Cultural Arts and Multiculturalism


          It’s important to come to an understanding about the differences between cultural arts and multiculturalism.  I have come to know through conversations with students that they often confuse those two concepts and use the terms interchangeably.  When the course has been addressing cultural arts students have been thinking of multicultural issues.  So let’s separate them a little and define the two.


Cultural Arts

          What is culture?  A quick trip to a good dictionary would yield these possibilities:

“the civilization of a given people or nation at a given time or over all time; its customs, its arts, and its conveniences”

“socially inherited artifacts”

“fineness of feelings, thoughts, tastes, or manners; refinement”

“the development of the mind or body by education or training”


Culture, then, is commonly held beliefs, activities, social norms, and expressions of creativity within a group of people.  It is a refinement or development of talents and interests through exposure and training.  It is the music, drama, holidays, entertainment, dances, art, sports, behaviors and values that define a society. 


We call music, art, drama, and dance cultural arts because they are tools that help us develop the mind and body, refine feelings, thoughts, and tastes, and reflect and represent our customs and values as a society.



When we talk of a group of cultures and the things that represent them, we are talking about multiculturalism.  Multi, meaning many, cultures.  Frequently, when we use the term multicultural we are referring to any culture other than our own primary culture.  However, any of us would be hard pressed to define ourselves through the criteria of any single culture.  We live, simultaneously, in multiple cultures.  We live in the southeastern United States and, therefore, are immersed in southern culture.  We are pursuing an education and are enveloped in an educational culture.  Many of us have religious or ethnic cultures that strongly influence our values and our daily behaviors.


As you broaden your exposure to many cultures and their representation through the arts and artifacts, you become more aware of your own culture(s) and the richness of representation there.  You become better prepared to appreciate and include the cultural arts in your classroom.


Cultural Arts Inclusion

The focus of this course is not on any particular culture represented by the arts but on the arts themselves.  It is our purpose to use the tools of visual art, music, creative movement, and storytelling/drama to enhance our teaching of the content area curriculum.  It might be easiest to eliminate the word cultural from your thinking when you are planning for inclusion of the arts in your lessons.

Even as I say that, I am critically aware that many forms of art we use have rich cultural overtones and much of the curriculum you teach, particularly literature and social studies, is multicultural in nature, designed to help students learn more about the diversity in their world.  As you plan for arts inclusion in these lessons, you are dealing with both cultural arts and multicultural issues.  It’s really the best of both worlds and since these lessons lend themselves so easily to arts inclusion, they are frequently the kind we choose to focus on.  These lessons would be appropriate to share, however it is not a requirement for this course that the lesson you share with us be multicultural in nature.  It is perfectly acceptable to plan an arts inclusion to support your content area lesson that is not particularly illuminating any specific definable world or regional culture.