October 14, 2011
(Kyoko Uchida manages PubHub, the Foundation Center's online catalog of foundation-sponsored publications. In her previous post, she looked at four reports that explore how school discipline policies affect students' academic performance and involvement with the juvenile justice system.)
October is Funding for the Arts Month, and this week in PubHub we are featuring four reports that explore the vital role that arts and culture play in our communities' civic life, economic development, and sense of place.
Much has been said about the role of social media in the Arab Spring uprisings. But in Egypt youth activists were using public spaces -- both virtual and physical -- dynamically to spur civic action well before the January 25 Revolution, according to Youth Activism and Public Space in Egypt (48 pages, PDF), a new report from the John D. Gerhart Center for Philanthropy and Civic Engagement at the American University in Cairo and Innovations in Civic Participation. Along with blogs and outreach by youth organizations, artistic expression -- in the form of stencils and graffiti, for example -- was an essential element in calls for change by the Egyptian people. Funded by the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, the report uses photographs of art works around Tahrir Square to explore the role of public art in the revolution and as expressions of collective identity, dignity, and solidarity.
If the arts can help galvanize a revolution, it shouldn't surprise anyone that they can also reveal and help strengthen a community's sense of place, values, and identity. The American Planning Association report How Arts and Cultural Strategies Create, Reinforce, and Enhance Sense of Place (8 pages, PDF) suggests that identifying, assessing, and mapping a community's arts and cultural resources enables us to better understand its historic, cultural, economic, and social contexts and values. Such assets include not only arts, educational, and religious institutions but also architecture, signage, specialty stores, and street markets and fairs. The authors also suggest that a vision for celebrating a community's legacy, diversity, and identity can be implemented through master plans, arts and cultural programming, and public investment. Funded by the Rockefeller Foundation, the report calls for programming that inspires creative ideas, community engagement, and the integration of arts programs with other community plans.
The integration of the arts into the community is the focus of Building Community: Making Space for Art (20 pages, PDF), a report from the Urban Institute and Leveraging Investments in Creativity. Neighborhood residents tend to value not only traditional cultural institutions, the report argues, but a broad range of amateur and professional activities in unconventional venues. And they yearn to create art themselves. Indeed, a community's artistic vitality is associated with its health, social, and educational outcomes as well as economic development and civic engagement. In other words, the more accessible and integrated arts spaces and artists are, the better off the community. Funded by the Ford, Kresge, and Surdna foundations, the report profiles organizations that train artist-educators, produce theater pieces about social issues, and provide mobile arts programming in renovated transit buses.
Last but not least, Blueprints: Bringing Poetry Into Communities (319 pages, PDF) argues for bringing poetry into communities -- especially those that are geographically/economically isolated or otherwise disadvantaged -- in the form of readings, festivals, and other projects. Through essays by poets about their experiences organizing events in schools, bars, libraries, and refugee camps; the impact of poetry on our notions of community, language, and history; and the need for wider access to poetry, the book explores the role of poetry in community development. Funded by the Poetry Foundation and published by the Harriet Monroe Poetry Institute and the University of Utah Press, the report also provides guidance on designing and sustaining poetry programs as well as insights into the place of the poet in the community ("[T]he poet reaches out to reveal our shared humanity out of which the spirit of community rises").
Where do you stand on the role of arts and culture in fostering collective identity, civic engagement, and healthier communities? Do you know of any programs that use the arts to address social justice issues? And what are some of the things your community does to encourage art making and appreciation? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section.
-- Kyoko Uchida