Make Room for Fun

FunButton

Recently I heard a contemporary blues singer (Lightnin' Charlie) interviewed about his life and work. In the course of the interviewed he said, "My business is to create fun. If people who come to hear me don't have fun, I've not done my job." I'm not going where some of you might think. I don't believe that it is the sole or perhaps even a primary function of Art to create fun for people. But here is a thought to consider in the privacy of your … [Read more...]

Learning to Be Local

YouAreHerePlate

As discussed in my last post, an essential element of community engagement is being “of” the community. In order to do that, it is necessary to understand the true character, the essence of that community. There is, of course, no monolithic essence in any geographical community, but there may be commonalities that bind many of the communities in a region. Spending the time to learn these things is important and is, at least to some extent, … [Read more...]

Being Local

YouAreHerePlate

One (of many) ways artcentricity hinders community engagement is in its impact upon the relationship between the arts organization and its community as a whole. The “pursuit of excellence” as commonly understood often leads organizations to strive for a generic, rather than a location-specific, form of excellence. As one way of considering this, imagine a collection of season brochures or exhibition catalogs. In how many is it possible to tell … [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...]

Birds Gotta Fly

AirbusCockpit

One of the inevitable results of traveling around the country is getting used to airline employees, especially flight attendants, talking to me–often reciting governmentally- or corporately-mandated scripts about safety or the rich benefits of airline credit cards. The presentations range from  stultifying to (occasionally) hilarious. It's fun to hear creative staff riff on the means of fastening seat belts or the use of oxygen masks. What I've … [Read more...]

Rationales

Why?

As I've mentioned before, I'm in the process of developing training options for arts organizations seeking a unified approach to community engagement–systemic, mainstreamed, and involving every facet of the work. Part of that, a relatively simple one to be sure, has been drafting descriptions of it. Several early comments suggested the need for including the rationale for community engagement. A first pass yielded the … [Read more...]

Making Meaningful Connections

Helicon-IrvineConnectionsReport

The Helicon Collaborative and the Irvine Foundation have partnered on a "hit it out of the park" report addressing substantive engagement. Making Meaningful Connections presents research into the most effective practices in efforts to engage with diverse communities. (I felt this way before I saw that Building Communities, Not Audiences was listed in the bibliography.) In the introduction they make the case that engaging with new communities is … [Read more...]

Civil Rights Museum

CivilRightsMuseumImages

After attending the Americans for the Arts Convention in Nashville last month my wife and I went on to Memphis to explore another city that we had not visited. As part of that trip we went to the National Civil Rights Museum. (On a personal note, I had not registered the museum's subtitle "At the Lorraine Motel" so when I arrived I had the breath knocked out of me seeing "the balcony.") Coming so soon after the conference session I discussed in … [Read more...]

The Self-Centered Pursuit of Diversity

Nashville

In my last post I reflected on the 2014 Americans for the Arts Conference in Nashville. I concluded by mentioning an important session on diversity and promised a follow-up. There is much discussion (lip service and otherwise) of and occasional work toward diversity and inclusion in the arts industry. One difficulty is that much of the support infrastructure in the arts is connected via metaphorical superglue to the white monied establishment. … [Read more...]

Frames of Reference

UpsideDownMap

"They're an hour behind." Recently, landing in Des Moines on a flight from Charlotte, I overheard a fellow passenger say this to their seatmate. I often hear people describe time zone differences this way, so I might have ignored it; but on this occasion, the tone of voice implied something about the speaker's attitude toward our destination. It sounded a tad condescending, as if the clocks might not be the only thing that was "behind" in this … [Read more...]