Creating, Collaborating, Connecting with Art, Activism, and the Internet

Posted by Xavier Cortada On December - 5 - 2012

Xavier Cortada

At the end of the last millennium, when the internet was young, I installed two webcams in my studio and invited people watching me out in cyberspace to share their ideas in a chat room. I would incorporate their views into the murals I was creating in my “webstudio.”

Back then, I was painting collaborative message murals to address important social concerns in different locations around the world (AIDS in Africa, child welfare in Bolivia, peace in Northern Ireland gangs in Philadelphia).

The collaborative murals mattered because I wanted to amplify people’s voices, share their concerns. I wanted to expand the circle of participants beyond those I could reach in person. The webcams and the webstudio were my way of trying to expand beyond geographic boundaries. Back then, I think the farthest I got from my Miami studio was Atlanta.

Since then, technology has developed to a level where online and human interaction has revolutionized communication to an extent unimaginable when I first created that early project. Art making can have exclusively online manifestation, reaching millions in space and time. It is indisputable that one can also build a sense of community online—ask Facebook.

We have even created realms where we can have second lives fully inhabit a completely virtual reality. And that is good: I find participatory art projects that engage individuals locally across communities to be address global concerns very powerful. Read the rest of this entry »

Questions to Ask Before Addressing Scale

Posted by Judi Jennings On December - 5 - 2012

Judi Jennings

Does size matter? Of course it does. But is this the right question to ask first?

How about approaching the question of size by first asking how arts, culture, and philanthropy advance positive social change? And how does size relate to equity?

Size matters locally and globally, but arts and culture drive change regardless of the size. Maria Rosario Jackson’s recent report on Developing Artist-Driven Spaces in Marginalized Communities convincingly argues that arts and culture create community identity, stimulate civic engagement, and affect neighborhood economies directly and indirectly.

Writer and cultural organizer Jeff Chang argues that “where culture leads, politics will follow” on national and international issues.

As a place-based grantmaker, my theory of change is that local people make the most appropriate and lasting advancements when they have the necessary tools and resources.

Allied Media Projects (AMP) in Detroit is a great example of place-based social change. AMP argues that “place is important” and “Detroit is a source of innovative, collaborative, low-resource solutions.”

Honoring local culture does not mean working in isolation. MicroFest USA, for example, led by the Network of Ensemble Theatres, is looking at how art and culture can create healthy communities in Detroit, Appalachia, New Orleans, and Hawaii. The idea is that performance-based learning exchanges like this can connect artists, activists, cultural workers, and thinkers working locally and nationally. Read the rest of this entry »

The Baltimore Art + Justice Project: A Question of Scope, Not Scale

Posted by Karen Stults and Kalima Young On December - 5 - 2012

Karen Stults

At the Baltimore Art + Justice Project, we generally do not debate the merits of scale. We are a citywide project based in Baltimore. Our scale is fixed. What we have wrestled with, adapted to, and been challenged by is the question of scope.

Scale is about numbers. Scope is about variety.

A project designed by Director of the Office of Community Engagement at the Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA) Karen Stults, the Baltimore Art + Justice Project was originally designed as an asset inventory for the newly-minted office. In building the office, there was a distinct and urgent need to more fully understand MICA’s impact and role as a community-engaged campus in Baltimore City.

The asset inventory was to identify where, how, and with whom MICA was engaged in arts-based social change in the city, as a framework for the creation of new programs that avoid duplication, build on strengths, and increase impact.

When presented with the opportunity to receive national funding from the Open Society Foundations in New York, and to use the data collection process as a means to also contributing to a larger dialogue about the role of socially-engaged art and design, the MICA-specific inventory expanded to a citywide initiative. Read the rest of this entry »

Shared Outcomes and Collective Impact for Scaling Up

Posted by Victor Kuo On December - 5 - 2012

Victor Kuo

What are funders interested in scale and results talking about these days? A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of presenting at the Grantmakers in Arts 2012 Conference in Miami.

This year’s conference theme was “Forging Connections,” and I found the notion of connections incredibly relevant for scaling impact. Creating vibrant, livable communities is the responsibility of not just one project or organization, but rather partners across a sector and the entire community working together for change.

We explored an example of a community aspiring to build connections involving entire sectors, such as the arts, education, and workforce development.

The Greater Cincinnati area has a strong history of collaboration. Leading funders, such as the Greater Cincinnati Foundation and the United Way of Greater Cincinnati, are considering ways to take a collective approach to achieving social impact.

Specifically, they are talking about a collective impact approach described in “Channeling Change: Making Collective Impact Work” that identifies five key factors to facilitate change:

1) a common agenda,  2) shared measurement, 3) mutually reinforcing activity, 4) continuous communication, and 5) backbone support. Read the rest of this entry »

Creative Change: Grow with the Flow!

Posted by Betsy Theobald Richards On December - 3 - 2012

Betsy Theobald Richards

In the arts & social justice world, a plan for expanding impact is more than good business, it’s our roadmap for changing the world.

Infrastructure and funding for arts-for-change projects may be nascent, but as Jeff Chang and Brian Komar remind us in Culture Before Politics, creativity is the “most renewable, sustainable, and boundless of resources” with which we can capture the American imagination and plant seeds of social transformation.

Artists and cultural producers are the stewards of that renewable resource and we need to look out for and nurture their development as we plan for growth and impact.

On one level, growth can imply physical and financial increase for projects over time (bigger! more money!) but many of our leaders find themselves sleeping on couches, wearing multiple hats, under valuing their worth and staying up all night (you know who you are…) and thus, facing burn out while scaling up.

The other side of scaling up means that we can find ourselves prioritizing meetings, chasing operating support, and losing track of the nimbleness and creativity that is needed in the face of an election, a disaster, or an injustice. Read the rest of this entry »

Bill Rossi

One two three, one two three, one two three…Nate was in a groove, the ensemble was cookin’, and Miles Davis’ tune All Blues had never sounded better.

As the lead drummer, Nate stayed with that simple beat, rode it out to the end, then finished in perfect time. He beamed as the audience roared in appreciation, and if you hadn’t known him you would not have believed that one year ago he’d been unable to count rhythmically or sit still for more than five minutes.

But those who’d known him—who had seen his eyes light up at that first simple beat and watched over the year as he learned to focus, to listen, and to succeed—we knew what had happened. Nate had found himself through the arts.

The challenges Nate once faced are growing more common every day. Attention deficits, oppositional defiance, and incidents of youth violence and suicide have increased as our society has become preoccupied with materialism. As our focus has gone off taking care of our kids, the opportunities for to them to discover and express their voice have diminished. As ARTSblog readers know, the arts can fill this need.

I believe it’s also evident that any modality which can cause healing can also mitigate or even prevent illness. Unfortunately, our culture has segmented the arts, commercializing them into a “privileged” position. Perhaps we could learn from other cultures.

In many other cultures, the arts serve as a cohesive fluid in which the community operates. People get together informally through music, dance or song to relax and enjoy themselves and each other, with the performance aspect of art secondary to a self-participatory way of being together. Read the rest of this entry »

A Healthy Mix of “Arts And…” & Collaboration

Posted by Gregory Burbidge On June - 14 - 2012

Gregory Burbidge

Last year at the Americans for the Arts Annual Convention, I remember two comments specifically from the town hall session. The first comment was from an emerging leader who thought that it was time for established leaders to move out of the way. It was, at best, nonsense.

Intrinsic Impact?

The second comment, the one that actually bothered me more throughout the full year, was a comment that the person was tired of hearing about the economic impact of arts and culture. They wanted a return to a focus on the intrinsic impact of arts and culture. I didn’t see that person this year, though with the focus of the conference being the release of the Arts & Economic Prosperity IV report, that person may have chosen to skip a year. I myself am data hungry and the report will give me much to chew on.

This year, more than most, the thing I noted was a pleasant drift from intrinsic impact. The subtle drift in a direction I am happy to paddle towards is into the territory of collaboration and a healthy mix of “arts and.” When we listen closely to the needs of our community the arts can help provide answers to many issues. It does require a willingness to be flexible that a focus on intrinsic impact does not necessarily provide.

Arts and…healthcare

Two of the most interesting sessions to me this year explore the intersections of arts and health. Both the intersection of the arts and healing (Art of Healing) and what the arts can do to ease the transition home for our veterans (Boots to Brushes: The Arts Serving Veterans’ Needs) are ways that the arts are meeting at the cross sections of arts and healthcare. Read the rest of this entry »

TRUST: Second Acts in Young Lives

Posted by Nancy Kelly On June - 1 - 2012

Nancy Kelly

On Friday, June 8, I’ll be presenting my award-winning documentary TRUST: Second Acts in Young Lives during the 2012 Americans for the Arts Annual Convention in a session titled, “Documenting the Importance of Arts Education.”

The film follows Marlin, an 18-year-old Hondureña, who shares a hidden history about her childhood with a theater company in her Chicago neighborhood, the renowned Albany Park Theater Project.

Marlin’s story is about resilience and empowerment. TRUST captures the amazing response from her fellow actors and the unexpected journey her story takes them on together: they transform Marlin’s story into a daring, original play and Marlin re-claims power over the narrative of her life story.

TRUST is about creativity and the unexpected resources inside teens who may be discounted because of their youth, race, or ethnicity or because they come from under-resourced neighborhoods without access to arts programs.

Woven through TRUST are three main themes: the transformative power of art, the continuing challenges facing immigrants, and the trauma of child sexual abuse. Like the legs of a three-legged stool, these themes are interdependent and not prioritized.

Here is a preview of the film:

Read the rest of this entry »

Public Art & Community Attachment

Posted by Penny Balkin Bach On May - 16 - 2012

Penny Balkin Bach

Working in the field of public art automatically puts us in touch with the public, art, and its social context.

In fact, public art may be one of a community’s most overlooked and underappreciated cultural assets; it’s accessible “on the street”, any time, free to all, without a ticket, and diverse in content. It can be enjoyed spontaneously, alone, or in groups, and by culture seekers as well as new audiences.

There is data out there that supports the benefits of public art to the community.

The Knight Foundation and Gallup Corporation’s Soul of the Community study, for example, indicates that community attachment creates an emotional connection to place (which also correlates to local economic growth). They determined that the key drivers of attachment are social offerings, openness, and the aesthetics of place–all potential attributes of public art.

It’s fascinating that these drivers scored higher than education, basic services and safety, and the economy. Also, a local summer visitors survey conducted by the Greater Philadelphia Marketing & Tourism Corporation (GPTMC) found that of the city’s ten most popular outdoor activities, outdoor art ranked second–above hiking, jogging, and biking.

Public art can create community attachment, if we overcome perceived barriers and open pathways for engagement. With this in mind, the Fairmount Park Art Association developed Museum Without Walls™: AUDIO (MWW:AUDIO)—a multi-platform interactive audio experience, available for free on the street by cell phone, audio download, Android and iPhone mobile app, QR code, or online as streaming audio and audio slideshows. Read the rest of this entry »

Planting a Seed About Evaluation

Posted by Sioux Trujillo On May - 15 - 2012

Sioux Trujillo

I recently resigned from a public art program in Detroit that was housed inside a small arts college. During my time there, evaluation became a big part of my job. It was critical to track, define, and report for the future of the program to serve as a baseline for success for the arts institution. Before this, my idea of success was primarily based from the perspective of the studio artist.

The projects that were created in the neighborhoods of Detroit were much more complex because each project was so very different from one another, involved different people from diverse backgrounds, and had community defined goals and artist selection.

When I set out to create a plan of evaluation I realized this was going to be a complex task.

My first obstacle was simply trying to figure out what to call the projects. A seemingly simple thing turned into more than I expected.

I started to compile a list of all the different names that artists and organizations are using to define public art which involves the people around the project in some way.

•    Social Aesthetics
•    Relational Aesthetics
•    Social Justice Art
•    Community Art
•    Placemaking
•    Social Sculpture
•    New Genre Public Art
•    Tactical Media
•    Cultural Activism
•    Social Practice
•    Interventions
•    Happenings
•    Participatory Art Read the rest of this entry »

‘Beertown’ — Making a Show That Builds Community

Posted by Rachel Grossman On May - 3 - 2012

The official "Beertown" time capsule.

In September 2010, dog & pony dc (d&pdc) began developing a new show starting with nothing but two books and a question. Our goal was to create an original work as a collective from start to finish; the only thing we knew about the end product was that it would be fully produced 14 months later. Well: we also knew that in this production we wanted to push the boundaries of “audience integration.”

d&pdc is an ensemble-based devised theatre company that creates new ways for audiences to experience theatre. We carry a self-described “healthy obsession” with defining the performer-audience relationship for each show.

“Audience integration” is a foundation of d&pdc’s devising process; the audience’s role in performance is discussed from each project’s birth to its fully-realized production. The approach is highly elastic. On one end of the spectrum: the role of the audience is as witness. At the opposite end: the event doesn’t move forward without audience propulsion.

In 2010, we wanted to explore the more risky end. We wanted to create a show in which the audience members were active, vocal participants who ultimately determined the outcome every night. To do that, the audience had to feel compelled to act; they had to become invested and take ownership. In other words: they had to care.

What makes us care? “A crisis” was our initial answer. Read the rest of this entry »

Public Art & Storytelling in the Social Media Age

Posted by Katherine Gressel On May - 3 - 2012

Katherine Gressel

“How [can we] merge our ‘evaluation’ with life’s activities?”

This is an especially provocative question posed by Marc Maxson earlier in the Blog Salon

He suggests, “If you want quantitative data about people and social change, it’s probably more practical to transform our evaluation tools into a regular part of daily life—like Facebook or Google—so that we’re constantly looking at tens of thousands of bits of knowledge instead of just a few hundred.”

Maxson discusses Global Giving’s collection of tens of thousands of anecdotal stories throughout communities served by the organization.

This and many of the other entries suggest that when it comes to evaluation and the arts, surveys and statistics are out; stories and experiences are in. Also, social media platforms, like the ones cited above, have opened doors for the often unsolicited, ongoing collection of such stories and experiences.

In my first post, I wrote about the challenges of evaluating the impact of public art, especially on audiences and communities, by traditional quantitative data collection. Instead, what types of “stories” and “experiences” with public art could be recorded or collected, and how?

In her summary of Fairmount Park Association’s Museum Without Walls: AUDIO program, Penny Balkin Bach describes using storytelling to deepen each artwork’s engagement with a general public. Rachel Engh describes a feature allowing users to record their own stories about experiencing art in public spaces.

I do believe that new online and mobile technologies such as these are making it more and more feasible to collect and document a much greater archive of anecdotal evidence of people interacting with public art, “liking” public art, and discussing the issues behind it. Read the rest of this entry »

Connecting Art to the Needs of the Community

Posted by Rebecca Yenawine On May - 3 - 2012

Rebecca Yenawine

In reading people’s Blog Salon posts I am glad to see innovative approaches to assessing the impact of public art, how inviting people to tell stories can be used as an assessment tool, and how one can look at arts impact on well-being and social cohesion.

I am even more convinced that it is important that the evaluation process be one that is engaging and inclusive of arts richness rather then an empty distillation of findings that caters to a potential funders need to assess impact.

This process must be more then about giving funders what they want or about being able to tell whether one program, artist or project is better than another, but rather, to help us understand arts role in our communities and on the individual so that we might advocate for a change in the way investment takes place.

If art is in fact offering a space for developing social understanding, for connecting and building relationships, and for developing greater cohesion, part of the story that needs to be told is about how and why this is a valuable counterbalance to a society whose bureaucracies emphasize productivity, economic success, and competition without fostering the larger social fabric of communities.

One possible way to frame evaluation is to make clear the problems that art addresses. Read the rest of this entry »

Rebecca Yenawine

I have been a community arts practitioner in Baltimore City for the last 15 years.

After years of being asked by funders how my program evaluates its outcomes and answering with anecdotal stories and satisfaction survey results, I decided to try to find more meaningful ways tell the story of this work so that its potential for impact could be better understood and attract investment and resources. To this end, I began some small research projects.

In 2010, Zoe Reznick Gewanter and I conducted a study of 14 community arts practitioners. Practitioners were interviewed and asked how they define community arts, what their methods are and what outcomes they see as a result of the work. Here’s a video of that work:

After transcribing and coding their interviews, several clusters of outcomes emerged: Read the rest of this entry »

Public Art Engagement Creating Neighborhood Reporters

Posted by Rachel Engh On May - 1 - 2012

Rachel Engh

Last week, I heard local artist Kinji Akagawa’s joyful chuckle as I stood still, swept up in his world while viewing his public art piece, Enjoyment of Nature, in Minneapolis. And he wasn’t even next to me. Instead, I was listening to a recording done by Akagawa for Sound Point, a collaboration by Minnesota Public Radio (MPR) and the City of Minneapolis.

Sound Point is a technologically innovative way for people in Minneapolis to connect with art, artists, and public space. After the (optional) recorded welcome by Mayor R.T. Rybak, the listener/viewer can experience 13 pieces of art, all within a two-mile radius. In these short recordings, artists explain the significance of the pieces’ spatial contexts and what they hope visitors will experience while viewing their work.

I stood, phone to my ear, for a whole three minutes, as I listened to Akagawa talk about his piece. He communicated his wish of creating a gathering place for people, either waiting for the bus or sitting in the sun sipping coffee, and even birds who can visit the bird bath.

One aspect of Akagawa’s built environment is a moonscape, depicting the moon’s movement over a month-long period. Akagawa notes that it honors the people who clean the city at night, many of whom are people of color and immigrants.

Next, I walked to the City’s Public Service Center where I found another Sound Point, Wing Young Huie’s Lake St., USA. A community photography project, it was originally a set of hundreds of black and white photos that was publicly displayed along six miles of Lake Street in Minneapolis. Now, some of them hang on the walls where the city planners pass every day. In his recording, Huie notes the importance of showing his photos in public spaces because they “reflect realities of so many different people.” 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

Evaluation

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.