Advancing the Value of Ethnography

Mosaic Atlas: Mapping Inclusive Arts Hubs


The Mosaic Atlas is the brainchild of Mosaic America, initiated by a group of immigrant women in an organization that supports cultural arts who wanted to solve the problem they were experiencing—finding communities, venues, and collaborators—by creating a freely available digital atlas. They reached out to San José State University and found us—applied anthropologists, geographers, and urban planners. Together we co-created the ArcGIS based Mosaic Atlas. We all have different perceptions of what counts as data, how that should be presented and handled, and the ways in which we work with communities. We needed to create databases, points on a map, and narrative hooks that explored neighborhoods and networks more deeply. The organizations varied from those advocating for a specific cultural community, to those who wanted to somehow decolonize public art. Others saw art as the way to reach cultural communities for other purposes—to provide services for education, health or housing.

We encountered frictions—in our interdisciplinary teams, among our organizational collaborators, and in the communities we were mapping. We are an interdisciplinary team. We created a video to introduce the project and explore the frictions, from the moments of its inception by Mosaic America to the team’s investigation into the use cases for the tools. The map lists points and short journalistic descriptions, and contains curated StoryMaps that can tell a deeper story, such as Alexandra Garcia’s StoryMap of the Muwekma Ohlone. We did that document in partnership with the New Museum of Los Gatos and the tribe itself. The StoryMap was done with the Muwekma—they steered the direction of map—to include places of cultural significance, including sites of public art and performance. They helped select the people to be interviewed, and in extended discussions, revealed that they wanted to tell a story, not just of cultural erasure, but of cultural reclamation, including their fight for federal recognition. On the StoryMaps people get to hear and read first person narratives that speak to powerful ideas—noting the power and the frictions of such deeply diverse multicultural regions.

Each community we worked with has a similar passion and story to tell. We only use a tiny fraction of the material shared with us, and are working with San José State University’s Martin Luther King Jr. library to archive all digital recordings, transcripts, and photographs to capture the thriving cultural art scene of the Bay Area in the early 2020s. The project is ongoing, and partially funded by Hewlett Foundation and the Wallace Foundation.


Mosaic Atlas. 2023. Mosaic Atlas: Cultivating Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging.

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