Building Creative Communities Through the Arts and…

Posted by Ms. Caryn Cooper, Jun 23, 2016 0 comments

In 2015, Americans for the Arts launched a two-year program to explore the role the arts can play in partnership with other sectors to create healthy, vibrant, and equitable communities. The New Community Visions Initiative seeks to work with our institutional systems to find points of intersection to address arts impact in our communities. While doing this, we also increase participation and opportunities in the arts by reducing barriers and providing multiple points of entry. 

At this year’s Annual Convention in Boston, Mass., we continued this conversation as a common thread throughout the week. Using the concept of the “Arts and …” we spoke about the many ways the arts can be integrated into our neighborhoods and communities. As artists we know about the transformative power the arts can have in our lives, but now is the time to make connections with those outside the arts and show the common benefits of working together and moving a purpose forward.

Here are some of the areas discussed at Convention in which "arts and ..." can collaborate:

The inclusion of the arts in education has been an ongoing fight for quite some time, as it has often been considered an extra-curricular activity and not a core academic subject. I do have hopes of a shift in this mindset with the recent passing of the Every Student Succeeds Act (2015), specifically naming the arts as integral to every child’s education. In addition, there are many research studies that have been conducted that outline the numerous benefits of integrating the arts in education, such as increased literacy in English Language Learning, improvements in critical thinking, problem solving, cross-cultural understanding, and creativity.

Health and Wellness
Arts in medicine is a growing multi-disciplinary field dedicated to transforming our healthcare experiences. In the creative arts, we integrate links between our mind, body, and spirit to improve the health of the whole person. In a variety of settings such as hospitals, health clinics, community centers, and hospice care, artists partner with healthcare professionals to provide patients with the opportunity for creative expression. This video by the University of Florida explores the concept of arts in medicine.

Services for Seniors
"Creative Aging" is a phrase that is becoming more widely used to describe programs where artists are placed in residence (primarily in senior centers) and engage in arts programming for an extended period of time. The goal is to connect the arts with senior citizens in a way that will positively impact their well-being.

Environment Protection
At one of the sessions I attended at Convention, Cherie Northon, Executive Director of the Anchorage Waterways Council in Alaska, spoke about how they have incorporated art as a means of educating the public on various environmental issues such as monofilament collection, recycling, and the dangers of feeding fowl.

Economic Development
Cultural planning is a city-wide initiative to create a vision by addressing the needs of the community while utilizing available cultural resources. The actual planning process can take as long as two years and even longer to monitor and implement. Several locales across the country such as Broward County (south Florida), Chicago, Denver, Los Angles, Philadelphia, and Phoenix are already in this process, with many more places to follow! Some results of cultural plans include economic development through the creation of jobs (particularly in the creative sector), a boost in tourism to the area, the arrival of new businesses, and increased participation in the arts.

Community Building for Social Change
The arts have often been seen as a way to unify neighborhoods affected during times of violence and despair. In New York City, the 9/11 Table of Silence Project emerged in response to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. In this prayer for peace, more than 100 dancers perform a site-specific piece at the Josie Robertson Plaza at Lincoln Center to commemorate the bravery of those who died and honor those who were affected by the attacks. Led under the direction of Jacqulyn Buglisi, there is a unified commitment to spread peace and hope for a brighter future.

There were some who vocalized concerns of “watering” down the artistic quality in an effort to “fit in” with other sectors. I can see why it may be an issue for some. As artists we can be very passionate about our work. We know what we want to do and how it should be done. Sometimes when we partner with other sectors, we may need to make modifications so that everyone is on the same page. It can seem like we are losing the artistic integrity of our work to get a pay check. But I also feel that if the goal is about the art, so will be the focus. If art is in the middle of it, that will be apparent in the project. And vice versa, if the focus is about getting art to work in another sector, it will prove to be the result of the program. I believe that the arts can be used as a vehicle to achieve mutual goals. There are certain things that the arts can contribute to the conversation that nothing else can. 

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