Why are we developing our own cultural centre?
“Place is a key element in our identity. Who we are is reflected in the places we occupy and the spaces we control. These places range from nation to region, state, metropolitan area, community, neighbourhood block, and residential dwelling. Each location has profound social meaning for us, and in a literal sense defines not only who we are, but also how we live and die.” 1
There is great need for native groups – especially those of us who live and work in our own communities – to establish a greater presence in the world around us. We need to voice our ideas and concerns and, more importantly, to assert our own identity. Unfortunately, there are varying, conflicting interpretations of our native cultural groups. With a community cultural centre of our own, we have a place to work together to devise a system of terms and ideas to discuss and/or interpret our community’s values, beliefs, and production. A community cultural centre can be a powerful tool in establishing our community’s voice and identity.
Why build a community cultural centre now?
Since the Task Force on Museums and First Peoples was established in 1988, many agencies and native groups have been looking for ways to reconcile the gap between the interests of native peoples and museum practices 2. Now is a good time to develop our community’s cultural centre, because many funding agencies are currently looking for opportunities to fulfill their mandates to aid aboriginal organizations. A self-help project would be an effective and productive project for our native communities. “The places in which we live, work, and play are fundamental resources, like time or money. The access we have to these resources dramatically affects our well-being.” 3 A community cultural centre gives us a chance to work with many members of our community and, the sooner we get started, the better we can help ourselves.
Why build one in our community?
Currently, there is a trend among various museums and researchers to look for greater involvement from the aboriginal population for the interpretation of native history, practices, beliefs, and material culture. In return, museums and researchers are striving to give native groups greater access to their collections and, in some cases, repatriate sacred objects to the community. Who better to tell our story than ourselves? Our community could act as the front-runner for our history, stories, interests and values, responding to outside inquiries and, in some cases, hosting the repatriated objects in our cultural centre. We could provide more in-depth reconstruction of significant moments of our community’s past. One of the most beneficial reasons to build a centre in our community is to showcase strengths and talents through employment opportunities within our community.
Why a community cultural centre?
For many years, outside institutions and museums have controlled how native-made objects were purchased, sold, displayed, and valued, with little consultation with producers. “To control a museum means precisely to control the representation of a community and its highest values.” 4 In our own community cultural centre, we could determine for ourselves which ideas and objects are valued and showcased. We could collect, categorize, and display objects and programs in our native-run centre based on our community’s values and needs.
What can you do with the centre?
For us to have a strong and healthy community, we need many interlocking and interconnected programs and services. At a community-run cultural centre, the choices and opportunities are numerous. The most important starting point for the centre’s action plan would be discussions with friends and neighbours in our community to determine needs and interests. We can have any number of programs and services to serve the community. For example, a research centre, museum, library, meeting hall, and/or a theatre space would be useful in that we can house community social programs and benefit our community. Something else to consider is the establishment of a boutique for local artists to show and sell their work. Most importantly, our community can determine for itself what programs and services are needed to help foster a healthy community environment.
What would a community cultural centre accomplish?
First of all, our contacts and knowledge of our community, with its ideas and needs mixed with a desire to act, is a form of empowerment. “Neighbourhood context can promote a form of protection against risk and source of empowerment for the community to take action against the hazards they face.” 5 Our hometowns can now develop greater social, political and ideological presence with a community-run centre. People from within and without our communities need to know about our history-past, present and future. Our cultural centre can help provide that information. One of the most significant benefits of building a cultural centre will be our ability to foster an environment with greater levels of understanding for both our community and the larger society that surrounds us. In our own cultural centre, ideas and interpretations of our people can be housed in an open and straightforward manner.
What are some of our cultural centre’s advantages?
We can determine what our community needs and see that we develop programs to address those needs more directly. Working towards self-help will assist in building a strong and healthy community. Of course, with a cultural centre we can create a more meaningful, dynamic and organic relationship with both our audience and community members through our outreach programs, displays and exhibitions. Our facilities can “take the visitors on a kind of mental journey, a stepping out of the present into a universe of timeless values.” 6 Our programs can grow and evolve as the need arises, a fact that will only empower the members of our community. Re-establishing contextual references for the ideas and objects that they meet in our centre will help to clear up misunderstandings. This is a major advantage in developing a community cultural centre.