Community, Arts and Engagement
September 16, 2013
Looking at the mission statements of arts organizations, you see references to community engagement. The term can have many different interpretations across organizations and disciplines. I found a helpful definition in a recent (September 13, 2013) blog post by ArtsBlog. It referred to definitions that I found simple and clear:
Community : refers to individuals and organizations who are related through arts education delivered in a local community
Engagement : describes an active, two way process where the arts organization motivates others to become involved/take part in arts activity. Through the activity, both parties experience change.
Mutual activity and involvement is a key determinant to successful community engagement. Arts organizations who are involved with their local community embody these terms in several ways;
Reaching out to the local community to identify arts needs its education programs can meet/fulfill. This differs from developing an idea and then offering it to the community
Introducing young people to art forms through education programs, both within the organization (invite participants in) or taking a program out to the community - a school, community centre or public event
Responding to an increasing desire for continuous learning by older audiences – through exhibitions, lectures, education series, take a performance to the audience
Attracting visitors – who are drawn to the arts program as part of their visit ( it may become a reason why they visit )
Employing local artists to deliver arts education programs
Successful programs begin with a dialogue with the community to identify a need / opportunity, and an initiative or program follows. This is described as being more successful than the arts organization developing a program they wish to ‘introduce’ to the community. Mutual ownership of the idea and then program are suggested to be more successful in sustained impact over time. I’ve observed that when financial circumstances are challenging, external arts education or outreach programs may be reduced or cut back. If engagement is part of the arts organization’s mission, this may be short sighted. A successful organization focuses on taking programs out to the community as well as drawing participants to the organization and its arts goals.
Arts education is a means to engage at all ages.