The P Word


Conducting community engagement trainings in St. Louis in December it was impossible to avoid (not that I wanted to) addressing the question of privilege. This is a huge issue in the arts as substantial portions of the population view the arts establishment as the poster child for privilege of wealth, power, and, of course, race. There is a long history of this association. In Building Communities, Not Audiences, I cited the 1849 Astor Place … [Read more...]

Engagement Principles: Current Thoughts


As part of my new work of providing direct support to organizations in efforts to more effectively engage with their communities I've been rethinking, expanding, and refining my thoughts on the most important characteristics and attitudes in doing so. I'm grateful to the Regional Arts Commission in St. Louis for the opportunity to dig down into this with their grantees. Here is where I am now. Humility Perhaps the most important requirement for … [Read more...]

Notes from St. Louis


In early December the Regional Arts Commission of St. Louis brought me in to support its work in community engagement. Several elements were new. One was a discussion of misconceptions about the nature of community engagement. The other was specific one-on-one work with arts organizations in engagement planning. Here is the gist of the first part: The Myths Community engagement is A Fad It’s true that there is an over-focus and, more … [Read more...]

Reflections on a Conference

In November I participated in a conference sponsored jointly by New Mexico MainStreet, the New Mexico Historic Preservation Division, and New Mexico Arts. It was a multi-disciplinary gathering to cheer my liberal arts soul. It was also–as a result, I believe–one of the most productive conferences I have attended in years. At the close, the principal presenters were asked to summarize their takeaways as a prelude to participant discussion. What … [Read more...]

Three (+) Cultures


I recently returned from the Building Creative Communities Conference in Santa Fe, a gathering sponsored by New Mexico MainStreet, the New Mexico Historic Preservation Division, and New Mexico Arts. It was an extremely useful conference and I will be sharing thoughts about it come the New Year. For now, however, I wanted to mention an insight that came as a result of the pre-conference tourism in which my wife and I indulged. Several places we … [Read more...]

Excellence Is Heterogeneous


In completing my assignment for Barry's Blog (brief observations on "what I have learned") I included "Excellence is heterogeneous." (See Lessons.) My explanatory note said, "Technique is important in the arts. So are relevance, inclusiveness, and impact–to name only a few additional criteria. Excellence is best sought in everything that matters but can seldom be achieved in all categories in equal measure." I've been down this road before and … [Read more...]



I was honored recently to have Barry Hessenius ask me to contribute to his annual post "What I Have Learned." He asked a number of people to share life lessons from both personal and professional life. The demands of blogging being what they are and the busy season being what it is, it seemed not unreasonable to double dip with my response, so, while you may have seen this in his blog, here it is again. Just because you can do something doesn’t … [Read more...]

Community Engagement: A Habit of Mind


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


"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...]



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...]