Engagement Principles: Current Thoughts

ThinkerWithSunburst

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

StLouis

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...]

Three (+) Cultures

GovernorsPalaceNativeCrafts

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...]

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...]