Validating the Democracy of the Arts
For a very long time, the criteria for excellence in the arts have been owned by a particular body of experts who generally have a condescending view of the quality of art developed in community-based and social change programs and projects. These credentialed “experts” hold to a definition of quality largely based in an “art for art’s sake” paradigm. However, this definition loses the connection with the vast majority of people who live in the country, as well as the vast range of arts that is produced here and the range of reasons for which people make art. Art is for many sakes, including but not limited to art’s sake (whatever that restriction means in practice).
The Spirits Sitting on My Shoulder
Maybe these are familiar to you: you have a great idea but you cannot get it off the ground because funders cannot see its worth; or, worse yet, you cannot get the community you want to come see it to actually come. Those are real problems. So, that’s when the Aesthetic Perspectives: Attributes of Excellence in Arts for Change could beautifully help guide our creations, and to truly engage community.
A Slap Upside the Head: Attending to power, privilege, and cultural context in panel process
As grantmakers, we distribute scarce resources, so I worry when panels cannot have an open, honest discussion about important issues like cultural appropriation and how that might result in how we mete out funds. If tokenism limits the ability of people of color to impact grant decisions, or panel dynamics shut down discussions about uncomfortable issues, we are not doing our jobs. The 11 attributes offered in Aesthetic Perspectives provide a new framework for evaluating applications that could facilitate productive and meaningful panel meetings.
Get Sticky with Me
One of the issues arts presenters face when programming for social change is that of follow-up. Often, we bring in an impactful work that delivers a clear and concise message to our audience. But once the performers leave our city, there is no follow-up. The topic of the work is forgotten and we move on to our next presentation. Given this, I was fascinated to read the 11 qualities in the recently published Aesthetic Perspectives: Attributes of Excellence in Arts for Change. Right there … attribute number 11. Something called stickiness.
Rural America’s Art of Connection: Building Community through Exchange
As a field focused on demographic similarity across great cultural and physiographic difference, rural artists explore their commonalities by exchanging projects, strategies, and challenges. Relationship to place is our tie that binds, so the field is increasingly prioritizing projects that connect people and organizations across distance and divide. These relational projects, conferences, and digital resources use cultural exchange as a vehicle for social transformation by expanding connections between people and places.
How Art is Creating a Youth-led Vision of Justice
When artist-activists Mark Strandquist and Trey Hartt contacted me about partnering on a project to make people see, through art, that youth are more than their crimes and more than statistics, I felt both completely out of my depth and finally understood. This was something I wanted to do for years, but I didn’t have the partners, the talent, the language, or the framework to make it happen. I knew instinctively that if decision-makers could see, feel, and hear the experiences of youth, they would empathize with them, and that could open up new possibilities.
A beautiful & eclectic voice in a family of frameworks
Animating Democracy’s new beautiful Aesthetic Perspectives framework gives voice and importance to the myriad aspects that work together to create strong art for social change. With this lens, it adds important ways of seeing “quality” in general, offering an eclectic voice in the family of other frameworks that describe what quality and excellence is—in product, in process, and in programs. Able also to hold the paradoxes, it states, “Ambiguity, contradiction, and co-existence are essentials for a tolerant democratic society. Art can help us live with the ambiguities and contradictions of our world; it can show us how each thing contains its opposite.”
Seeking a Common Language for Community Development and the Arts
The worlds of community development and art for social change are intersecting frequently these days, and this leads, at least, to a need for simultaneous translation and patience if not treatment for outright culture shock. How do we talk about and track these new types of interactions? How are the respective practitioners getting along? And what happens when a planner, researcher, and evaluator steeped in 35 years of relatively conventional assessment of community development issues and organizations—that would be me—needs to understand, appreciate, and gain insights about the radically different styles, motivations, and ways of seeing and interacting that are employed by artists engaged in social change?
Of Distinction: Community-engaged notions of value
Animating Democracy’s new Aesthetic Perspectives framework spawned multiple parallel scenarios in my head. In one, I was continuing my conversation from a few weeks ago with a foundation grant officer, who told me that their organization was “not so interested in social justice”; you simply had to “have artistic excellence.” I had presented my most cogent argument that artistic excellence is often conceptualized in dangerously narrow ways, to the detriment of appreciating arts and social justice work—only to be brushed aside. What would have happened if the framework, offering many different ways of reading “excellence” in socially engaged art, had been at my fingertips then?
A Humane Framework for Creative Practice
Aesthetic Perspectives is described as “a guide for description rather than a scorecard.” This is an apt explanation; it provides a framework for use by an evaluator rather than a rubric for evaluation itself. As such, there are aspects of Aesthetic Perspectives that are particularly useful or important and a few elements that raise some questions for me.
Wake Up to a New Day
Notions of excellence and equity are linked and increasingly demand that we attend to both the positive and negative ways they intersect in policies, practices, and decisions. Which artists get opportunities, who gains resources, how are arts and cultural practices understood and valued by critics, audiences, and gatekeepers? Our Excellence and Equity Blog Salon explores these questions and provides guidance in the form of Animating Democracy's new framework Aesthetic Perspectives: Attributes of Excellence in Arts for Change.