Animating Democracy, a program of Americans for the Arts Institute for Community Development and the Arts, fosters arts and cultural activity that encourages and enhances civic engagement and dialogue. It is based on the premise that democracy is animated when an informed public is engaged in the issues affecting people's daily lives. The arts and humanities can contribute unique programs, settings, and creative approaches that reach new and diverse participants, stimulate public dialogue about civic issues, and inspire action to make change.
A call to action is what has emerged for me from Animating Democracy’s vigorous blog salon, Back to the Future: Forward-Thinking Documentation & Archiving. Imagine an organizing effort to achieve Reverend James Lawson’s founding statement of principle for the civil rights movement’s Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee: “a social order of justice permeated by love.” Do documentation and archiving come to mind as essential to building a movement? Reading the insights from all the thoughtful writers in this blog salon, I am happy to say, yes!
The work of documenting, archiving, and communicating about the field of community cultural development is a political act. This context encompasses and gives meaning to the five debunked misconceptions about archiving and documentation in my opening post. Read the rest of this entry »
Jamie Haft names in her blog initiating this series on Documentation, Archiving, and Communication the misconception that the Community Cultural Development (CCD) field needs “a central digital town square.” While I, too, recognize the value of multiple platforms publicizing stories, news items, essays, manifestoes, et al, for diverse CCD constituencies, we risk bifurcating the field if all communication reflects separate siloes. I propose the additional creation of a CCD Reader — shaped along the lines of the Utne Reader, a publication that “combs the alternative, independent, and digital press for thoughtful journalism, artful storytelling, and emerging ideas.” A CCD Reader could serve as a commons for the regular exchange of ideas across our habitual groupings. To generate such a “digital town square,” we could, say once a year, cull from the multiple publications representing different CCD threads to produce one set of pieces valuable to us all. Read the rest of this entry »
Check out the Hemispheric Institute Digital Video Library – a digital video library of performance practices in the Americas. Created in partnership with NYU Libraries and with the support of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, this growing repository guarantees historical preservation and free online access to more than 600 hours of video that explores embodied practice—performance—as a vehicle for the creation of new meaning and the transmission of cultural values, memory and identity. Read the rest of this entry »
Open sourcing—otherwise known as “commons-based peer production”—is a model for the production of cultural and material products and activity. It is most well known outside of the arts as a successful collaborative model for producing software since the advent of the web more than twenty years ago. The goods that result from an open source endeavor belong to “a commons” and are accessible to all.
A key characteristic of an open source product is that it cannot be privatized. Privatization defines value through artificially induced scarcity and then derives money from barriers to access. Value in an open source project, however, is defined by how successful the needs of a community are being met and by the project’s ability to enable continuous innovation and evolution due to its openness and accessibility. Open sourcing is a civic good and a process for re-organizing communities and social dynamics. In many economic and cultural contexts in which we inhabit, open sourcing is counter-cultural. In terms of its value system and world-view, it’s a perfect match for what many people feel the not-for-profit sector should aspire to. Read the rest of this entry »
It was close to seven years after we launched Culturebot.org when my colleague Jeremy M. Barker joined the effort, and I had the time to begin more clearly articulating how the site functioned as community archive and platform for discourse. Rather than recapitulate the entire narrative, I will share some insights from my experience:
1. Positioning the Archive
Culturebot’s essential point of difference is positional. Since Culturebot.org originated at Performance Space 122 (P.S.122) –a hub of community – and because it has always operated from within that community of artists, it has never been positioned within either journalism or academia. Insofar as capacity and resources have allowed, Culturebot has been a collaboratively created, community-supported archive to promote a variety of perspectives and complexity of critical discourse. Even as it serves as a dynamic social map enabling a community to self-define, Culturebot is also meant to serve a critical function – to allow dissent and support voices that may otherwise be ignored. Read the rest of this entry »
Archiving community cultural development and the story of the arts through arts policy is important to the Arts Extension Service.
We recently launched the National Arts Policy Archive and Library (NAPAAL) in partnership with the UMass Amherst Libraries’ Department of Special Collections and University Archives (SCUA) as a free-standing collection within SCUA’s Social Change Collection. SCUA staff does the hard work of archiving, digitizing, and making it possible for anyone with internet access to explore these materials. They ensure that the primary documents will be stored and made available for visitors. Read the rest of this entry »
The topic for this salon is big. I am going to write about one small part of it. I am interested in how we observe our processes, discern them as repeatable actions, develop them to become tools for others to borrow and make their own. I believe that we can harvest our histories, make sense of what we did and describe it in terms that help us understand the context, the decisions, and perhaps the wisdom and meaning surrounding the work. At the same time we can delineate the data, information, formats, processes that may aid others in their work.
In my case, the idea for such a toolbox made from thousands of hours of teaching and choreographing and dancing came in an instant. It was a visitation born out of utter confusion and despair. As I was preparing to lead a workshop for K-12 teachers I was pondering why the organizing arts and educational institution with whom I was working wanted an outline from me that would describe what was to transpire. They wanted to hand it out at the beginning even though we all knew that the activities would change once I was in the room with the very particular people and needs that would coalesce that afternoon. It was true I had a plan, but it was equally true that the plan would shift as soon as we began our work. Read the rest of this entry »
I have come to view human history as an epic tragedy of inadequate knowledge management. While I am dubious that we will ever finally solve the problem of knowledge lost across generations and cultures, much less the greater problem of recognizing wisdom when we see it, I’m hopeful that we can change our society’s perception of how history is constructed, and encourage a collaborative, peer-driven model of cultural discourse and documentation.
As Jamie Haft has inferred, it would be difficult to overstate the urgency around building new practices for discourse and documentation, not just in the field of community-based arts, but for society as a whole. We inhabit a moment of both great crisis as legacy systems fail and even greater opportunity to create new systems to supersede the old. Read the rest of this entry »
The discourse, documentation, research, archiving, and communication about community cultural development are indeed vast and deep. Within this multilayered, diverse, and complex field of community-based art are artists and organizations that represent the diversity and complexity of communities and neighborhoods in the United States. The urgency for documentation, archiving, and communication are, at times, limited to those organizations that represent a more mainstream paradigm. The creation and introduction of multifaceted arts institutions is important to the building of community based arts organizations with social justice and cultural equity foci. Art institutions that address a holistic aesthetic perspective that embrace the complexities of their cultural communities are rooted across the country. Read the rest of this entry »
Junebug Productions’ work has always revolved around storytelling. It has been built on stories and its practices continue to be passed on through a strong oral tradition. The story circle process was created by members of Free Southern Theater (FST), Junebug’s predecessor, as a way to better engage with audiences following performances. The process was further refined by Junebug Productions and subsequently through its collaboration with Roadside Theater.
John O’Neal, co-founder of FST and founding Artistic Director of Junebug Productions has centered his work on stories because, as he states, “people come to shared understanding more quickly” through “stories and working with metaphor rather than argument.” You can’t argue with someone’s experience. You may not like what you hear but you can’t disagree with someone’s personal truth. Stories demand respect in a way that arguments never can. The story circle teaches us many important values such as listening, respect, and empathy that are necessary in democratic process. However, the form of storytelling teaches us even more. There are values and skills that are particular to the oral tradition that cannot be learned through writing. Read the rest of this entry »
As an archivist, one way I can contribute to this conversation is to suggest ways we can define our terms and models for archival practice. What do we mean by “archive” and why do it? What are different forms which the archive can take, and what is lost and gained in each approach?
1. Archivist on Archives
Archives are records of enduring value. Records that warrant continued preservation. This not only includes the administrative records from community organizations, but also the art, artifacts, and ephemera, as well.
Archives are about history and documentation as much as they are about accountability and evidence. Archives not only serve as a means for documenting the history of organizations and individuals, but also serve as evidence of the impact of community organizations for both the short and long term. Read the rest of this entry »
Five Misconceptions about Documentation, Archiving, and Communication in the Field of Community Cultural Development
Virginia Tech recently hosted a small national meeting on documentation, archiving, and communication in the field of community cultural development. Articulated by convener Bob Leonard, the meeting’s lead organizing question: How is documentation, archiving, and communication in the community cultural development field serving and not serving artists, humanities researchers, community organizers, non-artist community partners, community agencies and institutions, and scholarly communities? For me, the meeting debunked five misconceptions about documentation, archiving, and communication in the field.
Misconception #1: There’s no urgency.
Documentation, archiving, and communication are essential to demonstrating the ability of community cultural development to improve the lives of community members and to fostering a critical discourse that builds and sharpens those doing the work. Questions for the critical discourse include: Is community cultural development work advancing equity? How does the field deal with well-meaning but ineffective and sometimes even unethical practices? Bill Cleveland, Center for the Study of Art and Community, called for investments in independent reporting and data collection to reveal impact – for example, a study and report about how and where projects are doing damage and how and where they are making a difference. Participants pointed to assessment resources like Animating Democracy’s Impact Initiative and Imagining America’s Integrated Assessment Initiative. Cindy Cohen, Acting Together, suggested a core group commit to regular meetings over a sustained period of time to discuss and communicate the moral and ethical dimensions of community cultural development. Read the rest of this entry »
In early December, during the first of many icy weather events of this past winter season, Animating Democracy co-directors Barbara Schaffer Bacon and Pam Korza participated in an national gathering at Virginia Tech (VT), warmly orchestrated by Bob Leonard, Professor of Directing and Director of Community-based Arts in VT’s Theater and Cinema Program. A couple dozen artists, cultural workers and intermediaries, communications and technology folks, and scholars participated, united in their commitment to community cultural development as essential to healthy communities and artistic practice. Read the rest of this entry »
There is an old quote attributed to John Montagu, 4th Earl of Sandwich:
“If any man will draw up his case, and put his name at the foot of the first page, I will give him an immediate reply. Where he compels me to turn over the sheet, he must wait my leisure.”
This was the charge given to me by a business leader who needed to make a compelling case for government and corporate arts funding:
“Keep it to one page, please,” was his request. “I can get anyone to read one page.”
With the 2014 arts advocacy season upon us, the following is my updated “Top 10 Reasons to Support the Arts.”
- Which of these would you rank as #1?
- Do you have a #11 to add?
- Tell us in the comments below!
You can download this handy 1-pager here.
1. Arts promote true prosperity. The arts are fundamental to our humanity. They ennoble and inspire us—fostering creativity, goodness, and beauty. The arts help us express our values, build bridges between cultures, and bring us together regardless of ethnicity, religion, or age. When times are tough, art is salve for the ache.
2. Arts improve academic performance. Students with an education rich in the arts have higher GPAs and standardized test scores, and lower drop-out rates—benefits reaped by students regardless of socio-economic status. Students with 4 years of arts or music in high school average 100 points better on their SAT scores than students with just one-half year of arts or music. Read the rest of this entry »
Animating Democracy’s December blog salon explored how artists, comedians, and other cultural commentators employ humor in the heavy work of social justice. Starting out the salon, I posed several questions to bloggers including the seemingly simple inquiry, how does humor work? When is humor a strategic choice and toward what social effects? Similar to other art forms, humor is fundamentally about emotions and human connection, which makes it simultaneously risky and inviting; relatable and inexplicable. While their methods and approach vary greatly – from slapstick to satire; political cartoon to YouTube musical number – the bloggers for this salon all seem to agree on the aspects of humor that make it so effective in social justice work:
- On an individual level, comedy and laughter can stimulate creativity, open lines of communication, improve people’s moods, and diffuse tense situations
- Humor comes from a personal place, but connects to universal feelings and experience
- Laughter builds community and a sense of belonging (e.g., inside jokes)
- Humor calls on the audience to finish the piece, think, fill in the blanks, come to his/her own conclusion/interpretation
Particularly as tongue-in-cheek skits and articles without clear punch lines gain popularity, the expectations and dynamics between comedian and audience continue to shift. As I said in my intro post, humor has always been something mysterious and untouchable to me. But, even if I’ll never be a stand-up comedian, the growing expectation and responsibility placed on audiences to interpret, understand, and even add their own layer of irony or satire to humorous work, especially as a tool for social change, gives me and all of us an important role to play in crafting our own punch lines.
Hungry for more? Check out Animating Democracy’s trend paper about the role of humor in the work of social change by Dr. Nancy Goldman and this post from Safe Places for the Advancement of Community & Equity, which has additional resources.