Appropriation vs. Appreciation (Ep. 222)

In today’s episode, Candido welcomes Dr. Lori Santos to discuss the difference between appreciation and appropriation, and why that knowledge is so important. Listen as the conversation covers understanding culture, where teachers can find resources and ideas to support their work, and how we can avoid perpetuating stereotypes in the lessons we teach. Full episode transcript below.

Resources and Links


Candido: I know you’ve seen an uptick in the amount of culturally diverse lessons that colleagues have been requesting and implementing the past couple of school years and, while we strive to add diverse lessons to our curriculum, it’s important that we differentiate between appropriation and appreciation. We should ask what is the difference between them? How can we honor the cultures that we study and how can we, as educators, prepare to teach said culturally diverse lessons.

Recently, the Anti-racist Art Teachers have been facilitating these conversations. Joining me to discuss the differences Dr. Lori Santos. I hope you are as excited as I am to listen and learn. This is Everyday Art Room and I’m your host, Candido Crespo.

All right, Lori. I know you as a friend and a very powerful resource, but I would love for you to introduce yourself, tell us a story about your background and what you’re currently doing.

Lori: Great. Thanks, Candido. Yeah. I’m Laurie Santos and my background, I’m actually a Taíno, Puerto Rican and Portuguese heritage, and I have a really long family history in the Hawaiian islands. Sort of grew up with the visual culture of King Kamehameha on one wall, and then on the other side, in my family home, was I also grew up around the Catholic church. It was King Kamehameha the Virgin Mary, Jesus.

Candido: Right, right.

Lori: It was kind of an interesting juxtaposition. And then, also, a lot of nature stuff too. My dad was a real outdoorsman and a gardener and that rubbed off on me. I lived in the Southwest for several years. My dissertation work was with a group of Hopi artists, specifically the late Michael Kabotie and Mark Tahbo. I was just really honored to be able to work with them.

I’ve done a lot of study of art culture and, of course, teaching, formal teaching. But I kind of think of sort of the earth, the animals and the people throughout my life as my real teachers.

Candido: Right.

Lori: Really, I think it’s important to be a lifelong learner and to share and give of knowledge with each other. Currently, I’m teaching at Wichita State University. I’m associate professor of art education.

Candido: I actually, recently, had the honor, because you invited me, to speak to one of your classes. I believe it was a student teaching class, correct?

Lori: Yes.

Candido: Yeah, and I want to say that what you’re teaching is definitely revealing itself because there’s students who are very inquisitive and it seemed like the future of our educators, our colleagues, is pretty bright. Thank you for doing what you’re doing in the classroom there.

Lori: Well, thank you. Yes.

Candido: I think most of our listeners, they have a pretty grasp of what teaching in the pandemic has been like in the classroom, K through 12 classroom. What’s it been like for you at the university?

Lori: Oh, wow. Well, my class size is a little bit smaller, so I did somewhat have the luxury of being able to teach in person because our class was small enough and the space was large enough that we could social distance but we had the masks on as well, which made it really difficult because I have some significant hair loss. We did some online. But I will say that teaching in this, and we’re still in the midst of it.

Candido: Right.

Lori: I have noticed a little bit of the community connection kind of drop off that we had started building. I’m new here to Wichita State. It seems a little bit… The social distancing, I also think, has been a hindrance to our community.

Candido: Sure.

Lori: Of togetherness and just our wellness in general. I’ve noticed a little bit of a decline in that.

Candido: Right. Okay. That makes total sense, especially with the goals that you have in your classroom. All right. We should get to the meat of the conversation here and why I called upon your expertise. I want to know how you would define cultural appropriation as it pertains to our education.

Lori: Yeah. Wow. Cultural appropriation is a tough one to define because there’s so many different definitions out there and ways of looking at it. One of the things I did most recently in the classroom is I started referring to it as cultural plagiarism because I felt like that that gave a stronger emphasis and sense of understanding of what it truly is. Because, basically, some of the key things is that it’s when someone from, basically, another culture, sometimes it’s a dominant culture, sort of assuming the rights of the cultural patrimony of another culture and using them, applying, adapting them, in their own way, often without permission.

It’s very problematic because it fuels disrespect, misunderstandings. It’s very damaging to the cultural worth, self-worth, of the people that those world views, ways of knowing, cultural iconography comes from. That’s their worldview, their understanding. Historically, in art education, you were talking earlier about diversity and multicultural lessons and I’ve been in education for, gosh, this will date me, I guess, I think it’s been close to 30 years now.

Candido: All right.

Lori: Anyway, this multicultural trend came out of an understanding of well-meaning, I suppose, but what happened was, is there ended up being this sort of perpetuation of the stereotype, the simplistic and often sort of that wrongful use of cultural patrimony that is considered sacred, spiritual, significant to a particular group of people.

Candido: Right.

Lori: For me, that’s the real cutoff. Absolute no. We don’t want to take someone else’s spiritual understandings and, basically, plagiarize them for our own use.

Candido: All right. The reason that I ask about cultural appropriation, as we’ve stated, is that these attempts to bring more diverse lessons into the classroom is very evident right now. I think what we should be doing is directing, in our attempt to correct cultural appropriation or, in this case, cultural plagiarism, I like that, is to somewhat lean in towards appreciation. How would you define cultural appreciation as it pertains to our education?

Lori: Cultural appreciation. Certainly, we want to all feel like we’re appreciated.

Candido: Right.

Lori: Our ways of knowing or appreciated. One of the things I thought about with this question though, is that I feel like we need to take a step back and think about understanding actually what culture is, and to understand that we all live within a cultural setting. It’s interesting that I’ve worked with students before who have said comments, like, “I don’t have a culture.” It’s like, “Well, actually, no, we all have a culture,” and we all have very diverse and many cultures that inform kind of our identity. I think if we can sort of take a step back and think about, “Well, what is culture?” Culture is this idea of shared ideologies that inform our ways of knowing. It informs our life. By doing so, it actually results in cultural production.

In the material culture, the things that we create, because the things that we make in our life become cultural signifiers of the stories that tell about our human experience. It tells about the things that are important to us. It describes our beliefs and our ways of life. That’s what’s really important. Sometimes that’s also linked to the religious, the ethnic, or the national of our origins. But, most importantly, I think if we can acknowledge that culture is something we all have. It’s very diverse. It’s very complex.

We also see this trend of globalization has transformed the way in which we understand culture and brings in things that sort of blur the lines, certainly social media, commercialization

Candido: Right.

Lori: Really, to appreciate culture, we need to understand what it is first. We need to honor and validate that there are many different types of cultures out there and, that doing this in the art classroom, then translates into being aware of what the context of our own classroom is and honoring first person voice and honoring community resources. Reaching out to those that are in the know, that are a part of that world, to help inform the way we do things in our classroom.

Candido: Right. Right. I think this would be a great opportunity to remind the listeners that these resources are accessible. It could be somebody who lives in your community. It could a social media message away. Acknowledge that, as creators, we should be resourceful. That’s one of our gifts. I’m wondering how do you address this in your pre-service courses and have the students been responsive?

Lori: In my classroom, yeah, I really think it’s important to move towards an inclusion of cultural appreciation in the classroom and avoiding cultural appropriation. Again, I go back to starting with yourself. And so, one of the first things I do in my classroom, is my students actually make a personal mind map. They do this idea of deconstructing yourself and looking at all the intersectional aspects of their own identity.

And then, from there, it allows them to actually understand a little bit more about where they’re coming from in the way they understand the world. It also informs them about their biases. We all have biases.

Candido: Absolutely.

Lori: What are they and how do they inform the way in which you teach? Another thing that I look at within my coursework and my work with my pre-service students is to think about things in terms of a cross-cultural framework. And so, it’s very important that we think about our similarities but, I think even more important, is that we celebrate our differences.

Candido: Correct. Right.

Lori: I think a long time ago with the sort of new approach to multicultural education, the idea was, “Oh, we all come together and we join together because we’re all the same,” at the basis of it.

Candido: Oh, right.

Lori: But what was left out was to remember the subtle differences and the big differences from one culture to another, and that those things are to be valued. We look at that within ourselves, and then we also look at that within our students. For my students, as pre-service, it’s going to be their future K-12 students. They’re looking at the whole child, the cognitive, the socioemotional, the physical, the creative and, again, the cultural. How do all those come together to inform the person?

Candido: Right.

Lori: I sort of see this as a liberatory practice, as a way to bring awareness, critical conversations, transformation and empowerment of the student voice.

Candido: Okay. Immediately, the first thing that came into mind after your response is that these mind maps, I mean, there’s absolutely no reason why we shouldn’t be implementing them in professional development. I would love to see some of my staff members sit down and work out a mind map and really challenge yourself to face and be honest about this. It can only help your practice. That’s the thing. I think there’s a little bit of fear in this honesty. But, really, if you just want to be a great teacher, admitting this stuff and seeing it, acknowledging it, and then correcting it, it’s really super beneficial.

Lori: Yeah. It is. It really is, and to remember that it’s an ongoing process.

Candido: Correct.

Lori: It’s not something that you just do once.

Candido: Right, right.

Lori: You’re continuing to work on these things.

Candido: I think sometimes people are probably just afraid to admit some of their wrongdoing. I’ll say it. It took me a while to recognize the flaws that I had in some of my practices, but I’m okay with people calling me out. That’s not a thing for me but, for a while, I was teaching sugar skulls and not acknowledging everything about them that can be discussed. I celebrate at home. We do the Día de Los Muertos with my son so it’s only been something I’ve been practicing for three years. But the way I was teaching it in the classroom still didn’t acknowledge and really, really celebrate the history and everything that goes into it. That was something I needed to step back from and really take a look at.

But also, I mean, sometimes it can happen without us even paying attention because everybody calls upon the art teacher. This year, they had Hispanic heritage month in the hallways, so they were celebrating specific countries. Instead of asking first, what lesson I would like to teach, instead they just placed molas on my lap and said, “Teach this to the kids. It’s from Panama.” It’s a beautiful artwork but, also, that’s not the way that you go about it. That won’t give me the opportunity to really put in the groundwork. What I did was, acknowledging everything that we’re talking about in this conversation, is I showed the students about the molas. We watched videos. We saw women sewing and just how beautiful these works of art were.

And then, when we moved into actual art practice, I didn’t mention that word again, because I didn’t want the students to think that we were recreating molas. Instead, we were just practicing layering. All I did was say, “Hey, there’s a technique that they use called layering inside of their embroidery. Let’s do that. Let’s do a project on layering.” It’s really that simple. You can teach something and you don’t have to replicate that work, because it doesn’t mean the same to us as it does to those women that were in the videos the students watched.

Anyways, a little bit of a tangent, but an example. I want people to know that what we’re talking about here is really just something in everyday practice that we can fix really easily. You wrote a beautiful piece for the Anti-Racist Art Teacher’s newsletter last November, titled Native American Indigenous People Heritage Month. Can you share your hopes and goals from sharing such a message? But, Lori, what was your goal for that article?

Lori: Well, first of all, I want to definitely knowledge the Anti-Racist Art Teachers Collective. This teacher team that I’ve also had-

Candido: Hey.

Lori: … Because of you, which is so wonderful. I mean, just such a loving, caring, giving, brilliant group of educators I’m blessed to be a part of. We have an Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and the website which has lots of great resources.

Candido: Absolutely.

Lori: I do the monthly book club. Most recently, we finished Everything You Wanted to Know About Indians But Were Afraid to Ask, by Professor Anton Treuer, who’s Ojibwe. This, in some ways, because we had started this prior, Native and Indigenous Heritage Month is something that’s dear to my heart because my life experiences, certainly, and my professional scholarship is centered around Indigenous and Native people and art.

I think, for me, writing that piece, it was really important to acknowledge sort of this idea of past, present, future and the infusion of that in the context of Native peoples. It really surprises me that there are still a fair amount of people out there who do not have a deep understanding of the Native peoples of the Americas. Even my own students, I’ve been asked them how many native tribes are there in just the United States, and most of them don’t know. They started out as low as 15, and the actual number, right now, the federally recognized tribes are 574. That’s 574 cultural peoples with different ways of knowing, language, life.

Candido: Right.

Lori: It’s essential. I also felt it was important for me to write that because I wanted to dispel this myth of Columbus discovery in America. For me, my ancestors were among the people who actually discovered Columbus. There’s so much misinformation out there or stories that have not been told about the Indigenous peoples of the Americas.

Candido: Right.

Lori: It is not an essential part of the curriculum throughout the United States. It’s a very small part.

Candido: I want to acknowledge a line from the article. Quote, “When teaching and learning about Native Americans, art educators must do their due diligence.” Right?

Lori: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Candido: That’s just going back to what we said earlier. We have to put in the work that’s necessary to find out this information. Really, you could replace Native Americans here with the group that you’re studying.

Lori: Yes.

Candido: Acknowledging that you have to do this initial work first, and it’s okay to do that because we are educators. We should be okay with learning before teaching.

Lori: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yes, yes.

Candido: But-

Lori: Well, you earlier-

Candido: Go ahead.

Lori: Sorry, Candido, you mentioned earlier that you had some missteps and I’ve done the same. Here I am a professor and I was a young teacher, way back when, and I’ve been immersed in Native culture since I was a young girl, because it’s always been around me, but I’m not Hopi.

Candido: Right.

Lori: For some reason, I had a love and desire to learn about Hopi people through my college years. And then, when I taught about it in the classroom, I actually misstepped and made the mistake of having my students do sort of these pseudo-Hopi Kachina dolls.

Candido: Oh, okay.

Lori: Today, I know better.

Candido: Right.

Lori: Hopi children do not make Kachina dolls. Now, they may draw the images. That’s different than making the dolls. Also, the dolls are a part of a very important ceremonial cycle. This is the time of season when the Hopi Katsinas first start appearing and they come back through the ceremonial cycles that happens all the way to the summer solstice. But they’re made as teaching tools for the children. There is also an artistic form that’s done on the art market. But, to create Hopi Kachina dolls as sort of the broader American culture calls them, but Katsina or Katsinam is actually the Hopi name. You have to be initiated into the Katsina Clan.

Candido: Wow. Okay.

Lori: That’s where I draw the line with the cultural appropriation part because that’s a clear example of cultural appropriation to ask your students to make dolls.

Candido: Sure. Sure.

Lori: Especially, you don’t do something that’s a sacred item.

Candido: Right.

Lori: Something I would not do again, ever.

Candido: Okay. Yeah. Lessons learned, right?

Lori: Yes.

Candido: Now, for those of us who are attempting to make these corrections in our practices, sometimes we may work with a colleague who is intentionally or unintentionally committing this cultural appropriation. Any suggestions on how to, I don’t want to say confront, but how to discuss it with them.

Lori: Yeah. That can be a challenge. That kind of reminds me of the discussion in that book, This Book Is Anti-Racist by Tiffany Jewell, that we also read in the book club, and I had my students read it. Really good book. But when do you call in and call out people? I think, again, it goes back to what you said earlier, also as educators, we should be committed to being lifelong learners and self educate continually. Grow, learn, and also realize that you have to give yourself some grace that sometimes you do have those missteps and admit it. That’s okay. You know better, you do better, right?

Candido: Yeah, right.

Lori: Perhaps if you have a particular colleague that has done something is inappropriate or a particular aspect of cultural appropriation, you might want to try to pull them aside and have a conversation with them about asking them kind of why is it that they approached it this way? I often will talk with my students about asking them to think of a situation when they were misunderstood or something about their culture was appropriated and disrespected and asked them how that made them feel, and to remember that you don’t want to impose that on someone else.

I kind of look at this from four big takeaways, respect, relationship, reciprocity, and responsibility. As educators, we should cultivate those. We all want to be respected and honored. We definitely need to build relationships with people who are different than us, so that way we have that opportunity to learn.

Candido: Right.

Lori: It’s important to connect with your community to, not only study from the resources at hand through the library and the internet, of course, those are easy go-tos, but actually finding those first person resources.

Candido: Right.

Lori: And then, reciprocity. Reciprocity is really important. That’s how you build community is by giving back and honoring those individuals that teach you, that help you learn. You build trust. You build empathy. And then, going back, I guess, to responsibility again, you have to be sort of vigilant of yourself and knowing that you’re going to have some shortcomings and missteps. But acknowledge it and then just continue to rebuild and bring in others to help you. You don’t have to do it alone.

Candido: Right. No. No, no, no. You do not have to do it alone. Hence, why Anti-Racist Art Teachers have been offering so many different, well, lesson plans, artists, everything that you can find on the website. All right, Laurie, you have provided us a buffet for thought. Thank you for sharing.

Lori: You’re welcome. Thank you for asking me. I hope that there might be a couple of little seeds that can blossom for someone.

Candido: Well, I’d say we got our questions answered and more. I want to say thank you, once again, to Dr. Lori Santos for offering us so much to consider and act upon. If you aren’t already, please follow everything she and the Anti-Racist Art Teachers are doing at

If you want more resources, you can check out articles available on the AOEU website, such as Janet Taylor’s Considering Cultural Appropriation in the Art Classroom. Or How to Avoid Cultural Appropriation in Your Lessons by Ray Yang, and Melissa Purtee’s How to Deal with the Idea of Appropriation in the Art Room. You can also find a really great episode, episode 129, in the Everyday Art Room archives, where Nic Hahn shares how to create a culturally responsive curriculum.

Thanks for listening to Everyday Art Room. I hope you’ve learned enough to want to learn more. Catch you next week.

Magazine articles and podcasts are opinions of professional education contributors and do not necessarily represent the position of the Art of Education University (AOEU) or its academic offerings. Contributors use terms in the way they are most often talked about in the scope of their educational experiences.