Community Engagement 101

The Yes Men

Launching Successful Community Engagement Campaigns has define the Career of Creative Capital Grantees the Yes Men

Powerful, disruptive ideas beg to be spread. Successful community engagement depends on setting clear objectives, finding your audience, and activating them. Stephanie Bleyer is a master of the community engagement campaign who runs the firm Six Foot Chipmunk. Stephanie helps artists across disciplines create strategic plans, raise funds, and reach and mobilize new audiences. On Thursday June 9th, 2016, she will lead the webinar Producing & Funding Your Community Engagement Campaign. This webinar is essential for artists projects involving social justice, education, public art, or community building. It takes participants through the entire process of producing your campaign starting with letters of inquiry and grant applications all the way through to measuring impact. Artists can ask themselves these five questions as a foundation for your engagement strategy.

1) What are the social goals of my campaign?
Keep in mind that the social goals of your campaign will likely be different from the goals of your art work or overall practice. Think, “I want my audience to think about how many plastic bags they regularly take from grocery stores and ultimately reduce that amount,” instead of, “I want my project to receive awards and praise from environmental foundations and get written up in ArtForum.” Continue reading

Theaster Gates’ Dorchester Art+Housing Collaborative Offers Affordable Housing & Art Space in Chicago

Dorchester Art+Housing Collaborative in Chicago

Dorchester Art+Housing Collaborative in Chicago

Seven years ago, Creative Capital Artist Theaster Gates (2012 Visual Arts) bought his home in Chicago’s South Side; by 2010, he had completed Dorchester Projects, renovating several other properties in the area and turning them into artist and cultural hubs, and founded his own non-profit, Rebuild Foundation, which revives neighborhoods by restoring underused spaces and creating opportunities for engagement. Now, Theaster and Rebuild are embarking on an even more ambitious project: Dorchester Art+Housing Collaborative (DA+HC), made up of an art center and 32 refurbished townhouses open to mixed-income artists, is creating a tight-knit community of creative people who are expected to “collaborate with their neighbors and with Rebuild Foundation.” Jeffreen Hayes, Director of the Rebuild Foundation, told us, “At DA+HC, the spirit of collaboration is at the heart of the project! Rebuild is in a fortunate position of dreaming right along with our founder and working to stabilize, revitalize, and transform many urban communities. Access to affordable and safe housing is a big issue in Chicago for many people. We do hope to create more housing opportunities that will fulfill a need.”

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The In-Between: Artists Build New Frameworks for Institutions

Campaign for Prison Phone Justice
Nick Szuberla’s Campaign for Prison Phone Justice

Nick Szuberla, after working on his Creative Capital project Thousand Kites for several months, found himself sitting in front of what he described as “an amazing database.” He and his collaborators, Amelia Kirby and Donna Porterfield, had been in contact with hundreds of community members in the Appalachian region, interviewing them about their experiences with two local super-maximum security prisons. The artists intended to compile the material into scripts to read aloud and broadcast over the radio in the communities most affected by the nearby prison complexes. While people had a lot to say about their experiences, to Szuberla’s surprise, the most prevalent concern from family members was the high cost of phone calls to their loved ones behind bars.  Szuberla discovered that under many states current communications systems, phone calls to incarcerated individuals cost up to $3.80 a minute. Some families found themselves paying $20-30,000 a year on phone calls alone.

Szuberla found that many state governments are receiving kickbacks from local phone companies for these calls—up to 60% of the cost. Although there are currently eight states that have banned prison phone kickbacks, Szuberla and grassroots partners felt that more could be done. So they started the Campaign for Prison Phone Justice, an advocacy group committed to changing the price of these phone calls and giving families the opportunity to be connected again.

Over the years Creative Capital has noticed that an increasing number of grantees have decided to start their own organizations. We’re realizing that the financial and advisory services we provide our grantees help them not only complete their artistic projects but also find ways to address other needs in our society. These new institutions have focused on issues of social justice, food, product development and critical thinking skills.  Continue reading

Podcasts: Artist-to-Artist Advice from our 2012 Grantee Orientation

We’re planning the Orientation Weekend for our 2013 class of grantees and revisiting some of the presentations from last year’s sessions. We wanted to share a couple of excerpts, in which our previously-funded grantees offered great advice to the new group.

In the first podcast, Pablo Helguera (2005 Visual Arts) talks about unexpected setbacks he encountered while traveling with his School of Panamerican Unrest project. In 2006, Helguera drove with a portable schoolhouse from Alaska to Argentina, exploring the historical ideals of Pan-Americanism. In this 10-minute excerpt, he talks about that journey and what he learned about the importance of staying flexible and fluid in your expectations for ambitious, community-engaged projects.

In the second podcast, Sandi DuBowski (2000 Film/Video), Jennifer Fox (2005 Film/Video) and Braden King (2005 Film/Video) discuss their past experiences in raising funds for their film projects. Each of these three filmmakers have tried different approaches to raise the funds needed to make and distribute their work.

LISTEN: Pablo Helguera on Planning and Flexibility
LISTEN: Sandi DuBowski, Jennifer Fox and Braden King on Funding Your Work
SUBSCRIBE: Creative Capital Podcasts on iTunes

Resources for Community-Engaged Artists: A Conversation with Aaron Landsman

Top: Alyson Pou; bottom: Aaron LandsmanEarlier this month, I shared a summary of the Community Engagement session that I moderated at the 2012 Grantmakers in the Arts conference. I wanted to dig a bit deeper into the issues around community-engaged work with Aaron Landsman, a theater artist and long-time workshop leader for Creative Capital’s Professional Development Program. Aaron has developed a one-day Real Community Engagement workshop for PDP that he recently conducted in Broward County, Florida. Here are excerpts from our conversation about some of the key issues and topics that came up at the GIA session:

Alyson: One of the session participants mentioned the necessity of “first, do no harm” in any organization or artist’s priorities when they are considering or planning to do a community-based project.  What do you think about that?

Aaron: I do think that’s a great baseline, although it can also run the danger of being interpreted as “make everyone comfortable.”

There have historically been projects that purport to engage specific communities, but which may not come from a real expressed desire on the part of those communities to be engaged with, but rather are driven by the artist, funder or presenter. Those kinds of relationships can easily become patronizing or harmful to the very people with whom they are trying to ally.

On the flip side, presenting and creative partners sometimes become overly cautious against wanting to do something provocative or uncomfortable. And I think artists often can bring a valuable outside perspective to a community; even if it may not always be an easy fit, at least not at first, it can produce insight and reward if it’s handled well. Continue reading