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

Posted by Karen Stults, Kalima Young, Dec 05, 2012 0 comments

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.

Now, the Baltimore Art + Justice Project is working with Americans for the Arts' Animating Democracy initiative to create a profile of individuals, organizations, and projects that are using art and design as tools for social change in Baltimore. It will map the profiles collected and create an interactive website that supports collaborative advocacy efforts

The intent is to create a tool that helps to level the playing field by showcasing a broad range of arts-based social justice activity within the city and by creating a space for strategic, well-informed partnerships between and among artists and advocates.

The evolution from idea to project represents a fairly massive shift in scope, from one institution's asset inventory to a citywide inventory AND interactive map that is inclusive of all arts media (visual, performing, etc.). It also captures the role of the artists, funders, and non-arts organizations, WITH a layer of demographic data thrown in for good measure.

These are all shifts in scope (=variety), not scale (=size). With this expansion of scope, everything has changed. Design, implementation, partnerships, governance, funding, and outreach have all gone through massive overhauls to accommodate this new scope. To build the best possible tool for the city, we’ve had to think about the dimensions of the project. If it is for the entire city, the advisory board had to be made up of not only MICA artists or MICA-affiliated faculty, but also persons representing funders, advocates, researchers, mappers, and government agencies.

To build a map able to accommodate multiple layers of data, we’ve had to engage in collaboration with the University of Maryland Baltimore County’s Imaging Research Center and with Animating Democracy’s national Landscape database to boost our capacity. To ensure we have a robust profile of artists, organizations, and advocates, we have to determine multiple avenues for data collection, not just listservs or MICA newsletters.

Our shift in scope, not scale has ushered in a completely new framework with which to do the work. Previously, we were building a tool to be used to internally to support MICA’s engagement in the community. Now, we operate under a theory of change for the city, one that states: we will have a better, more just Baltimore if we identify, strengthen and support collaboration between artists, designers and advocates.

With the expansion of scope we have the opportunity to also include demographic data and to document our process so the Baltimore Art + Justice Project can serve as a replicable model for other cities who desire to capture and support their unique cultural vibrancy.

Changing the scope of the Baltimore Art + Justice Project has created a smarter, more robust project—while also gathering MICA-specific data that is critical to the Office of Community Engagement. Ultimately, for the Office of Community Engagement at the Maryland Institute College of Art, it is about the quality of the Baltimore Art + Justice Project work (scope), not the quantity (scale).

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