Tag: asset based community development

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:




We are in your communities

Poster: Beware of Artists. They mix with all classes of society and are therefore the most dangerous.John McKnight, a professor at Northwestern University, has a radical notion about what it takes to fix broken communities. There’s been a long-running debate on this issue. On the one side, there are those who say it takes leaders (read, “elitists”) from the outside to provide funding and expertise for a grand (read, “iconic”) solution that makes life better. On the other side, there are those who believe deregulation is always the answer — that markets have a way of making society work, as though self-regulation will fix everything.

And then there is John McKnight, who developed and argued for what he calls Asset-Based Community Development. McKnight has offered a fundamentally different approach. In the more traditional, 20th century viewpoints, communities tend to be thought of as collections of needs. But in the Asset-Based Community Development approach, communities are thought of as collections of assets. Otis White has a write-up that explains the concept in greater detail.

In his book “Building Communities from the Inside Out,” McKnight offers a series of stories that illustrate the many ways artists have connected with other resources to develop communities. In all, he lists 30 specific examples of the ways artists contribute to the communities they live in. Each of these examples involves a collaboration with community associations, public institutions, local businesses, or individuals. He then lays out an illustration to summarize the ways local artists contribute to their communities:
How local artists engage their communities

The point of this post is not to explain why we should all embrace John McKnight’s approach to community development. But it’s a piece of the arts advocacy puzzle few seem to think about, especially as so much attention goes to the economic development argument. Ian David Moss posted his argument earlier this year that those who support creative placemaking are not doing a great job of connecting the dots between placemaking and its purported social or economic benefits. (His follow-up post is also worth a read.)

Even as so many studies take place, our role as artists will remain: to serve as agents of both personal and community-wide development. The works we produce and present tend not to be pure private goods whose benefits can easily be given to some and not to others. Rather, we are assets within the communities where we live and work. We contribute to the development of the people and places around us. As Queen Victoria once remarked, we mix with all classes of society. With or without studies, the stories can be found everywhere, of lives turned around and neighborhoods revitalized. And that’s why public funding for the arts is even more vital during troubled times.