Guest Post by Penny Brill
When we investigate the disconnect between what we are doing with our art and what we might do, we become aware of who has been left out of what we present, preserve and protect, what has been disregarded, who does or does not benefit using our current model, and who has been harmed by our decisions. We have excluded large segments of our communities and have not demonstrated that we value their creative, historical or artistic contributions.
As we design more inclusive programs, our norms for what is beautiful, excellent and interesting may change. We ascribe to a broader range of aesthetic values. We listen to external stakeholders before deciding on programming.
We may no longer unquestioningly treat high culture as an assumed good, as the norm, or as the benchmark art.
As we begin to align better with our larger community through our arts projects, we can begin to advance values of concern to our city such as social justice, peace, climate consciousness, or freedom of expression, through our art. Through the arts, performers can raise awareness of important social and civic issues important to the wider community, and become a means of enabling voices to be visible and heard.
If we support what our community values, they in turn are more likely to see the value of our work and support us. We all become stronger.
If we fully engage in community-based arts projects with community partners, we find that both the artists and the community partners feel better connected, and more confident that what they do can make a difference. This builds community attachment and social cohesion .
The community partnerships may involve learning new skills and building new social networks, which can be a positive growth opportunity for all involved.
Art and city planning projects can:
- Promote interaction in public space and drive foot traffic
- Increase civic participation through celebration
- Engage youth through mural painting, music making and more
- Promote preservation of places, provide design opportunities, encourage better upkeep and neighborhood pride, and create a positive perception of a neighborhood.
- Encourage broader participation in the civic agenda. When artists are more engaged in the community, the art can have an intentional and integrated role in planning and development, where larger segments of the population can contribute to the outcome. In a city center urban renewal project, for example, many artists can be involved in building and exterior design, creation of public art, statues and murals. Some can provide input to the architect. Others can create postcards, newsletters or other art-based work. Increased participation in civic engagement can strengthen community ties and drive more stable communities.*
Arts projects partners who are more deeply committed to engagement can more readily identify the appropriate population whose lives the community seeks to enhance through art (at the request of and led by members of that community), hear and outline the positive change that the group of people wants (led by participants from that community) and by consensus clearly define the intervention that will bring about a desired result.
Community arts partnerships and collaborations become a means of learning between and with different communities, where artists and partners can work together to bridge cultures, bond, and make connections with people unlike themselves. This reduces our increasingly pervasive sense of isolation and cultivates prosocial behaviors.
When we work toward deeper engagement we seek to improve relationship-building and teamwork. Partners work together to our mutual benefit, respect what each brings to the project, and accept and welcome different points of view as well as different abilities. Partners understand they may have different interests, needs and ways of operating, differing use of language, way of problem solving, priorities, and values. A good experience with collective or collaborative art-making teaches valuable teamwork skills, promotes positive social behavior and social cohesion. It may bring old and young together in new ways, expanding friendships beyond siloed peer groups and workplaces.
Collaborations are a creative opportunity to develop something new, acknowledging what is important to both partners. The collaboration can create fruitful fusions of old and new traditions.
In short, deeper community engagement broadens the horizons of your communities by fostering understanding of different opinions and ideas. Sharing stories through art can lead to important community or social change. It can foster new or innovative ideas. It can build bridges, increasing understanding each others’ values, and encourage the exploration of identity. It can encourage empathy, exploration and respect of differences, and respect for what each person contributes to the city’s fabric.
So let’s get to work!
- Borrup, T. “5 Ways Arts Projects Can Improve Struggling Communities.” RSS. Project for Public Spaces, January 1, 2009. https://www.pps.org/article/artsprojects
- “Arts and Positive Change in Communities.” Creative City Network of Canada, 2005. https://www.creativecity.ca/publications/making-the-case/arts-and-positive-change-in-communities.php.
Penny Brill is a graduate of Smith College and the Juilliard School and has been a member of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra’s viola section since 1980. Previously, she taught at the Oberlin Conservatory for two years and played viola for one season with the Buffalo Philharmonic. Ms. Brill was part of the AW Mellon Orchestra Forum as well as the Mellon Task Force, both of which were looking at the future direction of orchestras. She is the former Treasurer of the International Conference of Symphony and Opera Musicians (ICSOM) and chaired the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra Committee. She has served on the Board of U.N.-affiliated Music as a Global Resource and is currently on the Board of the International Association of Music and Medicine (IAMM). Ms. Brill is an alumna of the Community Engagement Training offered by ArtsEngaged® and is completing her preparation as an AE Trainer.