Engagement Research: Talk to Them

GuineaPigs

This is the third in a series of posts dealing with the ways we in the arts unconsciously distance ourselves from the public. This time I want to expand a bit on the potential of market research to separate us from communities as well as its significant potential for supporting engagement. To that  end, let me being with a story I've used several times in my speaking engagements: Twenty years ago, my sister-in-law was the harried mother of two … [Read more...]

Let (Make) the Artists Do It (?)

CorpsDeBallet

There is an unfortunate tendency in discussions of community engagement for an organization’s first response to be that all (or most) of the work should be in the hands of its artists. I hear this presented as an assumption at many conferences, especially discipline-specific ones. This can stymie engagement efforts for two significant reasons. First, to be credible, engagement must reflect the will of the organization and be visible in all its … [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...]

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...]

Develop Allies

ClownHuddle

In Engagement Working Group, I discussed an early step in the process of bolstering an organization's commitment to engagement. Once members of this core group–those who already have an understanding of and firm commitment to this work–have discovered each other and begun talking and planning, it is time to expand the base. Developing allies means turning the non-enthusiastic into supporters or at least convincing them not to be … [Read more...]

Engagement Working Group

PenguinConspiracy

This is part of my continuing series on "How" to build a community-focused arts organization. An early step is organizing a group of "believers" who can work to generate enthusiasm and support for a transition. For lack of a better term, I call this an engagement working group. The means by which potential members of such a group “find” each other can be as varied as are organizations. Some individuals probably already are aware of like-minded … [Read more...]

Magnets and Oysters

MagnetOyster-Pearl

One issue that every arts organization seeking to engage with its communities must address is the "where" of arts activity. Our unconscious assumption is that art needs to take place in spaces specially designed for the form in question: concert halls, theaters, museums. But just as people unfamiliar with the work we present are intimidated by it, many are reticent to enter the venues to which we have grown accustomed. Of course there are … [Read more...]

Plan B

PlanB

In the context of posts that write themselves, this one falls in the category of "written (primarily) by someone else." The Guardian (London) published, earlier this year, an opinion piece titled "Public arts funding: towards plan B." (It was written by Three Johns and Shelagh: John Holden, John Kieffer, John Newbigin and Shelagh Wright.) The article is a critique of Arts Council England's arts funding report titled Towards Plan A, a report they … [Read more...]

First, Believe

Halo-Reflection

There is one, and only one, first principle in effective engagement with communities. That is believing engagement is a good thing–for the organization, for the community, and for art. Pragmatic rationales (e.g., "The funder made me do it." or "We need to sell more tickets.") are not unimportant, but in the end they do not move the mission focus of the organization away from internally focused artcentricity. Effective engagement demands that … [Read more...]

Yep, We Do That

ThumbUp

In But . . . How? I mentioned that I often am confronted with two vastly different "realities" with respect to arts organizations' commitment to community engagement. High ranking officials will say that commitments to community are deep and wide while others (often education staff) describe their organization's work as arts business as usual–focused almost exclusively on the art. Actually, on more than one occasion I've been faced with tears … [Read more...]