Lessons from Public Funders

Posted by Barbara Schaffer Bacon On December - 13 - 2011

Barbara Schaffer Bacon

Grantmakers in the Arts asks, “What can private foundations learn from public funders who are working with marginalized communities?”

I think public support programs, some old, and some more current have a few lessons to offer. Though neither was without problems or controversy, both Roosevelt’s Federal Arts Projects in the 1930s and The Comprehensive Employment and Training Act (CETA) in the 1970s suggest that light structure can produce great results.

They provide evidence that talented artists will answer the call and can produce great works that are relevant to and reflective of the communities for which they are created. While the Federal Art Project was more prescriptive, artists had a very public platform and some latitude to create their work. The public works created and the artist’s interaction with the public is credited with stimulating national interest in American art and laying the groundwork for the National Endowment for the Arts to be established.

As a jobs (not an arts) program, CETA had a looser structure. Artists and creative administrators were deployed, often creating their own job descriptions as they went to work in neighborhoods and community centers around the country; but they found their way and many of the programs created had staying power. Read the rest of this entry »

Expanding Community Participation

Posted by Libby Maynard On December - 9 - 2011

Libby Maynard

Continuing the focus on community engagement and participation in arts and culture, I’d like to share with you how we at The Ink People in Humboldt County, CA, have been practicing these principles for the last 25 years.

Our DreamMaker Program invites community members who have a vision for an arts and culture project or see a need in their community that can be addressed through such a project, to partner with us.

Sometimes I think of us as the center of a broad web, supporting and nurturing community-initiated visions. We are not a fiscal receiver. The board of directors decides whether or not to adopt each project as a full-fledged part of The Ink People, with full nonprofit benefits and stakes our reputation on each one.

In addition to this, we give administrative support and intensive mentoring to each project, as well as offering a series of Mini Nonprofit “MBA” classes. The classes are designed only to give project leaders an idea of what they don’t know, so they can ask the right questions to have the best chance at success.

Generally, a project follows one of four paths. It may be short term, with limited and well defined goals and outcomes, such as the publication of a book about Japanese Senryu poetry by the artist’s grandmother, with illustrations by the artist, and a series of workshops on writing Senryu poetry. Read the rest of this entry »

Active Engagement for More Excellence

Posted by Libby Maynard On December - 8 - 2011

Libby Maynard

There is a movement afoot for which I’ve been waiting for a long time.

Here in California in the last several years, the James Irvine Foundation conducted several studies and issued reports about arts ecology in California and engagement in the arts by diverse audiences, including folk and traditional arts.

The data was so powerful that Irvine is refocusing its grantmaking efforts “to promote engagement in the arts for all Californians, the kind that embraces and advances the diverse ways that we experience the arts, and that strengthens our ability to thrive together in a dynamic and complex social environment.”

The most exciting report is Getting In On the Act: How Arts Groups are Creating Opportunities for Active Participation, by WolfBrown.

They are specifically talking about active engagement, not passive, such as attending a concert. By no means is the Irvine Foundation abandoning the concept of excellence in the arts, but recognizing that there is a broad range of accomplishment that is equally relevant, perhaps more so to community vitality. Read the rest of this entry »

The Collaboration Question (Do You Have Some Answers?)

Posted by Jill McGuire On December - 7 - 2011

Jill McGuire

Choosing what to write about is as hard for me as choosing what I should be working on — which new opportunity(s) should I pursue this week, which projects can I put on the back burner and even what phone calls do I have to return.

I don’t think I have ever been busier or more energized about the new exciting opportunities, the level of community engagement possibilities, the new partnership offers, and the vast array of community processes that the arts are now being asked to be involved with.

And, everyone I talk to feels the same way which, for me, confirms what we always knew and what we have been working for — the arts are HOT…the arts are in demand…the arts offer real and creative solutions….the arts produce results! (And, they can even be entertaining and fun.)

So, now what?

We are still working with diminished resources but we want to do it all — I do! And yet I know that it’s probably not possible to do it all and do it well! Read the rest of this entry »

Radio Lessons

Posted by María Muñoz-Blanco On December - 6 - 2011

María Muñoz-Blanco

Almost a century ago, a gentleman by the name of Henry Garrett (then superintendent of the Dallas Police & Fire Signal System) installed a 50-watt radio transmitter in the central fire station to transmit fire alarms to the other Dallas fire stations.

Between fire alarms, Garrett connected the transmitter to a phonograph and played his collection of classical music recordings. Thus began the life of WRR, which 90 years later (and with a much, much stronger signal) is one of the divisions of the City of Dallas Office of Cultural Affairs.

WRR 101.1 FM is a 24/7 classical music station, operating under an FCC commercial radio license. Because of this commercial license, WRR is what we call in the city an enterprise fund: the station sells advertising to generate revenues to cover its operating expenses, pay for capital upgrades, and keep an operating cash reserve.

The station plays an important role as the voice of the arts in North Texas, providing a venue for call-to-action advertising for arts organizations. I never expected to be in the radio business, but I find that many of the strategies used by the station to meet its bottom line can be successfully applied elsewhere in the agency and by our local arts organizations. Read the rest of this entry »

Speaking My Language

Posted by Tom Borrup On November - 11 - 2011

Tom Borrup (center) and friends

Here’s someone who speaks my language!

In Creativity Will Change the Model, Bill Roper calls for new ways to engage people in re-imaging their communities, specifically to engage creative practices in how community planning gets done!

Just as quickly as we have young people – and people of all ages – paint images or make collages representing their vision (and I’ve done it many times), we also need Facebook, and other social media tools to spark discussions and the exchange of images representing spaces and activities that are important to people. These tools can get more people to engage in face-to-face community engagement, and enrich it, not replace it.

Until we have more experience with these tools, we won’t fully know all they can do for us, but we need to experiment.

I’m presently leading a major cultural corridor planning project in Minneapolis where one of the deliverables expected by the city is a pedestrian study. While they may balk at something other than a report from the same pedestrian consultant they’ve hired 20 times before, we’re crowdsourcing the study using Facebook. Read the rest of this entry »

Changing the Discussion & Leading the Way

Posted by Bill Roper On November - 10 - 2011

Bill Roper

In a series of site visits I’ve recently taken as part of the Orton Family Foundation’s selection of a second round of community demonstration projects, I’ve talked about a number of ways land use planning has broken down in America.

One manifestation is the way public meetings are conducted the same old way at the same old place and with the same old people participating. With the same people participating, meetings run dangerously close to the “jerk factor” as Lex Leifheit so humorously and aptly put it in her post.

I won’t call the people who always talk bullies, but when they continually dominate conversations it can move from boring to intimidating.

Anusha Venkataraman rightly recognizes that as resources become more limited to local governments, communities can turn to citizens to fill the gap.

So for us to move to Lex’s “Post-Jerk Era” we need to fully employ the creativity that art brings to unleash new energy and allow for different conversations and approaches to seemingly intractable challenges. Read the rest of this entry »

From Short-Term Participation to Long-Term Engagement

Posted by Anusha Venkataraman On November - 10 - 2011

Participants take part in integrated creative, interactive activities during the workshop. (Photo by Roxanne Earley)

In reading my fellow bloggers’ posts, I was thinking about the different sets of strategies used to interest and involve community members in the short-term (what we might call “one-offs”), and those used to cultivate engagement in the long-term.

The potential of art to involve community in the shorter term is well-documented and recognized. We recognize the value of performance and temporary public art in activating public space during large (and small) community events.

Art is also recognized as an important communication tool, a way to get across a complex message that might otherwise be technical or seem far removed from daily life. Creative processes can even be used to diffuse conflict and create the space for dialogue.

Urban planners and designers have also integrated creative, interactive activities into the charrette workshop model. This week I attended a lecture and workshop at the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, NY, led by James Rojas on his interactive, art-based technique of using semi-abstract models and moving pieces to involve community members in reimagining and redesigning urban spaces.

The materials used were simple—blocks, string, plastic toys—but the colors and shapes clearly activated different parts of the participants’ brains, and encouraged new ideas and solutions—even among a crowd of planning and architecture students that is used to addressing urban design issues every day. Read the rest of this entry »

Changing Art, Changing Habits

Posted by Bill Mackey On November - 9 - 2011
Bill Mackey

Bill Mackey

You just finished writing the notes to the meeting you attended, made a .pdf of it, and sent it off via email to all the necessary parties. You check your email; you see what band is playing tonight. You leave your office and get into your car. The A/C is going and the voice on the radio is giving you a good mix of the economy, culture, sports, and weather…

Imagine attending an event about the environment or economy or planning in your community. The group that sponsors the event sounds official and they speak with official language and they speak of official issues, but there is something amiss.

They appear to be in costume, you have never heard of their agency or department, and some of the questions on the survey they have handed you are just plain odd. You realize it is a mock organization putting on a mock event, but they are tackling very real issues in a different way – with some levity, less bureaucracy. You buy into their prank, reorient your perception, and participate.

You drive up to the ATM and insert your card, enter your PIN, and request cash. You receive your cash and receipt. You put the car in D and set off. You pass signs, billboards, curbs, buildings, houses, and bus stops. You should go to the store and grab some prepared food, but you are too lazy… Read the rest of this entry »

Sara Bateman

When it comes to creating a platform that effectively addresses the intersection of art and change while activating community engagement, there is no better way in my opinion to accomplish this task than by using participatory methods with a street-based approach.

Whether you call it community-based art, political art, social practice art, or participatory art, as long as the message is authentic and an entire community is engaged through every stage of the process, it can be one of the strongest ways to cultivate a movement towards change at the local level.

By now, it seems that almost everyone is familiar with the artist JR, a “photograffeur” who uses wheatpaste methods to post large-scale black and white photographs in public locations. By photographing different populations and placing their faces in strategic locations to bring visibility to them as individuals, JR works at the intersection of art and action, addressing issues of identity, freedom, community, and acceptance.

When JR became the 2011 TED Prize Winner, he in turn created Inside Out, “a large-scale participatory art project that transforms messages of personal identity into pieces of artistic work.”

Moving the project beyond his own boundaries as an individual artist, and opening it up for the general population to become co-creators, JR has spawned a worldwide movement for us as individuals to photograph our face in order reveal and bring visibility to ourselves within our own community. Read the rest of this entry »

What Can We Do…Now? Cultural Asset Mapping in Los Angeles County

Posted by Erin Harkey On November - 7 - 2011

The Los Angeles County Arts Commission was recently awarded a grant through the National Endowment for the Arts’ Our Town initiative to produce a cultural asset map in the unincorporated community of Willowbrook, CA.

Located just south of Watts and west of Compton, Project Willowbrook: Cultivating a Healthy Community through Arts and Culture will capitalize on the county’s over $600 million investment in health services and infrastructure. This includes the Martin Luther King Jr. (MLK) Medical Center Campus Master Plan and the Wilmington Streetscape Plan that will link the campus to the nearby Rosa Parks Metro Station.

The arts commission and primary project partner LA Commons will use community engagement activities to identify artists, organizations, programs, and artworks, with the understanding that “art” and “culture” should capture both the formal and informal ways that people engage, this information will be compiled in a final report. The report will provide recommendations on long-term, sustainable strategies that will integrate art into development and achieve overall community objectives. Read the rest of this entry »

Embracing the Velocity of Change (Part 2)

Posted by Pam Korza On October - 25 - 2011

Pam Korza

“Sing the song so you can stick here with gravity.” ~ L. Frank Manriquez

The marriage of two now staple Grantmakers in the Arts preconferences—Individual Artists and Art & Social Justice—was a perfect energizing union of kindred artist-activists, field movers, and supporters as well as a highlight of the Bay Area as a perpetual vanguard of arts and social change.

Starting with the grey bay morning right, we shared breakfast in the funky garden alleyway alongside SOMArts—comforting, hot, fruity oatmeal and other treats from Nick’s Wheely Good Breakfast truck!

Rhodessa Jones, our creative through line for the day, embodied arts for change. With opening creative verse and video, Jones conjured the power of her enduring Medea Project which engages incarcerated women and women with HIV and AIDS.

Jones’ partner at the University of California, San Francisco HIV/AIDS clinic, Dr. Eddie Machtinger, underscored the unique role that her work plays in the evolution toward wellness of these women. Most striking was his deep and declared commitment to the project and to proving “with scientific evidence” the role of arts in their transformation. A model of sustained and effective cross-sector partnership! Read the rest of this entry »

Sara Bateman

Lately, it seems that every conference I attend, classroom I enter, or art forum I participate in is fixated on the notion of transforming those in the arts field from just merely that of an artist or an administrator to that of a community leader.

While the arts have been recognized for over two decades as a way to revitalize our neighborhoods, it seems like now more than ever before people are reaching out as a way to ignite community engagement and inspire change. But if we are to depend more and more on the arts as a way to transform not only the structural but the psyche of our communities, if we are to elevate from simply artist to organizer, how do we train the next generation who will be stepping into these roles?

Colleges worldwide have the answer through a new breed of degree being offered behind the walls of academia. Or I should say, outside. Breaking artists out of the solo studio experience, placing administrators in the community, and creating programming that reaches beyond the college boundary, colleges are offering an educational experience that focuses on engagement and activism through the arts. Read the rest of this entry »

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 »

ARTSblog holds week-long Blog Salons, a series of posts by guest bloggers, that focus on an overarching theme within a core area of Americans for the Arts' work. Here are links to the most recent Salons:

Arts Education

Early Arts Education

Common Core Standards

Quality, Engagement & Partnerships

Emerging Leaders

Taking Communities to the Next Level

New Methods & Models

Public Art

Best Practices


Arts Marketing

Audience Engagement

Winning Audiences

Powered by Community

Animating Democracy

Arts & the Military

Scaling Up Programs & Projects

Social Impact & Evaluation

Humor & Social Change

Private Sector Initatives

Arts & Business Partnerships

Business Models in the Arts

Local Arts Agencies

Cultural Districts

Economic Development

Trends, Collaborations & Audiences

Art in Rural Communities

Alec Baldwin and Nigel Lythgoe talk about the state of the arts in America at Arts Advocacy Day 2012. The acclaimed actor and famed producer discuss arts education and what inspires them.