for the Arts. The initiative’s goal is to explore the role that arts play in pursuing a healthy, vibrant, and cohesive community, and how individuals, arts institutions, and support organizations can help achieve that.

Participants from seven states will discuss ways to harness the transformative power of the arts. This is one of eight meetings across the country Americans for the Arts is convening. I’m glad Vermonters' perspectives are part of the national dialogue, as we have much to contribute to and learn from other regions.

The arts have a long history of bringing people together - increasing understandings across disparate and historically unequal groups, and supporting the agency of underrepresented individuals to create, maintain, and share their own stories. Our community’s continued resiliency depends on the melding of all new traditions among us. This can only make our rich cultural tapestry even bolder.

Advocates for the arts know that artistic endeavors alone won’t resolve the biases and privileges that drive inequality. But we also know the arts can be instrumental in developing the empathy necessary to understand and truly listen across our differences. Through the arts, we get to know ourselves, and others, most profoundly.

Artists and arts organizations are an important resource in the path to building stronger connections. Opportunities for more even-footed conversations between groups lead to insight and a shared sense of community. Inclusion of multicultural voices becomes an asset that differentiates, galvanizes, and revitalizes neighborhoods.

All across Vermont, evidence abounds of the catalytic effect of the arts. In Burlington alone, consider the civic, socio-economic, and soul-nurturing impact of the Vermont Young Playwrights Festival, South End Art Hop, Discover Jazz Festival, and many other events that bring thousands of people together. Connections are made and boundaries are blurred in ways that would not happen without this deep engagement in and celebration of the arts.

John Killacky is the executive director of Flynn Center for the Performing Arts in Burlington.
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