The Third of July: Happy Community Arts Day

Posted by Barbara Schaffer Bacon, Jul 02, 2010 3 comments

In the history of the community arts movement in America, July 3 stands as a notable day.  On this day, we celebrate the birthday of one giant, Robert Gard, born in 1910 and the passing of another, Ralph Burgard, in 2008. Gard and Burgard each created processes and pathways to creative engagement for individuals and communities.  Each advanced the idea and value of community arts development through direct community work and the creation of infrastructure to promote community arts development and grow a movement. Each worked tirelessly to advance the right to creative expression for residents in every Americans city, town, and hamlet in America.  This makes the juxtaposition to the 4th of July, a day when we celebrate our freedoms, just – sweet!

Robert Gard

Robert Gard
Robert Gard established the Wisconsin Idea Theatre Conference in 1945 and in 1948 he established the Wisconsin Regional Writers Association. Both organizations became key institutions, furthering the native literature and lore of Wisconsin.  In 1966, the National Council on the Arts awarded its first grant for development of the arts in small communities to Gard and the Office of Community Arts Development he established at University Extension, University of Wisconsin, Madison. The project dealt specifically with ways of developing greater interest and participation in the arts in communities of 10,000 or less. The Arts in Small Communities was recently republished and is still providing lessons in arts development.  For more information on Robert Gard, visit The Robert E. Gard Wisconsin Idea Foundation.

Ralph Burgard

Ralph Burgard
Ralph Burgard, born in 1927, found his true calling in 1955, when he was appointed director of the Arts Council in Winston-Salem, NC, on of the first community arts council in the United States. While serving as director of the Saint Paul Council of Arts and Sciences from 1957–1965, he founded the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra. He was a founding member of the Community Arts Councils in 1960, and served as the first director of the Arts Councils of America (now known as Americans for the Arts) in New York City from 1965–1970, earning the informal title, "father of community arts councils." In his book, ‘Arts in the City” (1968), Mr. Burgard argued that decentralized, community-based arts organizations that were rooted in local history and traditions could play a transformative role, not only in towns, but also in larger urban centers. He established Burgard Associates, the nation's first cultural planning firm, which developed initiatives to revitalize urban communities spanning from Charlotte, NC to Santa Cruz, CA. Throughout his career, Mr. Burgard advocated for the centrality of culture in daily life, writing, "I've always believed that the arts are the antennae of the human race." Mr. Burgard wrote. Mr. Burgard started the A+ Schools Program in 1988. Its comprehensive arts curriculum is now offered to 18,000 students in 42 public schools in North Carolina.

The community arts movement has many roots and many heroes but these are two important pioneers.  If you don’t know about these two great men, they have left behind lasting organizations, great writing and many practitioners like me whose daily work is informed and inspired by them. Start Googling!

3 responses for The Third of July: Happy Community Arts Day


ScreenSceal says
July 03, 2010 at 2:28 pm


Thought you might like to have a look at this documentary examining the relationship between a gallery attendant and his favourite work in the gallery.


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July 02, 2010 at 11:03 pm

I like your "Happy Community Arts Day" piece very much. This is indeed an important anniversary for our work: the centennial of Robert Gard's birth. Our historical perspective on the work we do often needs a reminding jolt. Perhaps I would just point out one very small correction relating to a quote you attribute to Mr. Burgard near the end of your statement. I first found it in Ezra Pound's essay, "The Teacher's Mission" (1934): "Artists are the antennae of the race."

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July 30, 2010 at 3:41 pm

Thanks for this, Barbara. Now, how do I vote to increase the popularity from 19%? ;) Here's what the Wisconsin Arts Board posted on our Arts News on July 3rd:


Happy Birthday, Robert Gard!

Wisconsin community arts pioneer Robert Gard was born 100 years ago, on July 3, 2010. To learn more about Robert Gard and his work, visit the Robert E. Gard Wisconsin Idea Foundation’s web site.
We would like to celebrate Gard through two of his famous quotes. The first is well known to Wisconsin’s arts community as the Wisconsin Arts Board adopted it as its vision statement:
"If we are seeking in America, let it be for the reality of democracy in the arts. Let art begin at home and let it spread through the children and the parents, and through the schools and the institutions, and through government. And let us start by acceptance, not negation-acceptance that the arts are important everywhere, and that they can exist and flourish in small places as well as large, with money or without it, according to the will of the people. Let us put firmly and permanently aside the cliché that the arts are a frill. Let us accept the goodness of art where we are now, and expand its worth in the places where people live."
The second quote is the closing poem from The Arts in the Small Community: A National Plan. We have used part of this poem as the title for the Gard Symposium to be held September 24 and 25, 2010 in Madison. The Symposium will address the question “Where is community arts headed?” and it will be one of many events over the next year to mark the Gard Centenary.

If you try, what may you expect?
First a community
Welded through art to a new consciousness of self:
A new being, perhaps a new appearance…
A people proud
Of achievements which lift them through the creative
Above the ordinary…
A new opportunity for children
To find exciting experiences in art
And to carry this excitement on
Throughout their lives…
A mixing of peoples and backgrounds
Through art; a new view
Of hope for mankind and an elevation
Of man…not degradation.
New values for individual and community
Life, and a sense
That here, in our place,
We are contributing to the maturity
Of a great nation.
If you try, you can indeed
Alter the face and the heart
Of America.

Celebrate the arts in community this July 4th weekend, remember Robert Gard, and all who work to develop communities through the arts.

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