Cool Culture, an organization dedicated to providing New York City’s underserved families with free access to the city’s cultural treasure trove, has expanded its vision with a new “Laboratory for New Audiences” initiative. The program, which consists of eight months of workshops, brings together leaders from New York City’s cultural institutions to create concrete ways to increase the diversity of cultural participation.

“As you can tell from the pens and blank sheets of paper on your tables, this is not just about talking, this is about doing,” said Cool Culture Executive Director Candice Anderson at the program’s launch last week. Indeed, participants in the interactive discussion included a veritable who’s who of New York’s cultural institutions, including leaders from the Studio Museum in Harlem, the American Museum of Natural History, the Queens Museum of Art, the Weeksville Heritage Center and more.

Dr. Maria Rosario Jackson, an urban planning professor who has researched the impact of arts and culture on community vitality, shared a few insights from her work. “Opportunities for cultural participation rely on multiple stakeholders,” said Jackson, who noted that some of the decision makers involved with cultural amenities are not cultural institutions. For example, a housing department or planning department would have significant say in the development of art/live spaces in a community. The point being that there are numerous and perhaps some unexpected gatekeepers of culture, so conversations must stay active and inclusive.

The commissioner of the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, Kate Levin, echoed the need for inclusivity by noting that there should be “transparent behavioral codes” at these various institutions. Levin was referring to the ticketing process (different than at the movies), the fact that museum exhibits welcome touching certain exhibits, etc.

The long list of ideas that came out of that launch were dutifully recorded and will be included into a final document that will incorporate feedback from all of the workshops over the eight-month period. The hope is that said document will be a blueprint for communities all over the country on how best to engage with and share cultural opportunities.

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