Communities Connecting Heritage: From West Bengal to Washington
Cultural exchange promotes cultural diversity and contributes to cultural sustainability. This was the key learning from the Communities Connecting Heritage (CCH) program supported by the US Department of State and administered by World Learning. Learning Together for a Brighter Future was a collaboration under this program, between banglanatak dot com, an Indian social enterprise working on culture and development, and the Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage (CFCH) in Washington DC. Around twenty young cultural professionals from the USA and thirty-one young tradition bearers from the state of West Bengal in eastern India had varied exchanges on art, music, food, lifestyle, and globalization as well as the use of social media in popular culture. The Indian participants included traditional storytellers or patuas, who paint stories on long scrolls and sing them; artists practicing the ancient dokra metal craft; Baul folk singers; and theatre artists. There were also in-person visits to West Bengal and Washington DC by a five-member delegation from each side. The youngsters not only shared photos and videos explaining their culture but also discussed cultural sustainability; virtual workshops were held to develop skills in interviewing and recording, and effective storytelling. Finally, the Indian and American participants paired up to write blogs on shared interests and experiences; the subjects varied from discovering common concerns on raising a child to managing heritage sites. Commonalities were also found in the traditions, for example food items like sopapilla and luchi, and painting traditions like patachitra and retablo.
During the CFCH delegation’s tour of West Bengal in February 2018, the Americans met the artists at the World Peace Music Festival Sur Jahan in Kolkata, visited cultural and heritage landmarks, and learned about community-based cultural industries. They also participated in a round table on heritage education for youth and an exhibition titled Through the Eyes of Young Americans that summed up their experience. From June to July 2018, the Indian delegation visited Washington DC. The city’s vivid cosmopolitan character, a mind-boggling array of cuisines, and a stunning nightlife mesmerized them. Engagement of community and the larger public in a weekend drum circle, weekly jazz concerts, DC Alley Museum, and the Smithsonian Folklife Festival left a deep impression. The patuas painted a scroll on the story of rights campaigns at the National Mall; the audience loved it and the song narrating the story. On 13 August 2018, a webinar was held to share the participants’ experiences and insights. As the program drew to a close, it had succeeded in bringing the multicultural roots and ethos of America to the young Indians’ hearts and sensitized the young Americans about Bengal’s cultural traditions. For detailed information, please check the webinar below and the event’s blog.