On the Road

As you read this, if all has gone well, I will have begun a six week stretch of travel. The two principal stops are Perth, Australia (Western Australia Showcase) and Santiago, Chile (II International Seminar of Arts Management at Central Gabriela Mistral, GAM). In each city I am speaking at a conference that will be focusing on community engagement in the context of the host country (or region, in the case of Western Australia). Interestingly, performing arts presenter venues form a key group of attendees in both conferences. In each city I am speaking at a conference that will be focusing on community engagement in the context of the host country (or region, in the case of Western Australia). Interestingly, performing arts presenter venues form a key group of attendees in both conferences.

I am sure there will be much on which to report when I get back, but as this is the start of the slow summer season, I will probably wait to get to the really good stuff until early fall. As has been my practice for the last few years, I’ll be cutting back on the frequency of posts over the next couple of months.

While I will be posting some over the summer, for those of you who (probably wisely) pay little attention to blogs during the dog days, have a great break. Hope to “see” you in the fall. For the rest of you, stay tuned. We’ll try to have some interesting things to read in the weeks to come. And, as always . . .

Engage!

Doug

Photo:

Some rights reserved by Airport_Whiskey

Trees, Arts, and Communities

In January Joe Patti (Butts in Seats) wrote an exceptionally valuable post (Trees Come with Unexpected Baggage). It was about a nonprofit organization in Detroit planting trees in neighborhoods. It turns out that, for a wide variety of reasons, many people did not want the trees.

For many of us, a free tree sounds like an unequivocally good thing. Why would anyone not want one? It turns out that there are a number of reasons. But a common theme in people’s concerns was that the neighborhoods had not been part of the process of deciding to do the project in the first place nor how it should be implemented. “People felt someone else was deciding what should be planted and where without having any conversations with the people who would have to live with the trees.” It wasn’t that they didn’t understand the value of trees. They didn’t trust the outsiders who were descending upon their homes.

The obvious point Mr. Patti was making is that arts organizations not infrequently make the same mistakes in attempting to deal with new communities. They assume they know what is needed and then they deliver what “they know is best” without consultation or discussion. And then are surprised when the response is poor.

I almost did not write this follow up because the points were made so well. However, this is such an important issue that repetition is helpful. We’ve got to come to grip with the fact that when it comes to dealing with new communities we are often clueless and can easily trip all over ourselves because we don’t know them. (I’m reminded of Margy Waller’s post from several years ago, We Are from the Arts and We’re Here to Help.)

Plus there are two things I’d like to amplify here. The first is the issue of trust. We can never forget that for many people, “the arts” are associated in lockstep with power and privilege. Whether or not this is fair is irrelevant. Our industry is tied to the 1% in the minds of large segments of the population. And that association gets in the way of building relationships. Before we try to “plant trees” in their midst, much work needs to be done to get to a simple ground zero of trust.

The other issue is totally self-inflicted. We have an unexamined belief in the inherent value of the arts that we present and that arts’ value to anyone we meet. This is totally understandable, we would not be in the business if we did not believe it. However, this is also the foundation of attempts to do “outreach” to new communities–providing arts enlightenment, kinda like 19th Century missionaries to Africa. It is rooted, consciously or unconsciously, in what I think I may begin to call Aesthetic Superiority Syndrome.

This is counter-productive for a variety of reasons. One is it diminishes us. It gets in the way of understanding the merits of artistic expression of “foreign” cultures. I vividly remember years ago hearing that there was a hip hop musical about the life of Alexander Hamilton in development. My mental response was “Yeah, right.” I now understand how very, very wrong I was. Greg Sandow has for years been pushing the classical music world to recognize the brilliance of other musics. (Classical music is the world from which I come.) I have been a cheerleader for his work but did not recognize my own shortsightedness. How much poorer I was/we are for this.

Not only does this diminish us, it also gets in the way of building bridges. If we don’t recognize that our art is not the only art of significant merit, the new communities with which we try to connect will spot our dismissiveness and turn deaf ears to our suggestions. They have artistic traditions of which to be justifiably proud. Seeking those out is one way to create connections.

The bottom line in engagement is, as always, talk with (not to) them. (Although see that last sentence in this paragraph.) Engage people with humility and respect and seek reciprocity. (If you ask much of them to understand your work, invest that much time in understanding them.) But eventually seek to move from thinking of them as them to thinking of them as one of us.

Engage!

Doug

Photo:

Attribution

Some rights reserved by Robert Couse-Baker

Introducing

Achia Floyd

Join us in welcoming Achia Floyd to ArtsEngaged. Here she introduces herself in her own words:

I believe in the transformative power of the arts, and I truly believe Community Engagement is a respectful way to push arts and cultural organizations toward a sustainable future. Accordingly, I jumped at the chance to promote Community Engagement for ArtsEngaged.

Who am I?

My name is Achia Floyd, and I have been a classical musician since 3 years of age. I hold a BM and MM degree in flute performance, as well as a MA degree in Arts Administration. Shortly after exiting graduate school, I began The Willow Company, an Arts Consulting agency focused on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, as well as Social Media marketing.

What do I do for ArtsEngaged?

I lead Marketing and Sales for ArtsEngaged, which means I am the person behind the scenes on Social Media, the Newsletter, and sales efforts. On that note, be sure to open the next AE Newsletter, and join the new Community Engagement Network group on Facebook? https://www.facebook.com/groups/668362663522307/

My mission is to spread the word about the greatness of Community-focused Engagement. Do you have a success story to share, have general news to share, or want to be featured in an Arts Engaged Newsletter? Want to learn more about Community Engagement Training? Need Community Engagement Resources? Email info@artsengaged.com.

I hope we can work together to build community, not audiences.

Achia Floyd

ICYMI: Announcing

This was posted in July. Summer is a time when many of us are slightly less focused on things professional, so, in case you missed it, here is a repeat:

It’s official. As predicted in Changes, ArtsEngaged has a new and, to my eyes, snazzy website. The snazziness is entirely due to the efforts of our Marketing and Sales specialist, Achia Floyd. Many, many thanks Achia!

While new is always (well, often) fun, what is most important to me about this website upgrade is the opportunity to share many more resources with the community engagement field. The Engagement Essentials page is packed with links to information and downloadable materials that were not available before. Here are some of the newly available resources:

In addition, the following, most (but not all) of which have been available before, are accessible from a single location, again on the Engagement Essentials page.

Another advantage of the new format is that we will be able to continue adding resources as they are developed. It is our hope to be adding things on a regular basis. We hope you take advantage of what we have to offer and that this proves to be a valuable addition in support of community engagement.

Engage!

Doug

Photo: Attribution Some rights reserved by usarmyband

Announcing

It’s official. As predicted in Changes, ArtsEngaged has a new and, to my eyes, snazzy website. The snazziness is entirely due to the efforts of our Marketing and Sales specialist, Achia Floyd. Many, many thanks Achia!

While new is always (well, often) fun, what is most important to me about this website upgrade is the opportunity to share many more resources with the community engagement field. The Engagement Essentials page is packed with links to information and downloadable materials that were not available before. Here are some of the newly available resources:

In addition, the following, most (but not all) of which have been available before, are accessible from a single location, again on the Engagement Essentials page.

Another advantage of the new format is that we will be able to continue adding resources as they are developed. It is our hope to be adding things on a regular basis. We hope you take advantage of what we have to offer and that this proves to be a valuable addition in support of community engagement.

Engage!

Doug

Photo: Attribution Some rights reserved by usarmyband