Artist-Driven Community Change

There are a couple of recent efforts where artists try to reach parts of the state that we have not typically been able to serve very well. One of them is really grounded in community arts development. It’s a project that’s happening in a federally-designated promise zone. It’s six counties on the Interstate corridor. Historically, it’s been difficult to give grants to these counties. But we’ve just started a new project in this region, the most successful of which is in this very poor, rural county. We’ve identified in each county a person that we call the maven, somebody who is deeply rooted in the community, but who can work with us on sort of an administrative level. And the person in this county is an artist, a musician who has had a long relationship with us. She has become kind of the spark plug for this community arts development in her town and county. She’s organized a local group to work with her and we’re providing some funds. They’re just getting into all sorts of business, that town. The town really needs all the help they can get. There is this blighted lot that used to be an old roadhouse that long since has gone out of business and fallen to rubble – we’ve helped the artist turn it into a park and performance venue. It’s something that the community is going to be really proud of and get a lot of use out of. It’s exciting to see that an artist in the community is really driving the project.

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I work with Artists Artists Thrive Community Connections

Building Personal Relationships Cross-Sector

We do cross-disciplinary labs that bring filmmakers, technologists, scientists, and NGO leaders for a day or two-day crash course. We explore new models of storytelling, and we also go into a deep place of what it means to collaborate and what it means to bring your full self as an artist. We’re there to not only spur imagination and creativity, but also to build personal relationships. That’s what collaboration is about.

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I work with Artists Artists Thrive Community Connections

Readying Artists to Work in Community

The Hatch Training Intensive is a program of C4 Atlanta specifically targeted towards readying artists to work in community-centric art projects in ways that are both sustainable and meaningful to all involved stakeholders. The program embeds equity and access as well as tools for listening and reflection throughout.

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I work with Artists Artists Thrive Community Connections

Deep Listening to Artists

Cézanne Charles, Director of Creative Industries for Creative Many, describes the organization's process of stepping outside its comfort zone and engaging in deep conversations with artists to understand artists' needs when interfacing with communities.

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I work with Artists Artists Thrive Community Connections

Fostering an Expansive and Consequential Conversation

Helen Kauder, Executive Director of Artspace, shares a story where the organization supported an artist's work on racial bias in the criminal justice system by expanding the framework for the conversation and including a broad range of constituents.

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I work with Artists Artists Thrive Community Connections

Connecting Artists with City Planning

C4 Atlanta is working with The Department of Planning and Community Development to engage artists in the planning and re-zoning process. This is a new partnership but the Department and the Planning Commissioner (and his team) value artists and welcome input as the city begins a new zoning ordinance (the last update was 1980).

C4 Atlanta is offering the training to help artists better understand city planning, and to better understand the complexities of civic-centered art making.

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I work with Artists Artists Survive Community Connections

Connection to Community Is Paramount

One success is that our agency is now investing time and resources in gathering broad input from our community. We can now develop new approaches to support artists in 2017 and beyond that reflect artists needs. We understand that we are providing meaningful support, and the program going forward will be designed in such a way that that the connection to community is paramount to any other element of the support.

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I work with Artists Artists Survive Community Connections

Building Connections Between Residents and Artists

I’ve spent many hours in the field with artists in their studios, in their homes and having conversations with them about being publically supported so that they can both connect with communities and develop as artists. I think what’s been successful about that program is that it’s helped them to see their ability to create and connect with the community in a new way. We are exploring new approaches to provide meaningful support to artists in line with our mission over the next year, but that program was designed to really foster connections between residents and artists, and I think that has been successful in ways of building connections between the arts community and other local communities. As we revamp the program this year, our focus isn’t really on creating new opportunities, but to more overtly build connections between residents and artists, to position artists as problem solvers in the community, and to more directly enable residents to come together through a network that can more directly foster collaboration.

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I work with Artists Artists Survive Community Connections

Understanding How Residents Want to Connect with Artists

Over the past eighteen months our organization has spent hours connecting with over two thousand residents through online surveys, street team intercepts, and focus groups. It has really been an opportunity for us to cast the vision for our next decade: a vision where all of our county’s residents can experience a meaningful cultural life. We are on the road to understanding access and barriers to participation, understanding what support artists and residents find meaningful, and understanding how residents in our community want to connect and benefit from our local artists and cultural institutions.

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I work with Artists Artists Survive Community Connections

Artists Joining with Communities

In the media arts field, there is a challenge for media artists around technology and innovation. Everything is changing so fast and these guys are storytellers, and making films is a completely different field than it was 20 years ago. All of a sudden you have to deal with making film, digital video, being on mobile, and seventeen platforms – and now augmented reality and virtual reality. The creative field is changing every day and for us the idea is you can’t chase technology and so we really try to foster within our organization this idea that when one organizational artist comes up with a new model, we’re really generous and open with sharing that model and helping other organizations riff on that idea. We try to give money to projects that are creating those models and looking for how they can be a benefit.

One of these was a project that was developed by a filmmaker who did a documentary in India about young kids who were really changing their community. They lived in one of the poorest slums in India, and had no running water but they were really incredibly resilient young people. They were collecting public health data and bring out health officials to inoculate the babies against polio. During that process, the filmmakers wanted to actually help them deepen the impact of the work they were doing. So, they got some additional grants and brought Google into the partnership. Instead of the kids going door to door and just writing down yellow legal pads which babies had not yet been vaccinated and making sure they were, they developed an open data platform where the kids could have these Google tablets to collect public health data that became part of the public record. They were doing things like lowering the rate of polio by like 70%.

It showed how artists could join with the communities that they were documenting and creating deeper impacts for all. And the story of that process became something that we invested in. That project is still going on years later and doing amazing things. And that was a small $5,000 grant that wasn’t paying for an entire project but was paying to amplify the stories on the ground and spread them across the network. In that way, we can embolden a generation of artists to think differently about how they work.

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I work with Artists Artists Survive Community Connections

Prototyping Community Ideas

Cindy Ornstein, Director of Arts & Culture for the City of Mesa and Executive Director of the Mesa Arts Center, describes a new initiative funding artists to create prototypes in response to community input.

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I work with Artists Artists Survive Community Connections

Word of Mouth Connections

We’ve made community connections informally, just through conversation. You might hear of an opportunity in the community that someone is looking for an artist to do, like someone who wants to do a mural or someone that wants, a musician for a certain performance or for a certain opportunity. Then by word of mouth, we do that.

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I work with Artists Artists Struggle Community Connections

Helping Artists Be Effective in Their Partnerships

In some of the projects where the artist was not able to complete their project on schedule and be in line with the timeline that was proposed, is that their budget may not have been realistic. That causes them to have to pause or make changes. Helping artists to develop realistic budgets and also helping them to build relationships so that there are no venue issues allows them to be effective in their partnerships.

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I work with Artists Artists Struggle Community Connections

Trying to Find Common Ground

As a Community Development Corporation, we know in theory that working with artists could lead to interesting programming, but we have no idea where to start and how to connect with artists. Some of our staff try to go to places and events where we might find things in common with artists, such as gardening and community events, as well as showing up at openings and such. But there still seems to be a gap between our general interest in partnering and the ability of our staff or the artists we meet to make a connection and advance the conversation.

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I work with Artists Artists Give Up Community Connections

Not Providing Tools for Effectively Building Relationships

What has been unsuccessful is designing a program in a way that overtly supports artists but doesn’t overtly give them the tools and resources needed to effectively build relationships with the community. That’s not an innate skill set for many artists. Even though artists have something that they want to share, they may not have the tools or resources necessary to understand how to share it.

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I work with Artists Artists Give Up Community Connections

Connecting Artists and Organizations One-at-a-Time

The extent of our work to connect artists and communities is making one-on-one introductions. For example, last summer there was a filmmaker who was new to town and he was looking to make connections with organizations around a particular issue. I met with him and said ‘sure I’ll connect you to this person and that person.’ That’s happened many times since. I’ve connected artists to each other or to organizations so that they can collaborate. While this is better than nothing, I can’t help but think we could use a more strategic system and more capacity for serving artists interested in community-centered work.

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I work with Artists Artists Give Up Community Connections