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...]

Call for Mini Stories

Gard Foundation logo

In April I posted the Robert E. Gard Foundation's call for stories about the arts and community engagement. Many have been received. We are working on editing them and others for inclusion on our website. However, this work is important and examples are one of the best ways of explaining the concepts. So, in the interest of expanding the pool of examples, we are seeking responses to a new call for "mini stories." These are even shorter examples, … [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...]

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...]

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...]

Community Engagement ≠ Charity

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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...]