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...]

Will and Way

WhereTheresA_Will

"Where there's a will, there's a way." Often, when discussing the possibility of expanding an arts organization's commitment to community engagement the first reaction I hear is the difficulties anticipated in doing so–scarce funds, too little time, alienating current stakeholders, abandoning "excellence" (I have to work hard to avoid jumping down the throat of the person that presents that one!), etc. There are at least some issues to address … [Read more...]

Partners

Habitat-MixingCement

In my last three posts (Outreach, Self-Made Barriers, Engagement Research: Talk to Them) I have been addressing vocabulary and habits of mind that separate us from the public we need to reach. In each case, the issue is seeing ourselves (unconsciously or not) as isolated from–not a part of–the communities we serve. Some of this has to do with a sense of "specialness" that accompanies being an artist or arts worker, and certainly the arts are … [Read more...]

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...]

Self-Made Barriers

BerlinWall

In my last post I reflected on the potential damage to relationships (or damage to the capacity to form relationships) with those outside the inner world of the arts that the word "outreach" can inflict. (Outreach) I mentioned that there were other such words or concepts that have the effect of creating or supporting distance between our organizations and those with whom we would like to build meaningful relationships. There are, in our field, … [Read more...]

Outreach

090806-N-6220J-004

I've just returned from speaking at the first ever Central Oregon Arts Summit in Bend, OR. It was a great (and quick) trip to a place that appears to be reaping the benefits of over twenty years of active work cultivating a public policy climate favorable to the arts. As one demonstration, the voters of Bend recently approved a hotel tax dedicated to supporting the arts and culture. Travel and speaking with peers from around the country always … [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...]

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...]