Thursday, February 7, 2008

defining community arts

i was asked a few days ago by a france merrick scholar to answer questions for a cap profile of sorts. the france merrick scholarship is a chance for juniors & seniors in cap who apply and receive funding and support to create their own community arts program. this student decided to create a cap awareness exhibition, featuring student work and profiles to increase cap exposure on campus. it was good timing. since being introduced to the whole community arts concept when i came to mica, i've been working on hatching out my own standards and meaning as it relates to the concept of community arts. i use the word community art, but that is just a term. there is too much there for that label to ever be adequate. it was something that was starting to become a disappointment to me. like i remember getting so frustrated at workshops with other cap interns because they couldn't see. they were all still just wrapped up in writing lesson plans. they didn't recognize the potential the program has for greatness. but i know it's there. and when i listen to paula and fletcher talk, or see it in action with projects like ancb (a neighborhood called baltimore), i am certain of its power.

here were the questions and my answers:

Do you do CAP? Where is your site?

last semester i worked with ms. pan's second grade class at mount royal elementary school. my partner and i worked really closely with the teacher to think of projects that would apply art to their curriculum, things like a fall pigments book made with leaf rubbings or a paper mache globe for their mapping unit. this semester i hope to be working with hannah baker, a france merrick scholar, on her pen pal project connecting a baltimore classroom with a classroom in her home state of connecticut.

What is CAP to you? Or why do CAP?

cap to me is so much more that the term "community arts" could ever describe. it just doesn't do it justice. it's bigger than lesson planning and painting murals. there is so much potential in this movement towards making art with a purpose. art that inspires, provides an outlet for creativity, prompts social change, solves problems. the possibilities are endless. i do cap because i could never be satisfied as a mica student separate from the community around me. or as an artist not using this medium and creative energy as a method of making a difference.

What is community to you?

community starts with mica. but it doesn't stop there. we are part of a bigger equation that we are responsible for. i believe that baltimore is one of mica's biggest assets, and vice versa. community is recognizing that connection and then beginning to blur the boundaries between people and place.

What are the rewards in your participation?

the rewards is walking though mount royal elementary and knowing that i have a personal stake in the school. it really is a two-way street. you set out to bring something to a community or classroom, but end up leaving with so much yourself.

What are the challenges?

seeing students who are perfectly contempt with staying in this mica bubble and making art all the time. it's sad. there is more to this college experience than assignments and critiques. (shock!) i wish students would realize that and begin to stretch themselves even further.

What would you like to see changed in the CAP program at MICA?

i would like to see things get bigger. i would like to see awareness and understanding of community arts increase without being seen as blatantly community arts. that part will come. just get out there and start doing stuff. i think it will begin to penetrate into many more areas, and become something seen less as a separate entity, and more of a mentality across campus. i would like to see increased involvement. student apathy is no longer acceptable. i believe that students want to help, they are just looking for a way to do so. more opportunities to get out and see baltimore, and start thinking of ways that we as artists can begin to contribute to a better quality of life.

and something else i've been working on for a while now. a community arts manifesto. i am a sucker for those things. it's compiled in the style of bruce mau. i've just been cutting and pasting things as i come across them or jotting them down when something suddenly makes sense. i considered doing this for my final project in my cap class, but i like that it is totally in progress. there's no way i could know everything there is to know about community arts now. it's a much longer, more organic process of discovery.

my community arts manifesto (in progress):

1. Everyone an artist. Joseph Beuys. Art is a teachable skill. And when people are given the tools for creative expression, anything can happen. We only need to gather the courage to express our creativity.
2. Art is a basic human right. Everyone should be guaranteed the ability to make art. In prison. In inner city schools.
3. Art is not a privilege. It is not something that should be reserved for the elite or for those with a visual art or art history background.
4. Culture concerns everyone. By the time of UNESCO’s Intergovernmental Conference on Cultural Policies in 1970, cultural ministers agreed that “We must get rid of the idea that culture is a learned and refined pursuit for a hereditary moneyed or intellectual aristocracy. Culture concerns everyone and it is the most essential thing of all, as it is culture that gives us reason for living, and sometimes for dying.” (Augustin Girard, Cultural Development: Experience and Policies (Paris: UNESCO, 1972) 22.
5. Find the art in the everyday. Optimism is a premeditated mentality.
6. Rock what you got. Adequate resources have not been available to underwrite this kind of work. Don’t let lack of funding stop you.
7. Do no harm. The most fundamental rule of community arts.
8. People first. Design second. Community-based art is as much about the process of involving people in the making of the work as the finished object itself.
9. Collaborate. People are immensely important to every part of community arts.
10. Make it a two way street. Make sure each party leaves better off than before they met.
11. Don’t forget about yourself. Incorporate your passions and interests into projects. They will provide meaning and motivation to fuel your process.
12. Challenge social realities. Find what is broken and use you skills to fix it.
13. Let the message make the medium. Use whatever you need to get your purpose across.
14. Process over outcome.
15. Evolve. There is always something better. Leave the stereotypical comfort zones of murals and after school crafts behind and re-define the genre.
16. Shift the standards of success. Evaluation of community art is on a whole different sphere than critique/criticism of fine art. Recognize that and make your own measurements.
17. Solve problems. The typical art world doesn’t provide artists with enough
situations where you think of people’s needs first and foremost.
20. Serve. Look first at what a community needs. Then begin to think of what you can bring to the table.
21. Blur Boundaries. Use the medium of art to connect ideas and people that would otherwise remain detached.

and finally, some other community arts resources:
art on purpose
artist placement group
banner neighborhoods
community arts network
mica cap website
mica community arts convening

1 comment:

Stephanie said...

This is an excellent sponge squeeze. wow.