Marisa Zapata, Portland State University – Striving For Equity In Your Process: A Music Analogy
What can composing music teach us about improving collaboration in government advisory groups?
Marisa Zapata, associate professor of land-use planning at Portland State University, examines the similarities.
Dr. Marisa Zapata is an Associate Professor of Land-Use Planning at Portland State University and Director of PSU’s Homelessness Research & Action Collaborative. As an educator, scholar, and planner, Dr. Zapata is committed to achieving spatially – based social justice by preparing planners to act in the face of the uncertain and inequitable futures we face. She believes how we use land reflects our social and cultural values.
Dr. Zapata received her Ph.D. in Regional Planning from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, her M.U.P. in Urban Planning from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, and B.A. in Anthropology from Rice University.
Striving For Equity In Your Process: A Music Analogy
What does it mean to center on Black, Indigenous, and other people of color and their experiences in a multi-stakeholder project? I have developed this analogy from research and experience to help answer this question.
Convening a process is like composing and performing a song. A conventional Euro-classical piece of music is written by a single composer who decides which instruments perform when. Each section knows what is expected of them, and when and how to contribute their voices. This approach to making music can parallel traditional government advisory groups and public hearings (and public hearings can be good or play an important role). Unfortunately, Euro-classical music has served as a place of exclusion for people whose ancestry is not from Europe. Similarly, traditional government advisory groups and public hearings have also historically silenced the voices of Black, Indigenous, and other People of Color.
Writing a piece of jazz can occur in collaboration and provides a looser structure in which an individual can offer their voice and perspective. Breaking the “rules” for experimentation is encouraged, and people listen carefully to understand your message. Jazz can have simple and easy to hear and read patterns, or, as is common in Latin jazz, a set of rich and seemingly complicated percussion patterns reflecting the cultural heritage of Africa and Latin America. Both music genres can provide beautiful music and powerful experiences, but only one is rooted in the lives and experiences of Black, Indigenous, and other People of Color. When centering on Black, Indigenous, and other People of Color when creating multi-stakeholder processes, we are writing and performing jazz, and for some of us that means pushing away from the Euro-classical music model of a single leader with the baton and instead embracing a more collaborative process where everyone listens deeply and contributes.
While this is a somewhat interesting analogy, it is highly over simplistic. While, as the author noted, Jazz “can have simple and easy to hear and read patterns,” in most cases this is not true. Jazz is a highly complicated and sophisticated art form. Western European Classical music often has deep roots in authentic folk music. Jazz and rock musicians often use classical influences in their music, or make Jazz and rock versions of classical pieces. And the fact that significant numbers of BIPOC people (as well as white people) feel excluded from the wonders of classical music is an indication that many music teachers in schools have failed miserably in making this music accessible to the masses. The classical tradition lives on across many cultures and ethnicities, with outstanding contemporary “classical” composers and performers from every corner of the globe. Many people fail to realize that classical musicians of the 17th-19th centuries were extremely capable improvisors, just like Jazz musicians of today. And finally, there is nothing more collaborative than chamber music, which does not have a conductor, but all decisions about what music to play and how to play it are a cooperative effort. My point here is that pigeon-holing any type of music as being only one thing is dangerous and overly simplistic.