A Community Engagement question was, What's the impact of community art projects? A common response to this question leans towards finding the right metrics in terms of economic impact. However, as a result of new resources added to the New Community Paradigms Community Arts wiki-page, I now believe that focus is limited, that we make a mistake if we only think of integrating art and especially artistic thinking into our systems of community as window dressing for our economic development activities. We should instead be looking to art as a means of transforming and invigorating not only our economic development activities but also our community design and community governance as well.
Perceiving these connections was not merely chance, though. The unrealized contribution that art could make to creating new paradigms for our communities has become more credible over time and is not a solitary perspective. Paul Nagle, Executive Director of Cultural Strategies Initiative left a comment regarding this blog's post The Problem with the Future is Getting There and It will need Disruptive Innovation, "We totally agree with your thesis and we are working to put it into practice.” Cultural Strategies Initiative or CSI sees art being key to not only human expression and human thought but also to education, economies, community development, and innovation in technology. All factors of importance to the creation of new community paradigms.
"At CSI, we create project partnerships to demonstrate and measure how arts operate in promoting sustainability and resiliency. Our projects always target the same outcome: empower the arts and humanity.”This suggests that art has the potential of establishing a path for sustainable disruption while at the same time going beyond sustaining innovation. Art could help communities face wicked challenges by moving towards being entities of complex collaboration and away from being ensnared by entrenched city halls through bureaucratic-like institutions of complicatedness.
It was interactions with other LinkedIn colleagues that led to EmcArts, a social enterprise for learning and innovation in the arts. Although they primarily serve as a nonprofit intermediary for many arts funders, and as a service organization for the arts field around innovation, from my perspective they could also offer insights that would strengthen the capacities and effectiveness of all types of community nonprofits and other change agents, not just arts and cultural organizations. They could provide lessons in the design and management of innovative change, and assisting communities in building their adaptive capacity.
One potentially useful resource for communities is ArtsFwd.org, a creation of the EmcArts Activating Innovation Initiative. Their latest accomplishments include a National Innovation Summit for Arts & Culture from October of last year that featured powerful thematically linked 12-minute Talks by bold leaders from across the country that highlighted the remarkable and mostly untold stories of innovative projects unfolding in arts and culture organizations. These included - Taking Collective Action, Co-Creating with the Public, Artists as Agents of Change, Animating Neighborhoods, Citizenship and the Arts and Transforming Organizational Structure. The creation of Fueling Adaptive Capacity: A Mosaic of Learning from the 2013 National Innovation Summit was an outcome of the summit, which you can download and read. As well as this report that describes their accomplishments over the last two years.
The contribution of meaningful real world solutions that art can make towards community challenges, such as gentrification by exploring complex challenges around themes of scope, capacity, and constituency, was demonstrated by Fourth Arts Block, an organization supporting a rich arts community on the Lower East Side of New York and beyond.
Since its founding in 2001, FABnyc has made huge strides in the East 4th Street Cultural District by securing property ownership rights for arts groups in eight buildings on the block between the Bowery and Second Avenue, by providing free and low-cost rehearsal space and training programs for artists, and by serving as a centralized resource for its several arts, cultural, community member organizations.This cannot be a one-way contribution or one-sided conversation, though. Communities seeking to create new community paradigms need to make a place at the table for this type of thinking. Artistic thinking should be added to design thinking and systems thinking as means of generating public and community innovation. Design thinking can help ensure that artistically inspired endeavors properly focus on important community needs and systems thinking can help in understanding the impact on the larger environment. Artistic thinking though can help reach deeper insights, generate more ideas and seep into the community's fabric so that its influence becomes one more of dispersion within a complex community system rather than a transfer of information from one institution to another. Richard Evans, President, EMCARTS INC contributes insights with the Debunking 10 Myths of Innovation that could be of great benefit to communities.
An artistic perspective should not be left to the end but made foundational in community design through design thinking, systems thinking, and other approaches. A number of other organizations are able to tie an artistic mindset to community related concerns, Art VULUPS does so with geography, environmental science, land use planning, sustainability, art and creativity concepts. Animating Democracy, a project of Americans for the Arts, helps to identify, develop, and advocate for public and private sector policies, practices, funding, and initiatives that advance the role of the arts in fostering citizen participation and social change. They work to better integrate the talents of artists and cultural organizations toward helping people engage in civic and community life.
By establishing a trend away from massively subsidized development projects to broader based efforts such as economic gardening, communities open up opportunities for a more community based and artistic approach to building, landscaping and public space related to Community Placemaking. These efforts could be enhanced through what the National Endowment for the Arts terms Community Placemaking. Our Town NEA works to improve America’s communities by engaging design and leveraging the arts to create livable, sustainable neighborhoods with enhanced quality of life, increased creative activity, distinct identities, a sense of place, and vibrant local economies that capitalize on existing local assets.
Another Community Engagement group LinkedIn discussion provides more empirical evidence that the Arts make a real difference to communities through the report, The value of arts and culture to people and society – an evidence review from the Arts Council (England).
Another discussion under the Economic Professionals group provides a more definitive assertion of the economic impact of art based on an article Arts and culture contribute more to US economy than tourism, and with added insight from the Preliminary Report on Impact of Arts and Culture on U.S. Economy | NEA released by the United States Bureau of Economic Analysis and the National Endowment for the Arts. These are only preliminary assessments of the impact of an economy produced by a creative community but now that we are measuring it instead of ignoring it more of the same can be expected in the future.
A revolution has already started but it won't only be an economic one, it will be creative in multiple ways. People are already working to make a difference. They may not always realize that they are fighting the same battle as people from other sectors of the community and are therefore not alone. We need to start learning from each other, community planners, entrepreneurs whether business or social, community activists and artists all need to learn from each other. Our communities need to engage in more than one type of thinking to meet the wicked challenges ahead and no one person or group of persons alone will be able to create the new community paradigms that are needed without extensive within-the-community collaboration.