Sunday, June 5, 2016

Equity for the Arts Sector in its External Community Relationships

Good morning
"And the beat goes on.............."

Note:  As I have some upcoming medical testing and down time, I keep trying to get several posts up, but have been delayed for one reason or another.  I'm making a concerted attempt this week.

What is reasonable to expect in return for our involvement and engagement with, and within, our communities?

It is now a widely accepted given that the arts must have as a priority their involvement in, and engagement with, their communities; that they must seek places at the table where their strengths and positive values can help the communities to achieve a wide range of goals and objectives - ranging from economic development, to social justice changes, to improved education and more.  And this is arguably because (among other reasons) such involvement and engagement, such participation as members of their local "place", will ultimately help the arts sector to increase support for their growth and sustainability, will perhaps help to fundraise and garner public and private financial support, will help to increase the community's valuation of the arts, will expand audiences, and will, in other ways, inure to the benefit of the arts.  Plus it's the right thing to do.

I'm not sure whether or not the hoped for benefits have yet flowed our way, and the long term data remains to be collected to see if there is evidence to support the hypothesis that we directly benefit from the effort, but, let's assume, arguendo, that the arts, positioning themselves to be good community citizens and support the lofty goals of the community by bringing to the table their unique set of skills, talents and contributions, is in our best interests.  And let's also assume for the moment that there is some tacit understanding in the community itself that the value of the arts goes substantially beyond that which it can bring to help the community address specific problems and challenges; that the arts have meaningful, irreplaceable intrinsic value to the community and its inhabitants.

There seems to be some inequity in the way the arts are treated by these same communities that we are encouraged to embrace and help.  I wonder if there is movement within the communities where we are helping further other agendas, to help us?  Is there a quid pro quo that acknowledges our issues, our challenges, our problems and is there the effort and energy by the community to put us on their "help" agendas?  Are those segments of the community we try to help trying to help us?  I ask because I hear noise that in many places it's fine for us to help other causes, but that they are slow to reciprocate.  I hear a lot about the arts stepping up to lend their resources to addressing problems and challenges facing the community, but not so much about the community stepping up to help the arts address their problems and challenges.

Is this a one way street?  Are we expected to use the gifts and skills available to us to help other causes, but those same causes need not similarly look at what our needs are and bring their skill sets to bear on helping us address our issues?  Do they even ask the question of what we need? Is that disparity not an inequity?  Is the benefit to us more one in the trickle down theory?  Are we unwittingly once again donning the role of Oliver Twist left begging for a little more?  Is it fair? To be sure, there is support in some communities for us, and even increased support, as a direct result of our engagement with them,  and we are on some of the agendas of those we seek to help. But the extent to which that is the case seems to vary widely, is often the exception not the rule, and is thus far unproven by results and data.

To be honest, there is a hierarchy in most communities that designates certain needs and causes and assigns them priorities and importance above the arts.  The arts are important, but not as important as..................    That attitude exists.....still.  It's ok in some communities for the arts to sit at tables where strategies are developed to deal with certain community issues, to bring to bear our creativity as part of the solution  (and we want that, I think), but not ok to sit at the same tables where decisions that might benefit us are made.  In many cases, the arts remain the step child, invited to help others, but with no corresponding offer of help in return.

Shouldn't engagement be a two way, mutual street?  Is it?   If we are to engage our communities, shouldn't we reasonably expect that the communities will seek to engage us?  Is that the case?  Why not?

I think we need to focus somewhat on the whole of the relationship we want with our communities and its various segments and parts - both the give and the take.  I think we need to verify whether or not the simple engagement wherein we help others, pays off in the form of increased support, finances, audiences, etc.  How does that work?  On what timeline?  And we need to determine what is reasonable for us to give to the community, as well as what is reasonable to expect from the community, and how to structure and nurture the kind of relationship to the community that is mutual.  I think it not unreasonable to ask early on in the relationship if those we are trying to help are willing to try to help us -- and not as a theoretical question either.

Have a good week.

Don't Quit