Civic Engagement in the Arts…In Action (Part 2)

Posted by Maya Kumazawa On September - 23 - 2011

Maya Kumazawa

For the last two posts in a series on how the arts can foster community engagement, I interviewed Sara Potler, founder and CEO of Dance 4 Peace (D4P), a global peace education and civic engagement nonprofit that engages young people through dance and creative movement. Sara shared with me her perspectives on the arts, civic dialogue, and sparking social change through dance. You can read the first half of our interview on yesterday’s post. Her are my final questions for her:

Q (Maya): How do you measure impact / what has been the impact so far?

A (Sara): At Dance 4 Peace, it has certainly been a fun challenge to measure how our program is creating peace in classrooms and communities. To measure our impact, we have thought long and hard about our vision of peace and broken this down into specific areas, such as anger management, physical violence, and appreciation of diversity. Using surveys and coded observations, we have been able to demonstrate real change as a result of our programming.

To date, our evaluations have shown that students who participate in Dance 4 Peace are less likely to choose physical or verbal violence when angry. On the flip side, they are 15% more likely to listen to others, 30% more likely to enjoy working in groups, and 25% more willing to try new things. In several schools, pre- and post- evaluations showed a dramatic decrease in tendencies toward physical and verbal violence. One school in DC, for instance, when given a case study of an NBA player punching a fan, 32% more students said this was not okay in the post-test than the pre-test. Read the rest of this entry »

Civic Engagement in the Arts…In Action (Part 1)

Posted by Maya Kumazawa On September - 22 - 2011

For the last two posts in a series on how the arts can foster community engagement, I interviewed Sara Potler, founder and CEO of Dance 4 Peace (D4P), a global peace education and civic engagement nonprofit that engages young people through dance and creative movement.

D4P inspires a generation of leaders and peacemakers through an innovative curriculum that promotes empathy, mediation skills, anger management, and conflict resolution to instill social and emotional competencies for peace.

Sara shared with me her perspectives on the arts, civic dialogue, and sparking social change through dance.

Q (Maya): How can the arts create civic dialogue? And how does Dance 4 Peace serve as a leader for community engagement?

A: (Sara): The role of the arts in society has long been to start difficult, even disruptive conversations. Whether dance, or fine arts, or spoken word, these tools have been extremely valuable in bringing together communities around a single thought or idea and then inspiring them to take action.

Dance 4 Peace builds on this legacy of using the arts to spark social change. Our classroom activities involve students in civic dialogue, although we aim to use our bodies more than our words to express ourselves. As a leader in community engagement, we view our students and schools as active participants in shaping the curriculum and driving the choreography and creative movement in the classroom. Read the rest of this entry »

One of the "100 Faces of War" portraits by Matthew Mitchell

On September 11, 2001, the Animating Democracy team was on a conference call with New York-based colleagues when a faint newscast on one of their TVs emitted something about a plane crashing into the World Trade Center.

What started out as a call to fine tune preparations for a national convening of Animating Democracy grantees slated to be held two days later morphed inevitably into cancellation plans, then into disbelief and mourning with the rest of the country.

Two months later, we reconstituted our plan. More than 100 grantees and guests gathered in Chicago to resume our intended work of exploring the role of the arts in fostering meaningful and productive civic dialogue.

With 9/11’s still raw emotions beating in our hearts, we asked artists Marty Pottenger and Terry Dame to help us make sense of it all, particularly the questions that had begun to infiltrate the American psyche: What does it mean to be an American? What is your relationship to America right now? What course should the U.S. take?

Terry’s slow, distorted, eerie, yet beautiful rendition of “America the Beautiful,” played on a homemade gamelon, created a different kind of space in which we moved ourselves physically, psychologically, and intellectually, guided by Marty’s creative facilitation around these questions.

This arts-based dialogue exemplified the potency of arts and culture to create a space, an invitation, and a spark for meaningful dialogue.

It was just what was needed as this collection of arts practitioners, leaders, and their community partners considered how they too could and would animate and strengthen democracy in their own communities around issues affecting people’s daily lives. Read the rest of this entry »

At the recent Americans for the Arts annual convention, Animating Democracy debuted a newly published essay by Ron Chew, former director of the Wing Luke Asian Museum in Seattle.  In “Community-based Arts Organizations: A New Center of Gravity,” Ron underscores the crucial contributions of small and mid-sized community-based arts organizations, often culturally specific, to the cultural ecosystem, to civic engagement, and toward achieving healthy communities and a healthy democracy.  He points out that these groups offer artistic excellence and innovation, astute leadership connected to community needs, and important institutional and engagement models for the arts field amid changing demographics, a new political climate, technological advances, and globalization.

We distributed the essay at several convention sessions, including two of the pre-conferences.  After only one day, we were amazed at how many people had already read it cover to cover (notable given jet lag, the convention’s juicy program, and Seattle’s enticing distractions) and gratified by the enthusiastic comments about the importance of what it has to say. Read the rest of this entry »

City of Memory is an online community map of personal stories and memories organized on a physical geographical map of New York City. Visitors to the site can explore an interactive urban story map and “meet” some of the city’s characters and “visit” some of the city’s cultural landmarks.

Late last week, I received one of City of Memory’s e-newsletters and read that St Augustine’s Episcopal Church, a cultural landmark on the Lower East Side, has at long last entered the first phases of a historic restoration of its slave galleries.  In the 19th century, African Americans would sit in the galleries — box-like rooms above the balcony in the church— while the white congregation worshipped in the pews below. Check out City of Memory to hear some great firsthand audio perspective from Reverend Deacon W. Edgar Hopper of St. Augustine’s Episcopal Church and Steve Zeitlin, Executive Director of City Lore — a New York based nonprofit  designed to convey the richness of NYC’s cultural heritage, and the host of City of Memory. Read the rest of this entry »