St. Louis solutions through cross-cultural engagement
This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Sept. 26, 2012 - St. Louis is a city rich in cultural diversity, yet a 2011 study by Brown University professor John Logan found that St. Louis is one of the most segregated cities in America, based on U.S. Census data. Cecilia Nadal of Gitana Productions is looking to change those statistics.
Nadal spent years traveling the world, and upon settling down in St. Louis, she discovered an immense amount of diversity here. However, she felt that most people did not take the time to recognize and appreciate that diversity.
In 1996 she founded Gitana Productions with a goal of bringing global diversity and cross-cultural engagement to St. Louis through music, dance, performance and discussion. And has held many events that meet that goal.
This year, the organization is working to expand its mission by partnering with the Regional Arts Commission and hold a conference entitled, Cross-Cultural Engagement: Building Diversity and Dynamic Community.
The conference, which will be held Oct. 11 and 12 at Webster University, will challenge attendees to build relationships with those living around them, and use those relationships and diverse insights to bring about change in the community. The goal is that, through the engagement of different groups within the area, barriers will be broken down and fresh strategies will be developed for dealing with long-time issues such as poverty, lack of access to arts and education and unemployment.
Nadal describes cross-cultural engagement as “the intent to reach out to people who have different world views from you.” Those views may be different due to gender, race, religion, age, physical ability and more. Nadal believes that to build the best community, people must break out of norms and embrace the diversity that surrounds them.
“If we did more to reach out to people who are different [than us], we’d have better solutions in St. Louis,” said Nadal.
As a precursor to its cross-cultural engagement conference, Gitana hosted the “Celebration of Oneness” at Strauss Park in Grand Center on Saturday. The event brought people together to celebrate connections through art, dance, music, poetry and more.
“What makes [this event] different is that we’re focusing on a wide range of diversity and people,” said Nadal. This was evident in the diversity of ages, cultures, lifestyles, physical abilities and religions represented at the festival.
Performances ranged from Liberian dancers to an Argentinian band to an enthusiastic speech from a woman who was deaf from birth. The celebration concluded with a Holi festival of colors, a traditional Hindu festival in which participants cover each other in bright colored powder.
Nadal said she chose to end the day with a Holi festival of colors because it is “a reminder that, irrespective of your color and what you look like, we are all one.”
The upcoming conference hopes to move from that lesson to, according to its website, “develop strategies of engagement that are responsive to all citizens regardless of ethnicity, gender, disability, faith, economic status, sexual preference, or race.”
In addition to Gitana Productions and the Regional Arts Commission, conferees are expected to include more than 50 organizations and individuals representing the arts, education, business, human resources, and cultural groups and ethnic communities. Howard J. Ross, a nationally known diversity training consultant, will be the keynote speaker, and workshops will be held by leaders in diversity and cross-cultural engagement.
For more information about the upcoming cross-cultural engagement conference, or to register, visit www.stlcross-culturalengagement.org.