3 months ago

Highs and Lows

Zachary Marschall summarises the first day of in-person deliberations in Edinburgh on the theme 'Highs and Lows', reflecting on participants' experiences and their attendance at the opera 'Don Giovanni' the night before.

Don Giovanni - Jenna Ashton

The Global Cultural Fellows held their first meeting this morning in Edinburgh. On the heels of seeing Don Giovanni the night before, five fellows commenced group-wide discussions on the cultural terms “highs” and “lows”.

Ellen Heyward, Lolisanam Ulugova, and Velani Dibba used their presentation times to examine the connections between highs and lows and social class. Ellen and Velani both acknowledged how high culture is associated with socio-economic privilege, but advocated against understanding high and low as a competition between groups. Velani equated participation in the arts with omnivore consumption, referencing that many people listen to both opera and pop music with equal pleasure. Citing examples of digital technologies to advance literacy, Ellen argued that highs and lows – even with their associations to social class – can be inverted in cultural practices and spaces.

Luis Felipe Ferra complemented Ellen’s argument on inversion in his talk on the history of jazz music in North America. Luis argues that jazz has occupied both cultural highs and lows, often simultaneously, since its start as a musical form in African American culture in the United States over 100 years ago.

Chankethya “Kethya” Chey, a dancer, used the body as an allegory to reject the validity of high and low as cultural terms. She observed that that the body had no such divisions and that each limb was a part of the whole.

Small-group breakout sessions among all fellows expanded on the themes introduced by the first five presenters. One group discussed the racial demographic of music performers, which is an issue particularly relevant to the classical and jazz genres. Collectively, the Global Cultural Fellows interrogated the extent to which the high and low divide is only applicable in Western culture; some participants raised questions over how authority operates in the arts and culture.

Doubting whether high and low can be used as universal terms provoked, multiple groups emphasized context as a method to understand art forms’ classifications.

Context reigned supreme in the discussions and disagreements between the Fellows. Luis kicked off the day’s final session by interrogating the divide Western and non-Western cultures. High art is a product of achievement in Western culture, but also highly tied to the colonial experience for many of the fellows from non-Western cultures and a form of power.

The Fellows devoted considerable time to assessing whether the terms were relevant anymore and if a new vocabulary was needed to describe art forms without the vertical hierarchy that highs and lows connote. Generally agreeing that vertical hierarchies are sets of barriers, the Fellows interrogated the gaps between art forms and participants as bridges and connections for all arts.

The fellows found access and opportunity as important as context for understanding and appreciating the arts.

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