FAQ #1

Why the Arts in Community Engagement?

“What is art?” is a common query, drawing lively conversations, but rarely a consensus. However, a mutually satisfying answer to the question, “Why is art?” is much more attainable. So, in terms of the fine arts, what is their role in society? Is it entertainment? Political statements? Self-expression? Do they help us in real ways or are they just an accessory?

From a quick glance through history, it is apparent that the fine arts have uniquely benefited humans of every culture in countless ways. Through their use of beauty, story, and metaphor, the arts reflect meaning and the human experience, particularly as it relates to emotion, and thus have the distinct ability to open locked doors of the heart, making transformation possible. 

The arts foster empathy, show life through another’s eyes, connect generations, and strengthen our sense of community; they challenge individuals to grow in their knowledge of themselves, and to access a greater percentage of our souls. The arts ask and explore questions about the common human experience, hold a mirror up to society, provide shared experiences, teach, challenge, inspire, reveal truth, reflect values, stretch boundaries, help us know we are not alone, and serve as a communication tool for abstract concepts and difficult issues. In short, the arts help us to become better versions of ourselves.

But, what if each generation only minimally has taken advantage of what art can do to help humanity thrive? In today’s American society, the arts are valued as integral to our culture, but are largely underutilized as vehicles for specific good. What if we were given language to recognize and articulate specific ways the arts help both artists and audiences? What if artists intentionally harnessed the arts’ many life-giving qualities and purposes to target specific issues in our communities? What if art became more of a tool and a necessity than an after-thought and a luxury? 

Today, leaders want their communities to flourish and local artists want to make a difference in a tangible way. When these two dreams collide, local needs can be meaningfully addressed, impacting the community powerfully. This is seen in the work of pioneer artist/activist Augusto Boal, who innovated collaborative, drama-centered tools for social action that explore the common human experience, facilitate dialogue, build empathy, and ultimately strengthen community cohesiveness and corporate hope in visible, sustainable change. The potential for further development of similar tools in all the fine arts is limitless. 

Awaken Creative Institute recognizes that there are a multitude of factors that contribute to any one area of felt need and that the work of one artist, or even a whole network of artists, will be but one aspect of the fight. Nevertheless, we believe it is worth the fight and that artists need to contribute to their communities in this way, as integral members with a unique set of weapons.

Community members today have a wide range of issues about which they may be concerned. They may be concerned about high crime or violence, a high suicide rate or high drug usage, homelessness, gentrification, school drop out rate, poverty, and the list goes on. Members of a community may see a need for more resources, equal opportunities, more voices to be heard, and accountability for governing officials, just to name a few. Local governments are pressed to create and enforce policies that help all citizens to thrive. Often, community members work together to find solutions to their felt needs.

There are several terms for work that involves community members collaborating with the common goal of positive community change. These terms include “Community Engagement,” “Community Action,” “Social Action,” “Community Development,” and “Socially-Engaged.” While there are nuances between them, depending on who you ask, they are often interchangeable.

According to the CDC, “Community Engagement is… the process of working collaboratively with and through groups of people affiliated by geographic proximity, special interest, or similar situations to address issues affecting the well-being of those people. It is a powerful vehicle for bringing about environmental and behavioral changes that will improve the health of the community and its members. It often involves partnerships and coalitions that help mobilize resources and influence systems, change relationships among partners, and serve as catalysts for changing policies, programs, and practices” (CDC, 1997).

Awaken Creative Institute shares many of these goals. We have chosen to name our type of work, “Arts for Community Action,” as we feel this best describes their purpose, which is to actively target the relational aspects of community issues. By using the term “Community Action” we are not intentionally aligning ourselves with any specific group or organization who also uses the same term for their work.

Principles of Community Engagement: First Edition.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: CDC/ATSDR Committee on Community Engagement, 1997.

FAQ #2

What is “Community Engagement” or “Community Action”

FAQ #3

Does ACI believe that the arts for expression are not as valuable as Arts for Community Action?

The foundation of ACI’s beliefs is that the arts provide countless benefits to humans — the work of ACI simply focuses on one category of those benefits. Therefore, ACI believes firmly that artists must continue in their studio art/art-for-expression work. In addition to the benefit to their communities, artists’ expression work grows and strengthens their technique, vision, and influence in their communities.

Our work occupies a space between arts for expression (some people call it “studio art” and arts therapies (which we also believe is important). Our work focuses on communities, relationships between groups within communities, and how those relationships can sometimes fall apart. These broken relationships can cause serious community issues, and they can also be a symptom of issues.

The short answer is “no.” The reason behind this is that ACI wants to reach all parts of the community and all artists with the arts-based tools we use and develop. By directly affiliating with one religious group, there will be many in the community who are uncomfortable with participating and/or using our resources.

The long answer is:

Staff: A staff or board member will not be required to express a certain belief to be involved, nor will there be any pressure on them or any participants to “convert” to certain religious beliefs. However, as it is a foundational part of why this organization was started, personal spiritual faith will not be discouraged or required to be hidden (whether that is Christian or otherwise) and will likely be a part of our discussions as we explore the felt needs in a community and common human experiences. All participants will be asked to be respectful of others’ beliefs, to not discriminate against those who believe differently, and to keep the work environment focused on ACI’s Mission and Core Values.

Programming: Our community programming will not be faith-based in content, evangelistic in any way, or give a Christian moral message (other than those stated in the Core Values). We will however occasionally include faith in discussions, as it is a part of many people’s lives, and will provide some optional faith-based resources based on the topics at hand.

Artist Training: In training artists and chapter leaders, the training will not be faith-based in nature. However, we will offer optional workshops for those who would like to learn about using the ACA tools and programs in a faith-based context (i.e. a Christian university or a church).

FAQ #4

Is this a religious or faith-based organization?