In 1976, Filipino artist and activist Carlos Villa organized an exhibition for the San Francisco Art Institute that was accompanied by theater, dance, music and feasts. It was called “Other Sources: An American Essay” and it was the beginning of Villa’s quest to redefine contemporary American art, organized around issues of multiculturalism, feminism and the role of the arts in contemporary culture.
In the ensuing years, Villa and his contemporaries arranged an iconic series of exhibitions, symposia, curricula, publications and web projects under the title “Worlds in Collision.” This included, from 1989-1991, a series of four highly impactful symposia at the San Francisco Art Institute in which hundreds of artists, historians, critics and activists participated. They insisted that a broader range of visual cultures should be included under the banner of contemporary art.
At the time, multiculturalism was the popular term for including the views and contributions of diverse members of society while maintaining respect for their differences and withholding the demand for their assimilation into the dominant culture. Villa and hundreds of people were actively involved in making the international art world more truly international. How far have we come? What can we do to continue this important work?