Since I got into the weeds of defining development terms last week (Development Terminology), I thought it was time to present the latest in my thinking about terminology related to community engagement. Over the nearly six years that I’ve been writing this blog I’ve been working on definitions that help explain engagement’s place in the arts management tool box. There has been much confusion and misunderstanding about exactly what community engagement is and how it differs from other essential work like audience development and audience engagement. The confusion is most unfortunate in that conflating or misunderstanding any of them gets in the way of taking advantage of the benefits each has to offer.
As part of developing our engagement training programs and working with communities around the country, we have been fine tuning and updating the definitions and adding more substantive materials to understand it all. (Evaluating Engagement was one aspect of that.)
My posts dealing with these definitions have been among the most widely read of this blog. In the interest of keeping current, here is the current incarnation of definitions related to the
[This definition is exclusively intended to apply to community engagement work] Any group of people with common interests or characteristics defined, for example, by place, tradition, intention, or spirit. (Based on a definition created by Alternate ROOTS)
Or even simpler: A group of people with something in common.
Arts-Based Community Development
Arts activities designed to serve community interests. Principal beneficiary of direct, intended outcomes: community.
Activities undertaken by an arts organization as part of a marketing strategy designed to produce immediate results that benefit the organization: sales, donations, etc. Principal beneficiary of direct, intended outcomes: arts organization.
Activities undertaken by an arts organization as part of a marketing strategy designed to deepen relationships with current stakeholders. The purpose is, over time, to improve retention, increase frequency, and expand reach through stakeholder networks. Principal beneficiary of direct, intended outcomes: arts organization.
An attribute (or state of being) that communities seek–citizens actively involved with community life. The impetus for encouraging civic engagement could come from community leaders, grassroots advocates, or anyone (including artists and arts organizations) concerned with collective well-being.
Activities undertaken by an arts organization as part of a mission strategy designed to build deep relationships between the organization and the communities in which it operates for the purpose of achieving mutual benefit. It is accomplished by developing trust and understanding through which reach can be expanded. This results, over the long term in increased ticket sales and financial support as well as more arts-friendly public policy. Principal beneficiary of direct, intended outcomes: community and arts organization.
Community engagement that creates change in the arts organization–programming, organizational processes, and/or modes of thinking. The root of such engagement is community learning: learning about the needs, interests, even personality of the community the arts organization is attempting to engage. If an organization is not doing anything differently as a result of its engagement efforts, it’s not focused on the community. It’s focused on itself. It is only transformative engagement that builds an arts organization’s relevance.
For the online version of these definitions, click here.