Tag: advocacy

Hatch Session #3 – Asset Based Community Development and Doing With, Not For or To, a Community

The vocation of an artists is to envision, and then call out what has not happened yet. – Hatch artist William Massey III

Clarkston Community Center Executive Director McKenzie Wren leads the artists through an exercise in asset mapping.
Clarkston Community Center Executive Director McKenzie Wren leads the artists through an exercise in asset mapping.

This past Sunday’s Hatch session at C4 Atlanta was lead by McKenzie Wren of the Clarkston Community Center. McKenzie has had the pleasure of working in an incredibly community for many years, as the local high school in Clarkston has an enrollment spanning 50+ different nationalities. Talk about diversity! We were excited to have her expertise in navigating asset based community development and advocating for communities.

Our morning session was devoted to learning what Asset Based Community Development (ABCD) really was and how to incorporate asset mapping techniques into their work in community. We began with a simple exercise in doing an intake of the assets available to us in the room. Each artist paired with another artist, and discussed what one another felt comfortable teaching and what one thing would they most like to learn. Each artist in turn introduced their partner and shared their answers with the group. As we fleshed out the details of what everyone could teach and what they wanted to learn, patterns began to emerge, connecting those who could educate with those seeking their knowledge. In essence, this is the basis of what good asset mapping seeks to provide – an inventory of the skills and assets available in the community so that needs and access to resources can be fulfilled.

L-R Shannon Willow, William Massey II, and Angela Davis Johnson help create the C4 Atlanta asset map on a whiteboard.
L-R Shannon Willow, William Massey II, and Angela Davis Johnson help create the C4 Atlanta asset map on a whiteboard.

McKenzie explained to our artists that coming from an asset development mindset is different from coming from a traditional deficit based mindset, and is often times much more beneficial when working in community. Because ABCD emphasizes what is already available in the community, it comes from a place of reinforcing the positive associations already inherent within. A deficit based mindset comes from a place of focusing only on the negatives inherent within and can be detrimental if you do not perceive the positive resources already available as well. Our artists were then encouraged to build their own asset map of C4 Atlanta’s resources by looking through our space and plotting what they saw on a whiteboard. As administrators in this space everyday, it is sometimes difficult to look at our workspace and see all of the assets available that the artists discovered with fresh eyes. One of their favorites, by far, seems to be our delicious coffee.

Photo Nov 22, 1 41 58 PM
Scottie Rowell considers the possibilities of “Gilbert”, with Hez Stalcup, left, and Angela Davis Johnson, right.

Our artists also practiced seeing the possibilities inherent in an object by playing a popular improv game called “Yes, and…”. In this game, an object was passed around the circle, and each artist was asked to only accept the suggestions offered by participants before them and then add one of their own. We had fun adding both the mundane and the absurd, imagining the possibilities available in a common house paint brush that was affectionately named Gilbert. Through this exercise, artists were able to see the brush for a myriad of different possible uses and attributes without discounting any one of them, increasing the overall value of Gilbert the Paintbrush. The applicability when considering the availability and utility of resources within a community became apparent immediately.

After a communal lunch, everyone reconvened to talk about Doing With, Not For or To, a Community. The overarching takeaway from this session was to zero in on ways to assess the value of the community and to continue to work alongside the resources and individuals present in order to achieve the best end result for all involved. McKenzie gave several recent case studies from the Atlanta area of best practices and cases in which artists were more imposing and less considerate of the community in which they were working.

C4 Executive Director Jessyca Holland (far right) discusses how artists can advocate for their own community while (L-R) McKenzie Wren, Angela Davis Johnson, Hez Stalcup, Scottie Rowell and Orion Crook listen.
C4 Executive Director Jessyca Holland (far right) discusses how artists can advocate for their own community while (L-R) McKenzie Wren, Angela Davis Johnson, Hez Stalcup, Scottie Rowell and Orion Crook listen.

What happened next was one of the most powerful experiences that I have had working with artists in Atlanta. McKenzie invited the artists to share experiences regarding working in community and how that had shaped their attitudes towards what was happening in the arts community in Atlanta at the moment. The artists identified several issues related to work they had previously created in regards to implementation and working with community including lack of access to communication with community members, government and institutional bureaucracy, being brought into the planning process at the very end, limited resources for performance, and lack of wages/financial resources available to complete projects in a high quality, meaningful way. Because many of the artists had submitted work for the same art projects and performance opportunities or had worked with the same programs and institutions, experiences were varied and there was much constructive talk about the needs of artists to create the qualtity of work of which they are capable and the structures needed to facilitate that work within the community.

We closed the day with one last exercise to help emphasize the assets and contributions of individuals to create a whole. Together, our group created a song and dance based around words we identified as important based on the day’s lessons. Below is our musical creation:




What’s your model of relevancy?

Take a look around at the search results for “why fund the arts” and you’re sure to find plenty of preachers chatting up their choirs for a rousing “amen” or two. The arts provide enormous economic benefits to local communities and the nation as a whole. But that’s not the whole story, and it’s not exactly the most compelling reason to head out to your local theater or museum.

And if you think about it, where would you rather send your charitable dollars? Would you rather send your money to an organization that fosters public dialogue, or to an organization that helps kids with cancer? Remember: your charitable dollars are limited. If such causes as “fostering public dialogue,” or “preserving artistic forms” fall higher in your charitable priority list above kids with cancer, your priorities may not be the same as the rest of us. That’s not to say your priorities are wrong — just different. And that’s okay.

There are many benefits to supporting the arts, and I would hope that if you’re reading this, you’ve heard most or all of those reasons, both intrinsic and extrinsic. It’s up to those of us who are practitioners in the field to recognize, deliver, and communicate the value we provide in the way of both public goods and charitable activities.

Let’s get to the heart of the matter. Times are changing, and no amount of holding on to 20th century American modernist models of the funding and production of art will save your arts nonprofit. The new reality brought to us, in part, by technology forces a structural change in the way institutions operate. Gwydion Suilebhan offered a perspective on the emerging role of the arts institution in his TEDx talk: not unimportant, but different.

So why should there be public funding for the arts in this age of changing relationships between artists, audiences, and institutions? There is no single answer, but many perspectives. Some of those traditional perspectives include “fostering public dialogue,” or “preserving artistic forms,” or “economic vitality.” Other reasons, in a quick roundup:

  • “Orchestras do not play Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony faster every year.” Michael Kaiser explains why subsidies are important to keep tickets for arts events affordable.
  • “The arts are a necessity.” Claire Willett makes the case that the arts are as essential to life as food and water.
  • “The most compelling argument for funding the arts is not factual but counterfactual. The cuts … will have major and still unpredictable effects on arts provision…” David Edgar ultimately reaches the conclusion that large institutions will not survive the shift to a more participatory model of art production and presentation.
  • “The musicians will expand the imagination.” Alan Balfour, Dean of Ga Tech’s College of Architecture explains why imagining a better future is necessary for building a better future.
  • “If you ask people what would improve their neighborhood the most, the arts come up time and time again.” Nonprofit consultant Kelly Kleiman changes her mind on whether the arts should receive public funding at all.

This is by no means a comprehensive roundup. To get into reasons for funding arts in education, I’d have to go into a bottomless pit of a rabbit hole. For every conceptual reason to fund the arts, there are relevant stories to be told that can speak to the economic reasons (why arts funding should be a higher priority), the social reasons (how arts funding improves quality of life in society), the political reasons (how arts funding democratizes culture), and so on.

The point of all this is to say there are many reasons to support the arts through both public and charitable funding. With this “blended approach” to making the case, it’s up to the rest of us to act the case, and not just communicate it. The blended approach also reflects the different ways we produce and present, and how those approaches are complementary to one another, not in competition.

When we were in Toronto for a conference with our fellow service organizations, Tim Jones, one of the keynote speakers, gave his opinion on the subject of arts advocacy: why do we argue about whether the “economic value” argument or the “intrinsic value” argument is better? We use up a lot of energy as a community arguing with each other about which of these cases works best. Jones refered to the quadruple bottom line of the arts: economic value, social value, environmental value, and cultural value. These values are not mutually exclusive of one another.

So what case do you make for supporting the arts? How does your arts practice reflect the case you make? I would love to hear your thoughts on these questions.

Resource Market for the Arts – Save the Date

Save the Date!
Resource Market for the Arts
October 4, 2010

October is Funding for Arts Month at the Foundation Center!

You’re invited to come to the Resource Market for the Arts to network
with peers and learn about available funding, resources, and services.
There’s information for everyone!

Preceding the market, Susan Weiner, executive director of the Georgia
Council for the Arts, will speak on “Arts Advocacy Now!” Come for the
program and stay for the market.

Monday, October 4, 2010
1:00-1:45pm Arts Advocacy Now!

Where: Rialto Center for the Arts

Register now

Watch our calendar for information about other programs and events in October.

Presented by:

Foundation Center-Atlanta, Fulton County Arts Council,
City of Atlanta Office of Cultural Affairs,
Georgia Council for the Arts, C4 Atlanta,

Metropolitan Atlanta Arts Fund, and South Arts