Community Engagement: A Habit of Mind

Habits

Perhaps the most important requirement for newcomers to community engagement is development of a new perspective, a new way of thinking that incorporates awareness of community into all their work. This is a frame of reference that places interests of the public high enough in unconscious thought processes that they influence creative choices. It is a perspective that grows out of belief, commitment, and practice. Belief and commitment are … [Read more...]

The Visible Hand

Hand

Much of my pragmatic (as opposed to moral) argument for deep focus on community engagement is of the “invisible hand” variety. (Thank you Adam Smith.) Economic, cultural, and social forces will inevitably, but without direct action, change the landscape to such an extent that business as usual in the arts will eventually become unsustainable. The area where such pressures move from the invisible/indirect to the visible/direct is in public … [Read more...]

Improving Lives “vs.” Arts Mission ??!!

Seattle

As part of last June's conference of the League of American Orchestras in Seattle, I got to sit in on a pre-conference session of League members' Education and Community Engagement staff. It was great to be around a group dedicated to the work I believe is so important to the future of the arts. While there was much of value for me in that session, one participant question has haunted me for the weeks since. In a Q & A period, one woman asked … [Read more...]

Community Engagement ≠ Charity

090806-N-6220J-004

A couple of weeks ago my blogging buddy Trevor O'Donnell posted one of his parting essays, "Community Engagement is a Lousy Way to Sell Tickets." [Disclosure: we had been corresponding on the subject in the days ahead of that post.] In it he highlights the fact that community engagement does not generate much in the way of immediate ticket sales and to expect it to do so demonstrates a lack of understanding of the nature of the work. He also … [Read more...]

AftA Thoughts (2014)

Nashville

Americans for the Arts held its annual conference in Nashville last month. As always, it was a chance to catch up with long-time colleagues, make new friends, and delve into the issues facing what I call the "arts establishment." I had the pleasure of helping facilitate a gathering of researchers in the field in a discussion of latest trends, needs, and issues. The bottom line was that as young (relatively speaking) as the nonprofit arts industry … [Read more...]

Getting to “Us”

TomatoesJalapeno

I have commented before on the habit of mind in the arts world that separates "us" and "them," especially with respect to our communities. Most directly, in Want-Need: "Them"? I suggested that: [W]e need to see our constituencies (and potential constituencies) not as "them." We need to understand that, together, we are all "us" in the application of the arts to make all our lives better. This requires humility (Humilité, Discovering … [Read more...]

Dark Future?

TunnelOpening

In a recent post, Elizabeth Merritt, the founder of the American Association of Museum's Center for the Future of Museums, gave a good synopsis of impending threats to nonprofit status that the arts may well be facing in the near (or immediate) future. (Dark Futures: Nonprofit Fragmentation) The essence of the argument is that in a time of budgetary despair for government, there is great pressure to examine the legitimacy of the tax benefits … [Read more...]

Core Business

AppleCore

I continue to be thinking about basic issues for arts institutions. Here are some thoughts about core business. There is a story–that I have always assumed to be apocryphal–of the dance company manager, newly hired in November, who observed that his troupe sold thousands of ticket and made tens of thousands of dollars with their production of The Nutcracker. His conclusion was that his audience loved lavish ballets by Tchaikovsky. The next … [Read more...]

Enrich @#!*$@

EnrichNo

Rant du jour: the word "enrich" in mission statements. Yes, it is important to enrich people's lives–make them more enjoyable, more fulfilling, more meaningful. However, so often when the word is used in mission or vision statements, that's the only reference to interacting with the public. It is, of course, better than focusing on the art to the exclusion of the community, but stopping at "enrich" sells the arts short. If the arts are only … [Read more...]

Magical Thinking

MagicWand

In discussion of the need for change in the arts industry, I am often met with responses that can only be classified as magical thinking. Such comments generally fall into one of two categories. The first holds that, while serious problems exist, all will be well if someone else does things to fix them. The second simply changes the subject, not addressing the question of whether a problem exists, choosing rather to criticize the idea of … [Read more...]