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  • Maria Schechter

Culture Mapping The Digital Domain

Updated: Mar 22


My name is Maria Medina-Schechter, and I am a culture mapping practitioner. I have developed online communities since 2000. For the past eight years, I have developed large-scale communities for major brands. This year, I developed an online community for both #Kenya and #SouthAfrica, which focused on #disruptive #technologies. The content dive I made into the disruptive space involving #mobile out of Africa had a profound impact on me and inspired a new find for myself in #CultureMapping. ArtsEngaged authors Stephanie Moore and Tom Borrup suggest in an article that culture mapping is a tool for community engagement: “Cultural mapping is not only a method for cataloguing the cultural assets of a community, it is also a tool useful for #community #engagement and collaboration. Cultural mapping is understood to be the process of identifying and stating, in a written or visual inventory, all cultural assets within a specific geographic area. This includes the gathering of tangible and intangible assets from the community including but not limited to cultural organizations, artists, and stories. As a major part of municipal cultural planning, cultural mapping has grown out of research since the mid- to late-1980s in cultural planning from Canada, Australia, the United States, and various western European countries. The Community Planning Handbook by Colin Mercer (1995) helped broaden the understanding of cultural resources. The Creative City Network of Canada, created in 1997 to support the community of municipal cultural workers throughout Canada, has since created three toolkits (cultural planning, cultural mapping, and public art) that have become invaluable for cultural workers throughout the world. UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization) officially recognizes cultural mapping as a vital tool for preserving the cultural assets of the world and offers multiple resources for identifying both tangible and intangible assets. Information about cultural mapping and cultural planning will continue to grow as more municipal and federal governments recognize its potential for building and strengthening communities.”

Culture mapping in the context of art creates an identity profile of a community of artists and draws attention to how art and technology serve as cultural resources. The process results in identifying within the community problems which need to be solved or strengths to build on. Additionally, it illuminates how the results are a key tool for empowering the populations of the newly created communities. As demand for political freedoms arise, makers are aware of facing nearly impossible odds for continued creation. Embraced by a vision that makes compromise impossible, I have witnessed firsthand the crushing reality and strength culture mapping has as a revolutionary tool in community.




(Photograph by Dmitri Markine Photography, more amazing photographs@ www.dmitrimarkine.com)


I have been supporting the intersection of art, technology, and tradition since the development of Whatisart?, an international non-profit arts organization I co-founded in 2000. At that time social media was underdeveloped and inaccessible, yet I was willing to do whatever it took to provide artists with the tools and resources needed to have a voice. In today’s digital communities, pictures are freedoms defined by the dimensions that document story, history, and cultural boundaries.


This was the beginning of my journey to understand community and technology’s vital importance in culture mapping. In 2000, I formed my own international non-profit arts organization, What Is Art?-What Is Sound? (WIA/WIS). The organization’s name arrived from the book entitled What Is Art? by the famous sage and preacher Leo Tolstoy, which highlights his emotionalist theory on art and beauty. However, the organization was born out of a global community of artists examining art and sound through technology and tradition. We were over 200 artists from 18 cities,

spanning 14 countries: Austria, former Bosnia, Czech Republic, China, Croatia, France, Germany, Greece, Iran, Italy, Japan, Mexico, The United States, and The United Kingdom. The organization grew to over 200 artist members in less than 3 years. In addition, the organization gained the support of all participating countries’ Mayoral offices and Ministries of Arts and Cultural Affairs. The organization’s success was measured by the development of arts and education programs including the Artist Relief packages supported by materials from various supporting American Museums, citywide workshops, and support from the more than 52,000 attendees from our arts programs and exhibitions. Finally, once being awarded a grant as a cultural liaison between The United States and Germany by The Goethe Institute of New York City I was able to further my vision and complete what we had set out to do. Throughout these experiences, I have been honored to meet artists and designers from around the world whose works represent their countries in the Venice Biennale, Documenta, and major international museums as well as other arts and cultural outlets in former Bosnia, Croatia and Iran. I learned from artists such as Dalibor Nikolic, representing former Bosnia, how remnants of war may be re-contextualized into new meaning, how censorship creates boundaries for artists in China, and how artists in Iran are pushing the boundaries of landmarks. Through the use of fabrics, language and land I have truly been inspired by what has come to manifest for the artists in Iran. Today, their voices have the ability to be heard through a variety of social media platforms, online communities, and various grassroots initiatives.


After 14 years of work, I now pose the questions: How does culture mapping impact social change? With the use of advanced digital mediums, how are those changes critical in today’s political climate? This year’s path leads to a deeper understanding between the bridge of culture mapping and social media as a revolutionary tool hurling us towards the world together.

Maria Schechter, Authored: 12/13/14

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