These generic Making the Case statements are designed to help you develop your own approach to communicating why community engagement is vital to your organization.
The very origins of art were communal: a means of expressing ideas, connecting to fellow humans, sharing culture, and serving the social health and greater good of the communities that created it. Aristotle’s theory of tragedy speaks to the correlation between drama and the very useful catharsis of fear and pity in a community. This theory is easily expanded to include all arts as a connector and means of serving. Arts are a process and experiences that can exorcise communal demons. They are a means to draw varying cultures together for shared events that increase understanding and start conversations. They provide a vehicle for humans to fulfill the basic need of sharing what is important to them and in turn create a platform for civil coexistence. Relationships must be the driving force if we are to sustain our organizations and the field itself. The Arts cannot thrive without community.
“The aim of art is to represent not the outward appearance of things, but their inward significance.” ~ Aristotle
Unless our arts organizations continually evaluate our missions and evolve our programming to reflect the communities in which we serve, we run the risk of becoming irrelevant and impotent as a force for social and cultural change in our cities.
How well we learn to engage our community will determine how successfully we fulfill the need for meaningful experiences.
The arts presenter’s role can no longer be limited to tastemaker or curator, presenting work that appeals to a personal aesthetic. Our mission statements must expand beyond bringing great artists to audiences to include ways to provide context, meaning and inspiration to the audience and the artist. How can we create experiences that are relevant and that inspire long after the curtain has fallen? Who are the next-generation artists and arts consumers, and how do we cultivate them? Do we have a responsibility to present art that inspires social activism or comments on the world in which we live?
We must cede some control over the outcomes, and resist the impulse to try and fit the community’s contribution into our traditional models. We must learn ways to quantify the success of a mission that values transformation over ticket sales, and stories over statistics.
The opportunities provided by authentic engagement with community far outweigh the challenges. We have to create the opportunity to change the way people think about and look at the world rather than just entertain them; in learning what is important to our communities, we can create projects that inspire and have a lasting impact. It’s a way to make performing arts a relevant and necessary commodity in the lives of our community.
As a campus performing arts center, if we do not have strong relationships with both students and the community, we can not align our efforts with our whole community’s needs, motivations, and experiences. When we do not form connections with our students, we cannot support the college in its own engagement and retention efforts and we fail to exist as an outlet for student experience, social and intellectual exchange; when we don’t form genuine relationships with our community we reinforce misperceptions about being solely a campus resource and not a community resource.
Our organization has both an obvious role in our campus community life, and less obvious shared values with the community; a challenge we must rise to. We have a commitment to active learning, diversity, cultural enrichment, educational rigor, citizenship and programs that inspire and support inquiry, reflection, and social interaction. As with the institution and community we serve, we value exchange, relationships, and shared meaning. These attributes are at the heart of community and foster healthy, adaptive organizations. To succeed in connecting with our communities, we must act on these values.
In the advent of the 21st century, there is a symbiotic and converse relationship between the sustainability of the arts sector and the sustainability of the community in which it exists. Communities are more vibrant and sustainable with a thriving arts sector. Artists/arts organizations have access to more resources and greater support in thriving communities – more freedom and resources in which to fulfill their missions.