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Cultural emergency response

Erin Genia developed this project as part of her residency through the Boston Artists-in-Residence (AIR) program. She is working with her City partner, the Office of Emergency Management.

We're currently dealing with:

  • climate change
  • economic inequality
  • institutional racism
  • COVID-19 disparities, and
  • ecological collapse.

These crises are widespread and complex. They're interconnected and expanding. They also have cultural origins.

How can we deal with such difficult challenges? Our current approach does not address the underlying cultural causes. We can better understand and resolve issues by including their cultural roots.

A Critical perspective as a Boston Artist-in-Residence

The United States is in a state of cultural emergency from my perspective as a:

  • Dakota/Odawa person
  • organizer
  • cultural practitioner, and
  • artist-in-residence for the City of Boston.

Yet, as a society, we don’t recognize this, and so, we have no concerted way to deal with it. I believe that to truly address the deep issues we face together, we must shift the framework for addressing societal problems to change our cultural norms. My experiences of being simultaneously inside and outside of American culture, and hailing from peoples who have been targeted for destruction by the dominant culture, have given me the perspective to see the deep harms caused by American institutions and systems. I believe these harms should not be accepted as inevitable. Instead, we must examine how American culture produces them so we can end them. In my residency working with the Office of Emergency Management, I have considered how procedures can be creatively leveraged to do this work.

Creative Outputs

By reframing the language and tools of crisis response to address a state of cultural emergency through creative interventions, I explore how to engage with these frameworks to address cultural emergencies. 

Cultural Emergency Response Priorities

I will focus on these priorities as I develop creative cultural emergency responses for my artist residency:

  • End institutional racism
  • Gain economic justice
  • Stop climate change
  • Restore ecosystems
  • Fortify Dakota and other Indigenous Peoples’ cultures

 "Anpa O Wičhaȟpi," a screen print made by Erin Genia in 2019.
"Anpa O Wičhaȟpi," a screen print made by Erin Genia in 2019.

Frequently asked questions

Frequently asked questions

Social rules, or social contracts, are governed by the cultural values we hold together. A cultural emergency response goes deeper to target and transform those underlying values.

The creation of a social contract or constitutional reform doesn't go far enough if it continues to uphold the foundations that perpetuate harm.

A contract is a legal agreement with penalties if one party fails to uphold their obligations. How would a social contract be enforced? For example, consider that treaties with Tribal nations formed the U.S. Yet, every treaty (declared by the Constitution as the “law of the land”) has been broken.

It can be very difficult to ask ourselves and our communities whether the cultural foundations that built our society are serving us. It is not necessarily easy or comfortable, but it is worthwhile.

If aspects of our culture are no longer serving us, but are instead harming us or creating emergencies that threaten peoples’ lives, we should be able to look critically at our cultural practices and decide how to move forward together.

A concept developed by Malayan scholar and statesman, Syed Hussien Alatas, who wrote in 1972:  

“A captive mind is the product of higher institutions of learning, either at home or abroad, whose way of thinking is dominated by Western thought in an imitative and uncritical manner. A captive mind is uncreative and incapable of raising original problems. It is incapable of devising an analytical method independent of current stereotypes. It is incapable of separating the particular from the universal in science and thereby properly adapting the universally valid corpus of scientific knowledge to the particular local situations. It is fragmented in outlook. It is alienated from the major issues of society. It is alienated from its own national tradition, if it exists, in the field of its intellectual pursuit. It is unconscious of its own captivity and the conditioning factors making it what it is. It is not amenable to an adequate quantitative analysis but it can be studied by empirical observation. It is a result of the Western dominance over the rest of the world.”  

As a continuation of her project, Erin Genia led a Cultural Emergency Kit giveaway, where she asked individuals to nominate someone who has made a difference during this time of cultural emergency to receive a kit of wellness items made by Native American producers.

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