What is American culture?

United States
Project Description: 

What is American culture? While many countries long ago defined their culture and heritage, our culture is less easily described. A recent New York Times essay on identity raised thought-provoking questions about the diversity and fluidity of the American experience, rather than attempting answers. In 2016, one American musician will visit all 50 states—one week per state, with two weeks to spare—in a collaborative, educational, and participatory quest to highlight the many strands that combine to form the American cultural tapestry. 




In each state, violinist William Harvey will perform at least one public concert in collaboration with musicians from a variety of genres. He will also engage in multidisciplinary collaborations showcasing the tremendous variety of forms of cultural expression, such as food, sports, TV, movies, art, identity, social media, and more. Visual and performing arts classes in schools in each state will generate individual and class projects—paintings, compositions created under the guidance of Mr. Harvey and/or the music teacher, short plays—related to the theme of “What Is American Culture?” 


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Partnering musicians, artists, schools, and organizations will be identified in collaboration with a diverse group of logistical partners, each state arts agency or council, state tourism boards, and an advisory board, convened specially for this project, of respected figures in the arts, education, and the political sphere. All voices will be included to ensure the fair representation of all cultures that together comprise American culture. The project will highlight modes of expression that do not benefit from large-scale commercial support, such as chart-topping popular music, professional athletics, or blockbuster films. 


The project will actively seek performances for and involving all communities through the location of performances in nontraditional performance venues, including homeless shelters, hospitals, hospices, prisons, schools, parks, sports stadiums, government buildings, and community centers. The project will invite participation far beyond the team directly involved in the project. Universities and high schools can hold discussions on a set of questions based on the theme. Other artists in all disciplines will be encouraged to initiate other performances and presentations. Performances and events would not need to directly involve Mr. Harvey in order to connect to the theme of the project. The project will be funded through donations to Cultures in Harmony.


In a presidential election year, many forces will try to convince Americans that we are very different from one another and therefore cannot possibly work together. This project reminds us that in celebrating those differences, we affirm our common experience. In raising questions about the nature of American culture, we define it. What is American culture? We will continue to find out!