Arts and Positive Change in Communities
Arts and culture make considerable and necessary contributions to the well-being of communities. Arts and culture are powerful tools with which to engage communities in various levels of change. They are a means to public dialogue, contribute to the development of a community’s creative learning, create healthy communities capable of action, provide a powerful tool for community mobilization and activism, and help build community capacity and leadership.
Click below for the PDF version of Arts and Positive Change in Communities section of Making the Case, as well as Profiles.
Profile researchers/writers of profiles:
Claire Dimond-Gibson, Elise Finnigan, Katie Warfield and Steven R. Dang, with additions by Creative City Network members and friends.
- Arts and Positive Change in Communities [PDF]
Dialogue opens up through the arts because it deals with meanings, addresses emotions, and helps identify and define individuals and the communities where they live.
- Hip Hop for Human Rights: Music empowers 30,000 students as global citizens
VARIOUS COMMUNITIES, CANADA
Facilitated by Canadian youth organization, The 411 Initiative For Change, with the guidance of Amnesty International, Canadian musicians were enlisted in a powerful human rights education initiative. Music served as the vehicle to empower youth to become active members of the global community. By the end of its run, the program reached 30,000 youth in rural and urban centres across Canada as part of a national concert tour into high schools from Oct. 17 – Dec. 9, 2005.
YOUNG CANADIANS "are going to set the example to model for the rest of the world!" The Honourable Raymond Chan, Minister of Multiculturalism, who attended one of the high school performances in Toronto, proclaimed. Minister Chan emphasized the importance of supporting critical programs, such as 411’s, in order to embrace Canada’s multicultural and diverse social fabric.
The educational hip-hop musical bridged arts, culture, heritage and social development through a dynamic ‘edutainment’ performance called “The Barbershop Show.” 411 and Amnesty International envision a culturally diverse and inclusive Canada, a country that truly respects human rights at home and abroad.
“Shared citizenship and understanding can be fostered through cultural exchange; this production engages students on the issues, experiences and realities that frame the lives of our peers and classmates who may be refugees or immigrants, including armed conflict, violence against women and girls, and child labour and poverty,” explains 411 Executive Director, Tamara Dawit. “Young Canadians who are speaking out and taking action on human rights are the drivers of change – in Canada and internationally.”
Amnesty International Canada supported The 411 Initiative for Change with human rights information, advice, resources and in-school representatives. The organization has one of the most successful youth activism programs in Canada, with at least 10,000 youth members and more than 400, mostly school-based, youth groups. Encouraging human rights awareness and activism among youth – through projects such as The 411 Initiative for Change’s – is a key element of Amnesty International’s work.
In the words of one Toronto high school teacher: “Something special was exchanged between the staff and students with the performers – students were moved emotionally, and inspired to be active persons in our society. This program supports teachers by reinforcing a lot of messages we try to get across to students.”
The production featured powerful songstress Melanie Durrant, whose performance challenged abuse and violence against women in our communities, as well as discussed the importance of equal access to education for all children. Hip-hop artist Shohn Booth (Rikoshay) used his music to explore the effects of poverty on children around the world and how youth can live responsibly to protect the human rights of their peers. Poet Equinox 199 discussed the realities of being a refugee and the experiences of children in armed conflict and war. The production was hosted by music industry veteran and former professor on hip-hop culture Will Strickland. Following the performance, the musicians engaged the students in interactive discussion sessions, challenging youth to take an active role in their collective futures, while encouraging them to develop their own individual forms of self-expression through art or action.
The unique nature of The 411 Initiative For Change’s model of using artists and music as key agents in social change – from within the education system, demonstrates an innovative, timely and effective response to the growing need to practice sustainable models for social development.
- The arts can be a powerful vehicle to empower communities and inspire action. The development of artists and musicians can be important in the development of agents of social change.
- Arts education programs can develop strong mentoring relationships between young people and socially-engaged artists.
- The arts are an important means of personal, social and political expression
Profile by: Anita Wong, edited by Steven R. Dang (Creative City Network of Canada, 2005-2006).
- Building the Power of Community: Jumblies Theatre's Once a Shoreline community play
Through a long-term artist residency at the Davenport Perth Neighbourhood Centre – now in its third year – Jumblies Theatre develops meaningful and accessible community arts in a low-income Toronto neighbourhood, and connects people across generational, cultural, and physical boundaries.
"IT'S A RIPPLE EFFECT," explains Ruth Howard, the Artistic Director of Jumblies Theatre in Toronto. Howard is referring to the multifaceted ways in which Jumblies' residency projects strengthen the social fabric of the community and provide participating individuals with specific skills and experience needed to increase their own social capital and means of participation in the community.
Jumblies Theatre develops meaningful and accessible community arts activities in a low-income Toronto neighbourhood through a long-term residency program at the Davenport Perth Neighbourhood Centre, a health and community centre that provides support to community members, especially those who face economic and/or social barriers.
Jumblies' current residency project at the Davenport Perth Neighbourhood Centre (DPNC) in Toronto strengthens the aims of the DPNC to provide health and community support to the area's residents, especially people who face economic and/or social barriers. Specific challenges faced by area residents include poor English skills, unemployment, and a low sense of community.
Adapting the British Community Play movement to urban settings, Jumblies Theatre brings professional artists to neighbourhoods to make art with, about, and for the people who live there. The long-term residencies, established by Jumblies, help to integrate people into the community, providing opportunities to build English skills and volunteer experience.
Now in its third year, Jumblies residency project at the Davenport Perth Neighbourhood Centre draws together participants from DPNC programs and drop-in visitors to participate in its intergenerational, cross-cultural productions that connect people across barriers and differences. The participatory activities are free of charge, and participants are encouraged to contribute to the production in whatever capacity they feel most comfortable, as makers, performers, or production assistants.
Representative community involvement is ensured through liaising with groups served by the DNPC such as Spanish, Italian, and Portuguese Seniors, isolated adults, the Alfa Literacy Program, the Stop Community Food Centre, and the South Asian Women's Centre.
The upcoming production of Once a Shoreline involves over 100 community members as well as professional artists in a production that draws upon the area's history and issues. Once A Shoreline is the culmination of three years of creative work in the Davenport Perth West area, involving oral history research, community outreach, and artistic exploration. The play takes the audience and performers to the prehistoric lake which used to extend as far as the hill to the north of Davenport Road "12,000 years ago" and uses the physical history of the area as a metaphor for the ebbs and flows of the present-day neighbourhood.
In a nutshell," says Howard, what Jumblies does "is connect people and take them out of isolation. " One of Howard's central concerns is ensuring that the effects of the program are long-lasting and sustainable. The fourth and final year of the residency will be devoted to achieving this goal. Yet the long-lasting effects of the program are already evident in what individuals gain through participating: volunteer experience, a sense of belonging, and English language, group work experience, and arts skills. While many area residents only live in the neighbourhood for a short time, when they move to other areas they take these skills and experiences with them.
Municipal support of Jumblies comes through a grant from the Toronto Arts Council, as well as in-kind support from the DNPC staff. Jumblies activities demonstrate the strong and sustainable links that are forged between artists and communities through residency programs. The successes of the program were recognized in 2002 when the company won a Community Arts Ontario Best Practices Award.
As demonstrated by the partnership between Jumblies and the DNPC, this model of long-term residency allows social programs and the arts to work in mutual support of each other and their shared goals of social inclusion and support of traditionally marginalized people.
- Arts activities complement and support social service objectives and services.
- Artist residency programs forge strong and sustainable links between artists and communities.
- Community-wide arts projects connect people across generational, cultural and physical boundaries. Once a Shoreline involved over 100 community members throughout all phases of production.
- Jumblies Theatre's activities provide new residents opportunities to enhance English language skills and to obtain important volunteer experience for future employment.
- Community-based projects, such as Once a Shoreline, also serve to connect residents more strongly to their physical environment – the physical history of their neighbourhood.
Profile by: Claire Dimond-Gibson (Creative City Network of Canada, 2005-2006)
- Waterloo's Scholars' Green Neighbourhood Commemorative Project
A neighbourhood heritage project to commemorate residents ' involvement in WWII is helping resolve tensions between students and veterans living in a Waterloo neighbourhood. Heritage was a key element that brought all the different community groups together.
BRINGING PEOPLE TOGETHER and resolving conflicts, the Scholars' Green Neighbourhood Commemorative Project demonstrates an effective use of heritage and history.
The project celebrates the contributions to Canada by WWII veterans and their families, beautifies the neighbourhood parkette for local residents and users. It has forged relationships between different student, community, and veterans groups in the neighbourhood, and helped develop an ongoing relationship between students living in the area and permanent residents.
The area in Waterloo known as Scholars' Green was developed in the late 1940s in response to the post-war demand for homes, and WWII veterans were offered first chance at moving into the area. Many servicemen and their families still live in the area. In more recent years the neighbourhood has also provided housing for growing numbers of university students. The neighbourhood is "a fascinating example of the way that neighbourhoods have evolved over the years, " says Anne Chafe of the City of Waterloo.
In recent years, the permanent residents had made their concerns known to City officials about changes to the neighbourhood, and increased noise and vandalism. It soon became apparent that university students were not aware of the area's history.
A committee was created to address these issues and find a solution that would recognize the significance of the area and the veterans, and generate residents' and park visitors' respect for this area.The committee included representatives from several community groups, Wilfrid Laurier University Administration, Wilfrid Laurier University Students' Union, Waterloo Colligiate Institute, Wilf's Pub, City of Waterloo Ward Councillor, City of Waterloo Protective Services, Recreation & Leisure Services, Parks and Works Services, Royal Canadian Legion Branch #530, Kitchener-Waterloo Naval Association and 404 K-W Wing, Royal Canadian Air Force Association, Residents, and Waterloo Regional Police Services.
The heritage component of the project in the Scholar's Green parkette was started out of the community need to resolve neighbourhood issues. The commemorative project in the parkette includes features that celebrate the historical significance of the area and the veterans who settled there, and generate respect and a sense of community among its users.
The community partners committed financial and volunteer support to see this project through to completion and the creation of a better living environment for all area residents. High school students, university students, veterans, and other community residents have all contributed in some way. The redeveloped parkette is scheduled to be unveiled in the fall of 2004, but the process of commemorating the area's history and forging intergenerational links and feelings of mutual respect has already begun.
Oral history interviews are being conducted with area veterans about their experiences in WWII and the development of the neighbourhood, and archived with The City of Waterloo's Heritage Resource Unit. Interpretive panels designed to reflect these memories and the commemorative nature of the project will be installed in the parkette. Furthermore, the parkette will be landscaped to address the neighbours concerns for safety, vandalism and sound buffers, and a contest will be held to rename the parkette to reflect its significance.
Not only does the redevelopment of the parkette beautify the neighbourhood, but the combination of this project with its heritage aspects helps to educate the community about the significance of the area and the contributions that Waterloo's veterans made to Canada. The process of incorporating several groups into the process of redeveloping the parkette helps to create a sense of community and mutual respect, and it is hoped that a planned "adopt a parkette" program will develop this relationship into an on-going one.
While there are many groups involved in this project, the City plays an especially important role in the facilitation of the process. As Anne Chafe emphasizes, the City's most valuable contributions are not always financial: "The City has the contacts in the community and knows who else has to be at the table." Kaye Crawford with Community Development in the City's Protective Services Department took the lead with the community. The City's provision of this key staff person, together with other in-kind support such as maintenance and some on-site construction is essential to making the community's vision a reality.
The ways in which heritage is intertwined with other aspects of civic development in this project are numerous, and include beautification of the area, education of the area's history, and facilitating social cohesion. "Heritage was a key element that brought all these different groups together, " says Chafe of the ways that this project benefits the community, "to me it's far reaching, the number of people involved demonstrates how people have bought into it and have made a commitment to seeing the project through to completion. "
- Arts-based projects, such as the Scholars' Green Neighbourhood Commemorative Project, celebrate the contributions of individuals, families and communities to Canada. They can serve the important function of documenting and preserving stories significant to community and ensure that national history is shared.
- Arts-based projects beautify public spaces for local residents and users.
- Community-based art projects can help forge relationships between diverse communities. The Scholars' Green project helped to develop ongoing relationships between young people of the area and older residents.
Profile by: Claire Dimond-Gibson (Creative City Network of Canada, 2005-2006).
- Art City: A grassroots approach to community development through community arts
Over the past 6 years, Art City's brightly painted storefront has become an integral part of its Winnipeg neighbourhood, and a focal point for community members to get to know each other and develop self-esteem and pride. Art City has made the arts a vehicle for empowering the area's residents and developing a local sense of community.
In 1998, painter Wanda Koop noticed a need in her Winnipeg neighbourhood for community building and sustainability. Residents of the culturally diverse inner city neighbourhood faced issues of poverty, housing, food, and security. But Koop noticed that these residents had the potential within them to take ownership of their ideas and the place itself, and took steps to make the arts a vehicle for empowering residents and developing a sense of community.
Koop started Art City in a boarded up nightclub at 616 Broadway in the summer of 1998, and six years later, the brightly painted storefront has become an integral part of the neighbourhood, and a focal point for community members to get to know each other and develop their own senses of self-esteem and pride.
Art City's mandate is to create a positive and expanding cultural impact on the unique needs of the community by:
– Fostering self-expression in participants, encouraging a sense of ownership, self-respect and pride in their work and community.
– Being a part of the neighbourhood, a place that is safe, comfortable, supportive.
– Being accessible by offering free-of-charge, quality programming with local, national, and international professional artists.
– Being sustainable and available to the community day after day, year after year.
– Being a model for future community art centres.
Each month, over 275 participants take advantage of the free programs offered by Art City. Professional artists work with staff and participants to provide workshops such as Aboriginal arts and crafts, adult and kids' pottery, and puppet-making, as well as photography and field trips to cultural institutions around Winnipeg. Snacks are also offered to participants, some of whom may not have eaten previously that day.
Participants learned new skills and had the chance to experience something new and different. New tools were bought for the school and the new techniques were integrated into the middle school's industrial education curriculum. Youth who never had carved before discovered a new hobby and many asked for woodworking tools for Christmas.
Jason Granger, the Executive Director of Art City, emphasizes that there are both tangible and intangible benefits to individual participants and the community. Adult and youth participants learn new skills and techniques, are exposed to different artists, and are offered snacks to help fuel their bodies during this program. Additionally, increased self-esteem, ownership of their ideas, and recognition of their own potential is observed in the behaviour of the participants, says Granger.
Art City's grassroots history is evident in the way that it is embedded in the neighbourhood, and committed to community events and development. Previous Art City projects that affect the wider community include its summer mural projects which help to beautify the neighbourhood, and the West Broadway Skateboard Park, which was built by the area's skateboarders with the help of Chris Veres, a landscape architecture student and local resident. Annual events such as a Community Parade and Barbeque, and a haunted house in October, are eagerly anticipated every year by both the participants who help to prepare these events, and the wider community that attends.
The City of Winnipeg is directly involved through a sustaining grant that Granger says has been "wonderful." This grant from the City covers Art City's core funding over a period of three years. Previously, funding was applied for and received in bits and pieces.
Art City is also involved with other local organizations such as the West Broadway Development Corporation (WBDC) and the Broadway Neighbourhood Centre to identify community needs and deliver a coordinated approach to programming and community development. These kinds of long-term partnerships between arts and other community organizations help to ensure that residents' needs are met, local initiatives are encouraged, and that the vision of overall community development is shared among the organizations.
By starting small, addressing local needs, and remaining embedded in the community, this grassroots approach to community arts and community development has helped Art City become an integral part of the West Broadway neighbourhood. Six years after Art City began, Granger reflects:
"Wanda Koop saw a need in the area and advocated for it. This model can definitely work. From our experience, we've found that the bottom up approach definitely works."
- Community arts organizations help develop long-term partnerships and coordinate services among community organizations. These relationships foster informed and effective action.
- Arts programs can give participants new skills, self-esteem and a sense of pride.
- Community youth arts centres can provides a safe, comfortable and supportive place in the neighbourhood for young people, creating a sense of community and a catalyst for community action.
- The work of community arts centres, such as Art City, has served to beautify the neighbourhood and create a sense of community.
- Grassroot arts approaches help initiatives remain embedded in the community.
- Community arts programs can also provide other important social services: safe spaces and food programs.
Profile by: Claire Dimond-Gibson (Creative City Network of Canada, 2005-2006).
- Get Connected: Woodstock's innovative partnership in arts and culture outreach
The City of Woodstock's municipal library, art gallery, and museum partnered with community organizations to deliver services to families in low-income neighbourhood through an outreach worker and neighbourhood site. "Our focus is to break down the barriers to participation, " Stephen Nelson, Woodstock Chief Librarian explains.
WHAT IF THE COMMUNITY ARTS PROGRAMS were there, but people weren't taking advantage of them? This was the challenge facing the library, art gallery, and museum in Woodstock, Ontario when it was noticed that families from a low-income area of Woodstock were not participating in programs such as the Woodstock Public Library's reading readiness programs for pre-school aged children.
The problem was indicative of larger issues threatening the social fabric of the community. In 2001, representatives from social service, religious, health, law enforcement, education, and cultural sectors began meeting to identify problems in the community and to discuss a more coordinated approach to service delivery.
The organizations soon realized that several groups were working with the same families, but without any coordination, that many families were not taking advantage of the services available to them in the community, and that the organizations lacked the resources to effectively identify and address the needs of the residents. The residents themselves identified troubles including poverty, negative stereotypes, transience, difficulty with basic reading, writing, and arithmetic skills, and lack of transportation contributing to their isolation.
Oxford Child and Youth Services, a children's mental health agency, acted as the lead organization, and applied for funding to hire an outreach worker. Funding was obtained from the County of Oxford and an outreach worker was hired on a three-month contract.
The outreach worker identified arts and recreational programs as the most effective vehicle the City of Woodstock could provide to combat the isolation faced by these families, by leading to increased participation in a wider range of community services and activities. Together, the outreach worker, the library, the art gallery, and the museum created Get Connected, an innovative partnership to make these institutions accessible to children in the community.
"Our focus is to break down the barriers to participation," says Stephen Nelson of the Get Connected program, which strives to address the social as well as the economic barriers to community participation. School visits, weekly activities for children and caregivers, a newsletter, small group meetings, surveys and home visits were used to reach out to the residents. And when a space was found in the neighbourhood, the outreach worker and library, museum, and art gallery staff began to bring programs for local children out into the community.
The program operates on a four-week basis, with units offered by each of the art gallery, museum, and library. With the aid of the outreach worker to coordinate the groups and make sure that the children have the means to participate in the program, groups of up to 35 children at a time participate in the after-school sessions. These sessions help to build their skills, familiarize them with the programs offered in their community, and build the social capital needed to take advantage of these programs.
Although social benefits cannot be measured in dollars and cents in the same way as economic benefits, the impacts of this program are no less evident. "The bottom line is that participants are now library members, " says Stephen Nelson. Children and families who have never used the library before are not only regular visitors, but have forged relationships with staff members. Darlene Pretty, the Head of the Woodstock Library's Children's Dept adds, "the library can be such an imposing place... they've learned that it is a fun place to go and taken ownership of it too. The families too."
In fact, the three-month program was so successful that the outreach worker's three-month contract was extended, and the staff involved are investigating the possibility of expanding this model of integrated social service delivery to other low-income neighbourhoods in the community. "What really makes this program a success is a dedicated community service worker, " says Stephen Nelson, "these are not volunteers, they are paid professionals. " The social barriers to accessing community services and programs can be significant, but programs like Get Connected are taking them down.
-Innovative partnerships such as Get Connected, which integrates the delivery of art, museum, and library programs, reduces overlap and introduces children to several opportunities for cultural participation.
- Art outreach programs break down the barriers to participation in programs offered by the area's cultural institutions.
- Cultural institutions are made less intimidating to participants by forming relationships between the staff at participating institutions and potential future patrons. Many Get Connected participants in the project are now library card holders, and have become regular users of the library and other cultural facilities.
Profile by: Claire Dimond-Gibson (Creative City Network of Canada, 2005-2006).