Anne Kershaw, Lecturer, Arts and Entertainment Management
Deakin University at Burwood, Australia, June 2012
It was great to meet you at the Turn to Community in the Arts forum last week.
As I mentioned, your Get Off My Back manifesto has proved to be a fabulous resource for my new unit titled ‘Managing Arts in Community Settings’. This off-campus unit is aimed at people in the community sector, local government and education/ outreach in arts organisation; those who are frequently involved in community based arts practice with the aim of a range of instrumental and intrinsic outcomes.
I use your manifesto to emphasize the critical importance—and also the challenge—of good project design. At this point in their study students have been introduced to the Australia Council’s Guiding Principles for community based arts: activity is by, with, and for the communities; artists are highly skilled; and
activities reflect the energies and qualities of the community.
Your manifesto highlights just how difficult these principles are to achieve in practice. It throws students in the ‘deep end’, and suggests that community arts practice can be exploitative and damaging. As a teaching approach – this is a very powerful introduction to this topic. Here is the text I give in the study guide to explain why your manifesto is one of the set readings:
This opinion piece from digital media artists Tallstoreez highlights the need for well designed projects that address the guiding principles for community based arts. While focused on digital media projects, their warnings and reflections on community based art processes are valuable to all art forms.
Tallstoreez identify what they refer to as ‘story theft’—art content that is ‘traded’ by artists, organisations and governments but leaves the owners of the stories feeling ‘misrepresented, hoodwinked and de-powered’ by their experience of community based arts. They caution that community based arts is ‘risky business’, as we ‘negotiate the power relationships that arise from the economic disparity our work is addressing. Community arts practitioners derive an income because communities are disengaged/ marginalised.’
Identifying a range of requirements for community based arts, Tallstoreez call for practitioners to question why they are involved in this field. They challenge us to develop answers to this question that are actionable, tangible in our work, reflected in its outcomes and reviewed as part of our critical practice.
These are the challenges for community based arts projects, and the context which demands well designed projects.
From this introduction, the unit goes on to explore approaches to the design of community based art project that attempt to address these challenges and limitations in community based arts. It also analyses a number of key elements in community based arts (empowering participation, partnerships, protocols/ respect) that I see as the ‘building blocks’ of good project design.
So thank you for such an insightful and honest piece of writing. I hope you see it being put to good use.
If you update your manifesto, I’d love to have a copy.