As part of Engaging Matters’ 10th Anniversary, we are highlighting important and/or popular posts from the past. In reviewing such posts it became clear that many were grouped thematically. As a result, this Anniversary series will, for the most part, present the theme with links to relevant posts rather than simply re-posting individual items.
One of the most significant observations in this blog has been the differentiation among audience development, audience engagement, community engagement as highlighted in the Anniversary post, Terminology. However two other efforts at differentiation have also been important here. One concerns the word “outreach.”
“Outreach” is a bit of a trigger word for me. While usually not the intent, the word itself keeps the “outreacher” organization at the center. The “targets” of the outreach are outsiders. The entire center of gravity as well as most of the concern is with the arts organization. The effect is often off-putting to the targets of the outreach and has the unfortunate effect of creating a barrier between the organization and those with whom it is trying to engage. The simplest way to understand the distinction is that outreach is (at best) done “for,” community engagement is done “with.”
Community engagement is rooted in relationship building. The “what” that is the art grows out of the relationship, factoring in the interests and needs of the community. This is not simply a semantic distinction. The frame of reference of the arts organization impacts the quality (or even the existence) of the relationship. It will also affect the nature of the work presented. If the art does not bear evidence of community involvement, the work is not a result of community engagement.
Here are a few posts addressing these issues:
Another valuable distinction to make is between two program areas that are often, unfortunately, conflated–education and community engagement. They are increasingly lumped together in organizational thinking as well as position titles. While they are both focused externally, education seeks to tell/teach others about the work the arts organization does. While it is critical to understand the potential learners in order to communicate effectively, the prime focus of attention is on the organization. Engagement, the building of mutually beneficial relationships, begins with the organization learning about the community with which it attempts to engage. It must simultaneously be explaining itself to that community but we have to lead with listening.
Here is the post that bests articulates this: Education and Engagement