Community-based arts work depends on close, collaborative relationships. Much of it relies on gathering in groups to take part in processes of self-discovery and to exercise the right to culture. It may be a path to personal development or political action. But whatever the intentions, community-based arts work braids pleasure and purpose to generate within a group a process which is as rewarding as whatever it produces. The means and the ends are equal and inseparable.
Virtually all the methods, approaches, and ideas that have characterized this work for decades rely on the intimacy of gathering and creating together—pre-pandemic. The crisis that has gripped our societies has greatly increased the need for real connection as an antidote to isolation and a way to make sense out of experiences that are in some ways shared and in some terrible ways very different.
For artists who work in community, the burning question now is how it will be possible to carry meaningful community-based arts work forward if the venues, resources, and the nature of participation are drastically changed?
I’m delighted to say that I’m engaging with one of the very best people to consider this question over the next week. Following on my “virtual residency” with Francois Matarasso earlier this month, I’m hosting our second virtual residency, this one by Francois, with my blog as the venue. This coming Sunday 31 May through Thursday, 4 June, we’ll post to my blog one of Francois’ writings each day relating to the future practice of community-based arts work.
Then on Thursday, June 4th, at 10am MDT/6 pm CEST, you’re invited to a Zoom conversation where we’ll share a bit about the challenges community-based artists and their communities are facing; offer some ideas for possible models or work going forward; and invite you to share your own ideas and concerns. The link to register will be released on Monday, so watch this space for more information.
The COVID-19 pandemic has altered nearly everything for community-based arts work: what we do, how we do it, who we work and connect with, how we find support. No one can say exactly how long social distancing will last, what the pandemic’s precise economic impact will be, how people’s desires and feelings will have evolved. But we know the toll has already been major and expect it will continue to be significant. Here in the U.S. with just over four percent of the world’s population and one-third of the world’s coronavirus cases, it is likely to get worse. But wherever we are located, the answers that emerge will depend on the specifics of community and practice as much as on national policy. Who were you three months ago and who will you be three months from now? Please plan on reading Francois’ writings this week and joining us on 4 June to explore possible futures.
If you’d like to know more about Francois’ work, please visit one of his blogsites to download a PDF of A Restless Art, his 2019 book subtitled “how participation won and why it matters.” I wrote about it here.
I asked Francois to choose music to accompany each post. Happily, his choices introduced me to some new songs I’m sure you will enjoy. Here’s the first: “My World is Gone” by Otis Taylor and Anne Harris.