Leadership in Cultural Sustainability
M.A.C.S. Capstones are the culmination of our student’s work in our program. Students choose an immersion fieldwork project, a public program in a cultural institution or community, or an academic thesis to complete their degree. In the past decade, M.A.C.S. students explored their passions, producing leading academic literature in the relatively new field of cultural sustainability, or making a positive, practical impact in the communities they care about most. Discover a selection of capstones below and journey with our students as they explore issues related to indigenous populations, advocacy, leadership in cultural sustainability, ancestry, story-telling, heritage, art, folklore, justice, and society.
As Seen Through Indigenous Eyes and Heard Through Indigenous Voices: A Storytelling Project
Heidi Lucero, M.A.C.S. '19
The purpose for this capstone project is to produce a web-based product which illustrates the intersection of story and tattooed forms of identity among Indigenous people in California. The title of this capstone project is, As Seen Through Indigenous Eyes and Heard Through Indigenous Voices: A Storytelling Project. This web-based product includes digital stories of tattooed individuals and is a place to access educational material on the practice, as well as California Indian history. My primary question is: Can an outward facing identity marker such as the traditional “111” tattoo be a foundation for educating the public and Native communities about political, social and historical issues facing Indigenous communities in California? This project will illuminate the stories of California Indians that currently have received their “111” tattoo or are considering receiving their “111”. Each story tells the personal journey of the individual in receiving their tattoo and discusses the impacts that have resulted after receiving their tattoo. These stories were edited into digital stories and are available on the California Indigenous Chin Tattooing website, to heighten awareness of the resurgence of this cultural tradition and the historical reasons it was lost. The website also features other Indigenous communities in the world where traditional tattooing practices have not been interrupted and where revitalization of lost tattoo practices are ongoing. In these communities, tattooing is valued as a marker of Indigenous identity. This project’s purpose is multi-layered. Socially it is filling a void in cultural knowledge about the traditional practice of chin tattooing in California. For myself, as a bearer of a traditional “111” chin tattoo, it has helped me to grow as an activist in the revitalization of unconventional traditional arts and culture such as the “111” chin tattoo. Personally, in my journey of receiving my chin tattoo, I was disowned by my family; they have not spoken to me since I received my chin tattoo. This poignant experience demonstrates the need to educate even our own community members regarding the significance and importance of this traditional practice. The deeply personal stories that I have recorded and the educational material that is presented through this project serve to create bonds and strengthen knowledge about California Indians across public audiences as well as the Native community.
Maya'loyon: Creating a Space for Indigenous and Cultural Teachers
Nakia Lent, M.A.C.S '19
This project, Maya’loyon, consists of a website https://accordion-mayflower-djkm.squarespace.com/config/ designed for Indigenous Languages and Cultural Teachers, nationally and internationally. (The site will go live on July 5, 2019) Its goal is to support Indigenous teachers by featuring sample lesson plans, teaching techniques, a teacher wellness area, blogs, advice, and information about advocacy. It is also designed to support those communities which want to continue as a people, recover some of what has been lost (for example, native speakers of our languages), transform from a deficit model to a growth in speakers (language use is declining vs. creating new speakers of a living language), and determine our own ways forward (rather than relying on linguists to teach us, we chose to become teachers ourselves and take responsibility on continuing our language and culture). The project's methodology included research into existing literature and websites, interviews with leading culture and language teachers engaged in innovative work, and surveys of Indigenous and culture teachers. Indigenous language and culture teachers are often disconnected from colleagues from other nations. Maya’loyon will serve to connect language and culture teachers across space and, through the creation of an archive of teaching materials, across time. This connection will transform the work designed to sustain language and culture. Its' purpose is also to facilitate the transformation from dependence on Western academic linguists and language instruction practices to Indigenous practices developed for ourselves. In terms of action, Maya’loyon hopes to mobilize greater numbers of language and culture teachers, offering support so they may continue to expand the critically important effort that is revitalizing and reawakening our languages and cultural traditions.
Awiix/Milpa: Corn and Ancestral Knowledge in Kaj Koj A Reflection
Michelle Banks, M.A.C.S. '12
You can find corn growing almost everywhere in Guatemala. La milpa (corn or cornfield) can be a huge track of land, a family garden, or a handful of corn plants growing between patches of hardscrabble earth. Steeped in traditions that date back to pre-‐Columbian times, it orders the day-‐to-‐day for the men and women who cultivate it and reflects a profound reverence for la madre tierra and humankind’s relationship to her, and to each other. “Awiix/Milpa: Corn and Ancestral Knowledge in Kaj Koj” is an on-‐line exhibit that explores the role of la milpa in preserving the communal and cultural identity of Maya Poqomchi’ communities in San Cristóbal Verapaz Guatemala (Kaj Koj). The exhibit was developed with a team of young people who have participated in photography and creative writing workshops with Paat Itz’at -‐-‐ an arts and humanities project based in San Cristóbal. This collection of poetry, interviews and photographs illustrates the sacredness of corn to those whose sustenance depends on it, and their concerns about the loss of the traditions that are essential to its cultivation. “Awiix” is a celebration of the milpa and a forum to share the creativity of the children and young people Paat Itz’at tries to nurture through its work.
Restringing Pathways to the Ancestors: An Indigenous Family History Project
Monique Tyndall, M.A.C.S. '17
This autoethnography examines how my genealogical research and critical examination of the stories of my family through a decolonial and indigenous lens is a resistance to the contemporary colonial mandate…to eradicate Indigenous existence…through the erasure of the histories and geographies that provide the foundation for Indigenous cultural identities and sense of self. By identifying the presence of historical and contemporary narratives about who we are as a people, how we relate to others, and the world around us; cultural workers can make a difference by conceptualizing true identities for self and the cultural field. By identifying these narratives, cultural workers can begin to critically analyze whether existing discourses, practices and processes are producing outcomes that are beneficial for the people that the cultures belong to. This autoethnography explores a journey towards knowing self through the stories and research of my family so that I can better understand what is unique about identity.
Joanne Morales, M.A.C.S. '14
Ocama, which means "listen" is a two part project regarding the importance of sustaining Taino culture. The first part is a manuscript created from the voices of twenty-one Taino people. It is a community portrait that conveys the strength of Taino culture and identity. The second part of the project is a reflective paper about my experience throughout the project.
Reclaiming Indigenous Landscapes
Candyce Testa, M.A.C.S. '18
The goal of this capstone is to present the results of research on the history of the naming of geological places in Connecticut. Many sites carry names that refer to "satan," "devil," or “hell,” names which were not used by the indigenous people and do not conform to their cosmology. The research largely reveals that the Puritan settlers had a great influence on the use of English names that conformed to Christian cosmology rather than native cosmology. The paper provides a broader context for the thirty-three satanic place names within Connecticut that is inclusive of indigenous voices and perspectives that is generally absent from the writings of early settlers. Themes emerge that involve native cosmological culture heroes, perceived taboos, and ceremonial sites. Evidence of Puritan connections in the re-naming is presented, as well as possible reasons for the cultural disconnect of Connecticut tribes from these sites. In addition, this study documents the methods that were utilized in the research, as well as ethical considerations and challenges that were met in carrying out the study. This document will potentially become a guidebook utilized by indigenous communities to uncover and reconnect with their own traditional landscapes.
Cultural Sustainability Leadership Theory & Application
Imaginative Fields: A Companion to Action
Michele Anderson, M.A.C.S. '14
This creative nonfiction essay uses public narrative framework (story of self, story of us, story of now) to intertwine cultural sustainability leadership theory with a practical case study of community organizing through the arts in a rural Minnesota town. The main topic explored in this essay is the Fergus Falls State Hospital (or "The Kirkbride Building”), a century old, abandoned mental institution that closed in 2006 and has faced the wrecking ball for the last eight years. Using Cantwell’s concept of an “imaginative field,” where it is possible to “exercise our cultural rights,” this paper explores the role of community participation in Fergus Falls, Minnesota, and how artists, preservationists, mental health advocates and activists have come together on an initiative called “Imagine Fergus Falls,” funded by the National Endowment for the Arts Our Town program, to bring the significance of the Kirkbride Building to the front and center of preservation and redevelopment.
Diagnosis Culture: African American Maternal Health in Houston
Cecelia Otttenweller, M.A.C.S. '19
This project investigates the cultural issues underlying why mothers identified as racially Black in Harris County, Texas are upwards of three to five times more likely to either die or suffer debilitating health effects in the year following giving birth than any other identified group. The first section describes an ethnography project investigating the emic perspectives of both Black mothers and medical providers. The next section identifies overarching themes that arose in the interviews. The remainder of the project includes two proposed projects developed to demonstrate how creative storytelling projects collaboratively developed in partnership with affected communities could potentially serve as catalysts to create solutions that involve consent, shared authority, and dialogical, mutual, and respectful engagement between equals to improve outcomes for all concerned.
Chicano Youth Leadership Conference: Speaking Legacies of Leadership into the Future
Jasmin Temblador, M.A.C.S. '19
In this reflection paper, I use the method of oral history to explore leadership through the Chicano Youth leadership conference (CYLC) over fifty-years. For this final capstone project, I have interviewed Charlotte Lerchenmuller, president of the Sal Castro Foundation, and Paula Crisostomo, board member of the Sal Castro foundation, and former conference attendee and student activist. I selected Paula and Charlotte because they are elders who hold leadership roles in the conference, and both have been longtime volunteers. The purpose of this project is to ensure that the narratives of elders within the conference are heard, seen, and recognized as a vital contribution to the sustainability of the conference, and to continue to empower future generations of Chicano/a youth. Through the oral history recordings, future generations of Chicano/a and Latino/a people will have access to learn about the experiences of people like Charlotte and Paula who have made incredible contributions to the CYLC over time. In this paper, I will introduce a brief history of the conference and the 1968 student walkouts, my personal narrative as a volunteer with the conference and how it inspired me to conduct this capstone. Finally, I will introduce the method of oral history, my process for completing the interviews for this project, and an analysis and interpretation of the interviews.
Urban Agriculture & The Co-Development of Environment, Culture, & Community
Heidi Thomas, M.A.C.S. '15
Systemic disruptions of place can have significant impacts to the cultural fabric of urban communities. The divisions of race and class that manifest through these disruptions of place are often represented by literal lines in the built environment, and are indicative of the figurative barriers to connection that can persist across cultural communities. Across the arc of its temporality, urban agriculture has historically been viewed and utilized as a vehicle through which environmental and sociocultural fissures within and across urban communities can be repaired. As such, the convergence of environment and foodways through urban agriculture- has the capacity to foster a culturally democratic process of co-development in which the growing and sharing of food in an environment that connotes sense of place can serve to both sustain pre-existing cultural communities and inspire the emergence of new forms of community aligned with sustainability.
The Missing Peace: Offerings from the Study of Adoption, Culture, and Identity
Laura Williams M.A.C.S. '18
The purpose of this capstone is to expand cultural sustainability practice by investigating how emerging adult Chinese adoptees living in the United States negotiate identity formation and belonging. To understand the multifaceted experience of being a transnational, transracial adoptee means to understand a robust convergence of time, place, and culture. Drawing from two-years of interviews and focus groups with eight female emerging adult Chinese adoptees, I argue there exists a Chinese adoptee culture in the United States with unique needs and nuanced dimensions. Therefore, I situate this capstone at the apex of psychology, sociology, and folklore to demonstrate how cultural sustainability practice can lift identities in diaspora, strengthen family ties, and lead to wider social change. I conclude with reflection on what it is like to be an adoptee working in adoption and then offer a set of recommendations of ways to better reconcile vast differences between cultures.
Partnerships in Meaning-Making: Digital Storytelling as Cultural Sustainability Practice
Heather Gerhart, M.A.C.S. '17
This reflective paper summarizes research that explored digital storytelling as a potential method for cultural sustainability practice. The digital storytelling process involves the production in a facilitated workshop setting of short (3-5 minute) personal narratives that include photographs, art or music, and first-person narration. Findings presented in this paper suggest that digital storytelling provides not only a complementary method for engaging community partners, but also offers important insights into issues of power, representation, positionality, and ethical practice. The paper includes recommendations for bringing cultural sustainability principles to digital storytelling practice, as well as models for bringing the digital storytelling approach to the practice of cultural sustainability. The paper concludes by introducing a website concept – the Collaborative Digital Storytelling Hub – as an online resource for connecting digital storytelling practitioners with culture workers and community partners who are interested in exploring digital storytelling applications in their work with communities.
Tradition in Motion: DABKEH!
Nicole Macotsis, M.A.C.S. '16
This Capstone, Tradition in Motion: DABKEH! (TIM) is an online collection of documentation of dabkeh dancers (dabbikah) based in the West Bank, Palestine and Brooklyn, New York. TIM provides a platform to share the voices of these practitioners, a framework to explore issues fundamental to cultural sustainability, and to highlight dabkeh’s multiplicity of meanings, and dynamism. Edited videos of interviews with dabbikah and accompanying materials are organized on the Tumblr platform, traditioninmotion.tumblr.com, to highlight important themes which reoccur throughout the narratives. Supporting and linked media is on additional platforms (Instagram, Facebook, and YouTube). Media footage is drawn from fieldwork conducted in Beit Sahour, the occupied West Bank (2009) and New York City (2012). Additional footage in Brooklyn, NY (2015) was recorded with the help of City Lore’s Documentation Institute. Dabkeh is a music and dance social tradition of the Levant area (Lebanon, Jordan, Palestine, Syria) of the Middle East. It is performed socially at celebrations, in stage choreographies by troupes, and even in street protests. Dabkeh is rooted in village folk traditions, performed in lines and circles, with rhythmic stomping and syncopated foot patterns. It is also one of the most popular and beloved dances performed by Arab Americans, not solely by those of Levantine descent, at social gatherings, festivals and political events. Considering the misrepresentations and racism facing Palestinians and Arab Americans, TIM provides an alternative voice which values tradition, art and self-expression. It provides a platform for Arab re-presentation of themselves as artists, tradition bearers, dancers, and creators, in contrast to mass media’s depictions of them as terrorists, chauvinists, and mysterious backwards-looking exotic figures. Traditional cultural knowledge and practices of dabkeh (dance, music, community) are at risk in part due to migration, exile, and marginalization through discrimination or overt occupation of Palestinian territories. In the years following September 11th, and again currently, due to upheaval in the region and to phenomena related to Daesh (ISIS); Arab Americans and Muslims are facing increased discrimination and erosion of their civil and cultural rights in America and abroad. The pressures of surveillance of Arab American communities, and everyday prejudices combine with the common stresses of immigration to undo family, community and traditional culture. TIM looks at dabkeh as a cultural antidote to this undoing. It explores dabkeh as a dynamic and vital element of traditional culture and of everyday life, danced not only in social gatherings but also as a public statement of protest and identity. “[B]ecause “how a people are represented is how they are treated” ( Hall, 1998, p. 27), the act of representation is also an act of material consequences” . TIM collocutors speak of dabkeh as an affirmation 1 of their existence as Palestinians, as Arabs, as bearers of culture and tradition. TIM’s sharing of Arab American and Palestinian experiences of a beloved dance tradition, is a small step in sustaining their culture, their self-representation and sharing it with a wider audience
Living History: Finding Myself in the Reflection of My Elders
Carol Brooks, M.A.C.S. '16
Living History: Finding Myself in the Reflection of My Elders is an in depth reflection on my personal feelings of detachment from my heritage as an African American - an unfortunate byproduct of the silence of the generations past and the overwhelmingly limited documentation of the legacy and accomplishments of African Americans within the broader context of American history. It details my journey to find the details of my ancestry and little known facts of my father's military service on the shores of Normandy during WWII, and chronicles my transformative experiences in the field working with elders of the African American community who have championed these historic preservation efforts for decades, and share the same passion for sharing these untold stories with the next generation.
Stories of Sustainability
Sunny (Ashley) Fitzgerald, M.A.C.S. '13
All around the world everyday heroes are working to protect the lands and lifeways they love and perpetuate the cultural traditions that matter most to them. Millions of people are actively learning, creating, innovating, and applying sustainable solutions, yet very few of their stories have been made available to a general audience. The purpose of this project was to gather three stories directly from these soldiers of sustainability, to be published as part of a larger collection of stories. In sharing their stories, we have an opportunity to learn about their strategies, understand their approach, celebrate their efforts and successes, and begin to bridge the gap that often exists between those doing the work, those researching the work, and those that are interested but may not have access to the work.
Community Artistic Practice
"The Benguela Called to Play": Capoeira's Embodied Resistance & Sustaining Culture Through Expressive Bodily Practice
Emma Batman, M.A.C.S. '20
Considering the potentials of bodily performance in the expression of meaning and cultural identification for both the individual and their community, this work focuses on concepts of resistance and power as it is embodied in the Afro-Brazilian art of capoeira. The thesis develops from the researcher’s background in classical ballet and modern dance and is driven by experiences as a new student of capoeira, engaged in training throughout the research and execution of the work. Grounded in examinations of community, continuity and value transmission, the thesis seeks to build connections between capoeira’s resistant history, and the embodied experiences of resistance sustained through the culture of, and approaches to, contemporary training and practice. Concepts and arguments of capoeira’s embodied resistance emerge through narrative and performative writing, coalescing reflections crafted from participant research and interviews with practicing capoeiristas in New York City. Formed with a critically reflexive approach, the considerations presented in the thesis are buttressed by existing ethnographic works centered on the martial art, and framed by scholarship in performance theory, culture studies and sociology, and critical analysis. Avoiding the realm of overtly political or ‘art activism’ works, this research instead explores the resistant elements that generate not from the intention to revolutionize, but which are born upon and through group identity and expression. Attempting to recognize the subversive, subtle, and frequently unacknowledged ways that bodily performance contributes to everyday resistance, this work aims to provide additional recognition of the power of embodied knowledge and expression through corporeal performance.
An Analysis of Refugee and Immigrant Craft Initiatives Throughout the US and Canada
Amber Dodge, M.A.C.S. '16
Throughout the United States and Canada, groups of newcomers, including resettled refugees and immigrants, get together to work on various artistic projects. In some cases, newcomer artisans sustain traditional arts and crafts-making skills from their countries of origin. In other cases, artisans learn new artistic skills and techniques with the intention of selling products to generate supplemental income or developing employable job skills. By participating in these groups, newcomers have opportunities to practice English, engage in cross-cultural exchange, express themselves creatively, and forge new friendships. Newcomers often feel a sense of accomplishment, self-confidence, belonging, and improved well-being by participating in these groups. Furthermore, the broader communities in which these groups exist benefit from a more diverse and culturally vibrant environment.
Go-Go Community Sustainability Report: Impact Investments and Policy Recommendations
Maleke Glee, M.A.C.S. '20
The Go-Go Community Sustainability Report documents the current challenges of the go-go cultural economy and produces public-private policy and investment recommendations. The impetus for the report is the desired sustainability and growth of this cultural asset. Go-go is a distinct part of the Washingtonian experience, retaining a regional cultural capital since the 1970s. Amid the current changes in the District, go-go's relevance, particularly with younger audiences, is jeoparded. In 2019 the city released a cultural plan that produced recommendations to aid the growing cultural sector. However, tangible recommendations for D.C.'s now official music were absent. At this moment, D.C. is a city with many exciting developments that unfortunately exacerbate inequity. The city is grappling with cultural remembrance; the treatment of go-go continues to serve as an analogy for the treatment of the Black population, . For some, the Official Music of D.C. legislation is a positive turning point. It is an implication of the city's support of the genre. As conveyed by many engaged in this research, policy is the next step. The recommendations of this report are informed by primary research conducted by a single researcher. Over the span of three months, six oral histories were collected from go-go musicians and stakeholders. The recommendations address the central challenges of affordable and go-go friendly venues, educational and business development resources, technical support for digital integration, and the development of tourism infrastructure. The recommendations of this plan support the heritage preservation aims of the D.C. Cultural Plan. Relevant government agencies and community stakeholders are mutually involved in generating solutions. The implementation of these recommendations is a step toward long-term, systemic resources that safeguard and promote the genre.