While I’m on a roll with posts dissecting the meaning and nature of engagement (Engagement Is, Audience Development “vs.” Community Engagement, Audience Engagement-Community Engagement), I’ve got some more issues to raise (or repeat). I have made much of the fact that substantive community engagement (as opposed to audience engagement) is extremely rare among established arts organizations. In an effort to stave off arguments about that, here are two questions to ask of any organization that considers itself to be practicing community engagement:
- In what direct, tangible ways are the lives of specific people in your community outside of the arts world made better by your programming and other activities? [A key here is whether the beneficiary recognizes the benefit and its source.]
- Are you actively involved in on-going, mutually beneficial partnerships with individuals and organizations that had to be convinced you were trustworthy and/or did not initially believe the arts to be truly important? In other words, individuals or organizations who/that were not “true believers” going in to the project(s). (It sometimes comes as a surprise to arts professionals that there are individuals and segments of our communities that, as a result of direct, negative interactions with the arts community, are not simply apathetic about the arts but are hostile to the arts establishment.)
Those questions are not definitive (or sole) indicators of community engagement, but they highlight the depth of and commitment to the work that is required. As I have said previously, I know that many arts organizations do not (currently) aspire to this kind of engagement. My calls for doing so are a separate subject. Here all I’m working on is clarifying the nature of the engagement for which I advocate.
Since my posts sharing Dr. Matelic’s charts on audience development and community engagement, I’ve begun trying to develop a similar side by side comparison of audience engagement and community engagement. Here is what I’ve got so far. Remember that this is a work in progress.
|Audience Engagement||Community Engagement|
|Art is the key commodity||Relationships are the key commodity|
|Art is central||Art serves the community|
|Art serves as entry point||Relationships are the entry point. Art selection follows.|
|The goal is to expand reach||The goal is to improve community, thereby building trust and loyalty. The result is expanded reach.|
|Art is repackaged to expand reach||Art is repackaged, reconceived, or newly created–based on community needs/input–to improve community|
This is clearly not finished and is certainly not definitive. But since I am trying to develop a way for us to discuss these issues–we do need to have common language (or at least common understanding of our different uses of language)–I wanted to get this in front of you early on to see how it can be improved and expanded.
I anticipate your (gentle) suggestions for improvement.