The arts began as collective activity around the campfire, expressions of community. In a very real sense, the community owned that expression. Over time, with increasing specialization of labor, the arts– especially Western “high arts”– became distanced from the community. Today the survival of established arts organizations hinges on their ability to shorten that distance. Engagement is important; engaging matters.
To engage successfully, arts organizations need to make authentic, substantive connections with their communities. Those communities should not be seen as a collection of market segments to be tapped in an effort to sell tickets or extend reach; they should be seen as indispensable partners in improving lives. It is the creation and support of healthy, vital communities that provide the ultimate justification for the allocation of financial and human resources that the arts require. Communities do not exist to serve the arts; the arts exist to serve communities.
Acknowledging a whiff of hyperbole in that last sentence, along with the potential for irritation in a misunderstanding of it, the issue nevertheless needs to be faced squarely. This blog will examine the topic of community engagement on the part of the arts community in both abstract principles and practical application. I welcome you to the discussions, debates, arguments, and rants.