EU Cultural Diplomacy Platform’s Global Cultural Leadership Program

Perspectives from a First-Generation American

Name: Edgar Garcia | Age: 37 | Hometown: Los Angeles, CA, USA

Q: Tell us a bit about your background.

My name is Edgar Garcia and I am a cultural practitioner and arts administrator working for the City of Los Angeles. I first began my career in government overseeing the city’s historic preservation program. Now I currently serve as Arts & Culture Deputy for the Mayor of Los Angeles, Mayor Eric Garcetti.

While I was born and raised in Los Angeles, my family is of immigrant background from Mexico. I was constantly going back and forth between the two countries having spent most of my childhood and teenage summers with my extended family in Zacatecas, Mexico. This was partially to escape the everyday urban dangers of the city at the time- early 1990s Los Angeles was reeling from civic unrest and crime waves made only worse by a succession of natural disasters. It was a difficult time to grow up in that environment but I shielded myself through my books, studies, and dreams of traveling. At the age of fifteen I was fortunate to receive a travel scholarship from an organization to serve as a student diplomat, representing California with other American students visiting UNESCO in Paris and the UN in Geneva. So from a very early age, from both life experience as a “bi-cultural” person and my travels, I learned the importance of cultural exchanges and international partnerships. I was also fortunate to experience Europe as a young envoy and be exposed to its political institutions and framework.

I went on to study history at Yale University focusing primarily on European and Latin American history and spent some time living abroad in London. While completing my MA at UCLA, I also served as a U.S.-Russia Initiative intern through the U.S. International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS) working on conservation efforts in Yaroslavl, Russia and partnering with local families to preserve their historic cottages.

Participants and instructors of the 2016 Global Cultural Leadership Program with Edgar Garcia at top-right.

Q. Now tell us a little bit about the program.

Sure. The inaugural Global Cultural Leadership Program was organized under the auspices of the European Commission’s Cultural Diplomacy Platform to bring together young cultural practitioners and strengthen our leadership skills in an international context. About forty of us gathered together this past fall in Valletta, Malta and had representation from Brazil, Canada, China, Japan, India, Mexico, Russia, South Africa, South Korea, United States, as well as from several EU Member States. The program also coincided with the 7th IFACCA World Summit on Arts and Culture which we were able to attend. We all engaged in an intensive week of practice-based learning, discussions, lectures, and exercises revolving around themes of cultural leadership. We met primarily in a beautiful 16th century building that served as a museum and research center.

Participants describing their respective organizational charts and backgrounds at the start of the program.

Q: What led you to participate in the program?

In Los Angeles we are fortunate to have a robust arts advocacy sector and my colleagues at Arts for LA had circulated information on the opportunity with the European Commission’s Cultural Diplomacy Platform. In my own career, as much as it’s grounded on the cultural needs of Los Angeles at the ground-level, I’ve strived very hard to maintain an international perspective and continue participating in opportunities for cultural programs and exchanges for both personal growth and career development. Even in a city as large and diverse and cosmopolitan as Los Angeles, it’s very easy to lose a global perspective on cultural issues when you’re on the ground dealing with the everyday needs of local communities and groups. Thinking globally and acting locally is an everyday challenge. As in my personal past, this pursuit of international perspectives on cultural policy and practice continue to inevitably lead me to Europe: I’ve in the past few years traveled to cultural conferences at the Bauhaus in Weimar, Germany and Helsinki, Finland, and recently completed a historic house and collections program with the Attingham Trust in England.

The Global Cultural Leadership Program was nothing short of a capstone and culmination of this life-long cultural and political exposure to Europe. It really served to strengthen my understanding of how globally intertwined we all are through our ever-evolving cultural linkages.

Edgar Garcia top-center in participant-led group discussions centering on diversity and representation in the arts.

Q: What was your favorite part of the Global Cultural Leadership Program?

Of course all the participants and the organizers and the peer network provided by the gathering. The true wealth of the program was the amazing collection of individuals gathered in one space, all committed to the pursuit of meaningful engagement with the arts and culture. The staff and instructors all constructed a program where we were able to discuss both our individual challenges “back home” but still identify the personal threads that connected us all.

Group exercises charting productivity levels during an urban redesign activity at a public square in Valletta.

Q: What were you most surprised about the program?

I think I was both surprised and in some ways inspired to see the level of diversity to be found amongst all the participants- and not simply because they each represented their individual nations. I have to admit that I was somewhat self-conscious of my responsibilities to properly represent the United States in this type of international forum in Europe. As a first-generation American I still retain strong personal and cultural ties to Mexico and this background continues to inform my perspectives on a multitude of issues. But I was relieved when meeting my colleagues that they too reflected the immigrant experience. I met South Koreans who were based in India and Scandinavians of Middle-Eastern descent so I felt I was in good company!

You also find yourself making personal linkages you don’t immediately expect: with my Northern Irish friend it was about the social and political ramifications of living with a border; Korean culture is an intrinsic part of life in Los Angeles so I felt instantly at home with my South Korean colleagues; with my Mexican colleagues of course we had much to discuss and debate; talking to my Russian colleagues made me tremendously miss my host family and friends in Yaroslavl; and as an American you do feel an instant neighborly bond with our always cheerful Canadians!

View of Valletta from the Fortress Builders Museum, primary site of the Global Cultural Leadership Program’s activities.

Q: Malta will be the 2018 European Capital of Culture. What did you think about Malta?

Valletta, the capital of Malta was gorgeous. Being in Malta challenged my own preconceived notions of Europe and took me back to my own studies to recall that so much of European history is about the movement of peoples and cultures and the constant shifting of cultural identities. Here was an island-nation situated between Europe and North Africa with a proud people who were Roman Catholic yet spoke a language related to Arabic. And a people who very much retain their unique identity even with a large cultural diaspora.

Also the landscape was eerily like Mexico and Southern California: sea, palm trees, warm weather, and even cactus. We later found out the cactus had been imported from Mexico and it now grows all over Malta!

Q. What did you learn about yourself through the program?

As I look back at the program, it was an opportunity to reevaluate my core career principles in the context of the rapidly changing world around us. Both the themes and tone of the program were challenging yet nurturing for all my international colleagues from around the world.

Confronting the challenging tasks of being an effective cultural leader at both the local level and international stage was made easier by learning amongst colleagues in a spirit of friendship and openness. Seeing one’s hopes and fears reflected in other participant’s words and thoughts led me to a renewed sense of self and greater connectivity to others in the field. The friendships formed and lessons learned during the time spent with the Global Cultural Leadership Program in Malta continue to inspire me to be an effective and everyday cultural leader for local communities here in Los Angeles and for others throughout the globe.

Participants Aishwarya Tipnis (India) and Ruhi Jhunjhunwala (India) with Edgar Garcia.

Edgar Garcia is Arts & Culture Deputy for the Office of Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti. A first-generation American born and raised in Los Angeles, he has extensive experience in public policy, arts administration, cultural resource management, and historic preservation. Recognized by the Getty Foundation, Getty Leadership Institute, and the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, he has also been named a Fitch Scholar, a Royal Oak Foundation Scholar, and a Diversity Scholar for Historic New England and the National Trust. He is a graduate of Yale University and UCLA.