Here is a selection from the ArtsAccess Project’s “Community Arts & the Museum: A Handbook for Institutions Interested in Community Arts” (download in PDF (7.45MB)
Unwrapping a Bundle: Reflecting on Community Arts, Envisioning a Practice
“One of the exciting distinctions I have made in my practice is differentiating between the roles of artist educator and community artist facilitator.
I have discovered that engaging a group by being fluid and by shape-shifting the quality of my leadership can invigorate the group dynamic. Shape-shifting is a metaphor that I return to again and again; a metaphor for the improvisational acumen possessed by the community artist, like a jazz singer, scatting rhythmically, leaving the memorized words behind sometimes.
When Chris Cavanaugh, co-founder of Toronto’s Catalyst Centre and member of the Faculty of Environmental Studies at York University, said the words “trickster pedagogy” in a presentation he made at the Kitchener-Waterloo Art Gallery in 2008, it struck such a chord of recognition in me. It resonates with the way I enjoy animating a process with infectious enthusiasm, with storytelling and anecdotes, with inviting participants to allow themselves to explore, to experiment and to suspend judgment long enough to tap into the zone of creative flow. The trickster archetype inhabits me so often in my education work. This is my “Facilitator as Trickster” checklist:
- Begin with the assumption that participants have innate gifts, gifts that perhaps participants don’t even know they have, and relish discovering these gifts with them.
- Foster an atmosphere of enthusiasm, good humour and camaraderie, piggybacking on good vibes that are already present in the group.
- Encourage participants to celebrate each other, to respond to each other’s contributions with positive reinforcement and constructive criticism that is specific and thoughtful.
- Motivate with encouragement and recognition of individual creativity. To inspire is to animate the genius in another. This may be what it is really all about for me.
- Get to know everyone’s names right away, even if it’s a big group. I can’t tell you how far that goes in earning the trust of participants. Not to mention the thrill of testing your own capacity for memory. Give eye contact and individual attention to each and every one.
- Make fun and humour an embedded element of the project. Be playful. Break the ice with team-building games and exercises. Play the wise fool a little bit here and there.
- Improvise and wing it. This is not to say be unprepared, but any seasoned community artist must be capable in the brave art of wing. Dance with the ebb and flow of holding the group’s energy, moving with their innovative ideas, and loosening your hold on your prescribed outcome. It can be kind of wild working this way, with youth especially, but every good project has a dose of wild. Chaos and mess are so misconstrued and so thoroughly underrated.
- Act as a storyteller and weave an irresistible spell of enchantment.
- Don’t give answers all the time, and don’t feel you must have all the answers all the time. Let participants come to their own conclusions. Let participants know better sometimes and show you the way.
- Make note of the participants that disrupt or disengage, look for what makes them tick and find wily ways to draw them into the process.
- Validate, celebrate and integrate the particular composite of diversity in the group. Let that diversity be embedded in the themes, let it inform the direction of the project.
- Welcome questions about your personal history and artistic background. Be transparent and accessible. Allow yourself to be vulnerable sometimes.
The success of a project is often evident in a dazzling outcome — perhaps a magnificent large-scale work of art in which each individual sees her or his contribution. But equally important, participants will have developed a new sense of agency in giving voice to ideas through art. I have witnessed this transformative learning occur. It is a tangible evolution, not an abstract notion. While it is empowering to gain skills that are quantifiable, bringing equal focus to the unquantifiable outcomes by inviting participants to value their inner experience as much as, if not more than, the outward measurements of success, this is what distinguishes community arts from art education.
What I understand to be the essence of community arts as a utopian practice — a term coined by community arts practitioner Laurie McGauley — is that each project is a microcosm of the transformative experience, a process that is democratic and inclusive. Community art builds community, one project at a time. It uncovers and speaks to poignant issues, one by one, all through the potent means of the collaborative creative process that is central to the practice.
The focus of my work over the years has evolved into building and supporting a culture of diversity in my projects. It is a utopian longing of mine to make the community arts project a truly democratic forum, in which all participants, community artist included, can dream a world into being. And by allowing ourselves that rare space to dream, we begin to envision. And by envisioning, we begin to prepare ourselves for the very real possibility that it can be. And by preparing for it to be, we develop within ourselves the capacity to manifest it.”
Mosa McNeilly, Community Artist
Kitchener-Waterloo Art Gallery
-The handbook was compiled and edited by Tara Turner and Judith Koke. This selection is posted with permission from Judith Koke; Deputy Director, Education and Public Programming at Art Gallery of Ontario
“This handbook is the legacy of the ArtsAccess project, a four year partnership between the Art Gallery of Ontario, the Kitchener-Waterloo Art Gallery, the Thunder Bay Art Gallery, and the Woodland Cultural Center…This handbook is for anyone, artist, museum or community organization – interested in creating a community art project.” (from the AGO’s Art Matters Blog)