Animating Democracy July 2009 E-News
Animating Democracy News and Updates

New Writings from Animating Democracy’s Exemplar Program and Impact Initiative Plus 50 Percent Savings on Books

Our E-News this month is devoted to five new and illuminating articles and essays authored by field leaders. In one, Ron Chew examines the central role of small and midsized arts organizations in a 21st century context. Another demonstrates how one such organization, Sojourn Theatre, helped young people in Lima, Ohio cope with a community crisis through theater-based civic dialogue. Three pieces from Animating Democracy’s Arts & Civic Engagement Impact Initiative offer foundational ideas regarding how to evaluate and understand the social and civic impact of arts-based civic engagement work. All are available for free download on Animating Democracy’s website.

Articles and Publications

Writings from the Exemplar Program

"Community-Based Arts Organizations: A New Center of Gravity"
by Ron Chew, principal, Chew Communications
Amid changing demographics, a new political climate, technological advances, and globalization, small and midsized community-based arts organizations offer artistic excellence and innovation, astute leadership connected to community needs, and important institutional and engagement models for the arts field. This essay by Ron Chew, former long-time director of the Wing Luke Asian Museum, makes the case for greater support of this important segment of cultural organizations. Chew underscores their crucial contributions to the cultural ecosystem, to civic culture, and toward achieving healthy communities and a healthy democracy. This essay was developed for and supported by the Exemplar Program, a program of Animating Democracy in collaboration with the LarsonAllen LLC, with funding from The Ford Foundation.

"A Time of Crisis, A Moment for Art: Sojourn Theatre and the Lima Senior High Dialogue Project"
by Judith E. Gilbert, Martha S. MacDonell, and Mary F. Weis
This case study documents Sojourn Theatre’s intervention at Lima (OH) Senior High School following a tragic shooting in 2008 that resurfaced racial tensions in the community. Lima City Schools enlisted Allen County Common Threads, a locally based volunteer group promoting arts-based civic dialogue and Sojourn Theatre Company to implement an immediate arts-based project to help students process the tragedy. Sojourn interviewed students, and wrote, performed, and recorded theatrical monologues expressing student perspectives on the incident and the racial tensions exposed by it. The recorded monologues became the centerpoint for school-wide dialogue facilitated by Common Threads volunteers. The case study describes the role artists can play in a crisis as well as the challenges of the fast pace dictated by crisis. It also underscores the continued value of arts-based civic engagement in this one community over time, and the importance of artistic and financial resource for immediate crisis response.

Writings from the Arts and Civic Engagement Impact Initiative

The Arts & Civic Engagement Impact Initiative seeks to advance understanding of and make the case for the social and civic impact of arts-based civic engagement work. It is supported by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. Watch in the coming months for additional writings and Arts Impact Online, an online resource center.

"Shifting Expectations: An Urban Planner’s Reflections on Evaluating Community-Based Arts"
by Maria Rosario Jackson, senior researcher, Urban Institute
Based on 13 years of national research on integrating arts and culture into concepts of healthy communities, Jackson observes how sound and worthy community arts programs with social and civic intention are often saddled with unrealistic expectations about the impacts that they might have on a community and the ways in which such impacts might be proved. In this paper, Jackson argues for a shift toward more realistic expectations of social impact and evaluation of arts-based civic engagement both on the part of practitioners and funders. The paper also provides recommendations for practical ways of moving towards and operationalizing that paradigmatic shift.

"Civic Engagement and the Arts: Issues of Conceptualization and Measurement"
by Mark J. Stern and Susan C. Seifert, Social Impact of the Arts Project, University of Pennsylvania
Based on a literature review drawing from the social sciences, humanities, and public policy, Stern and Seifert suggests documentation and evaluation strategies that artists, cultural and community organizations, philanthropists, and public agencies could take to improve the quality of knowledge about the social impact of arts-based civic engagement work. Their paper offers practical considerations for evaluation in areas of methodological issues and data collection strategies. Stern and Seifert offer recommendations for evaluating effects of arts-based civic engagement at the program, regional, and initiative scales.

"Arts and Civic Engagement:  Briefing Paper for the Working Group of the Arts & Civic Engagement Impact Initiative"
by M. Christine Dwyer, RMC Research
The Arts & Civic Engagement Impact Initiative is informed and guided by a Working Group of arts practitioners, researchers, evaluators, and funders with keen interest in understanding the social and civic impact of arts-based civic engagement work.  This briefing paper, prepared by Chris Dwyer, offered the Working Group a “springboard” for discussion at the outset of the initiative.  The conceptual framework depicts a systematic way to examine how arts-based civic engagement endeavors actually influence or produce important effects and impacts—a working theory of social efficacy. The model guided examination of the “lived” experiences of Working Group members. For the purposes of the Initiative, the paper helped establish common terminology; surface core questions and interests in areas of social impact evaluation and case making for arts-based civic engagement work; fine tune purpose and focus; and prioritize the research agenda.

Report on May 12 White House Briefing on Art, Community, Social Justice, National Recovery

Animating Democracy would also like to point readers to this report released June 4, 2009, by participants in the recent White House briefing. On May 12, more than 60 artists and creative organizers engaged in civic participation, community development, education, social justice activism, and philanthropy came together for a White House briefing on Art, Community, Social Justice, National Recovery. This meeting combined the interests of several groups addressing intersecting issues. All are interested in the power of the arts to build communities and create change. The meeting had three parts: 1) a meeting at the Kaiser Family Foundation to prepare for the briefing; 2) the two-hour White House briefing at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building; and 3) a post-briefing meeting at Bus Boys & Poets to interpret and respond to what we had learned and to engage in small-group strategy sessions including: cultural policy, green jobs, immigration, public/private space, healthcare reform, organizing power on behalf of community artists, and a department of alternative thinking. White House hosts repeated throughout the briefing that this is the beginning of a conversation. This report includes notes from the briefing and from the post-briefing strategy session and is intended to encourage and extend the conversation throughout the field.  People who would like to share ideas may direct them to any of the lead organizers named in the report.

Save up to 50 Percent on Publications from Animating Democracy!

Animating Democracy is reducing the cost of all seven of its respected books in the Arts & Civic Engagement series. With a savings of nearly 50 percent on the comprehensive Civic Dialogue, Arts & Culture text as well as Critical Perspectives and the five case study books, now is the time to add these useful resources to your library.

With support from the
Ford Foundation
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