For culturally specific organizations, though, multiculturalism can mean having access to resources to build their own institutions and audiences.
That pits the mainstream's faith in an integrationist approach against the so-called "new tribalism," or the voluntary segregation by ethnic or affinity groups as a source and sign of enpowerment.
For the Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday June 9, 1991 Home Edition Calendar Page 87 Calendar Desk 1 inches; 15 words Type of Material: Correction
A photo caption last Sunday misidentified performers at the 1990 Los Angeles Festival. They were Korean.
Wanting to minimize these differences, mainstream organizations are nearly falling over themselves to proclaim their conversions to multiculturalism. Perhaps nowhere is the debate as prominent, or as crucial, as at Los Angeles' culture Acropolis. "The Music Center is a multicultural institution," says its president, Esther Wachtell. She cites diversification on the board, staff and audience levels, programming, a broad-based educational program and the Music Center's Community Advancement Committee.
"If you were to take the word as it's rooted in the Latin, it means many different cultures coming together," Wachtell says. "It means the bringing together of cultures.
"If you define multiculturalism (that way), we are. How could we be anything other than that? We have been, are and will continue to be addressing the culturally specific audiences and activities of Los Angeles. If you look at our audiences, they are becoming more diverse every year," says Wachtell, pointing to the increase in Asian and Latino surnames on Music Center subscription rosters and such support groups as the Asian Pacific American Friends of Center Theatre Group.
Yoshitomi was one recent addition to the board of the Music Center Operating Company--an example of its diversification efforts. Yet even he doesn't agree with Wachtell--differing with her pronouncements about the institution's operations and audiences. Asked whether the Music Center is genuinely multicultural, Yoshitomi answers, "Not today."
"The mix of people is less, and I don't mean just color," says Yoshitomi, referring to the economically elite patronage. Despite Wachtell's protestations, such shows as "Jelly's Last Jam" and "The Wash" typically draw largely white, middle-class, middle-aged audiences. Ironically, as Yoshitomi points out, the Music Center presentation that has drawn the most integrated audiences of recent years is the highly conventional "Phantom of the Opera."
Colleagues in Music Center business and in the greater L.A. arts arena, Yoshitomi and Wachtell exemplify the poles of disagreement within the multiculturalist camp. Although they work together, they don't see eye to eye on the relative merits of integration versus separatism.
"I don't believe in separatism, because I believe the arts are a wonderful bonding and communicating mechanism," Wachtell says. "We can't isolate ourselves. That's unhealthy for the community. When you segment and become separatist and divisive, that's when everybody dies."
Yoshitomi, though, thinks Wachtell's idea of the great "bringing together" is neither correct nor sufficient. Such a campaign would entail making the work--and the culture--fit into Western European models.
Further, many artists of color call for tribalism as a way to preserve their own culture.
"I can only speak for the black community," Shabaka, director of LATC's Black Theater Artists Workshop, says in speaking of the need for separate, culturally specific groups and institutions. "Our entry into this country was a cultural lobotomy, which created a need to re-create a culture, to find a place to keep ideas alive, to pull together the collective memory. That can never happen if the cultural and artistic institutions are in the hands of someone else.
"My biggest gripe with multiculturalism is that most of it is being done by white male theater owners who have decided that it's good for them," he continues. "Who shifted the paradigm and who will benefit from the shift? Will the ethnic artists and their communities, or will it be these white institutions who are now expanding?"
Hope Tschopik, former associate director of the Los Angeles Olympic Arts Festival and consultant to the 2000 Partnership, says the Music Center is a "culturally specific institution."
"I don't see how they can be (multicultural)," she says. "They don't have the cultural expertise or sensitivity. When someone outside of a culture makes decisions, they end up being right-minded but wrongheaded."
Tschopik says, however, that there's nothing inherently wrong with culturally specific companies--including European-based ones--doing what they do best. "The burden of multiculturalism on an institution such as the (L.A.) Philharmonic is oppressive," she says. "It does one thing well, but it's narrow. Of course these institutions have to pay attention to barriers of access, but I don't think the Philharmonic should be anything other than what it is. It's so wrongheaded as to defy belief."