What Goes Around…, by Bill Cleveland
Friday, January 12, 2024
Friday, January 12, 2024
This story begins when I received a phone call in early 1994 from Dyan Wiley, the Education and Outreach Director of the Arts Extension Service (AES). Dyan was interested in a community arts training course for the AES Summer Arts Management Institute. It seemed that the number of artists and arts organizations involved in arts-based community development had been exploding. Unfortunately many of the artists and arts organizations involved were unprepared for the extraordinary complexity of the work. At the Center for the Study of Art & Community (CSA&C), our research showed that these programs were often hampered by poorly developed partnerships among artists, arts organizations, and non-arts collaborators with little cross-sector collaborative experience.
We both agreed that the time had come to get serious about “community arts training.” This manifested as a three-day intensive at AES’s 1995 Summer Institute. The Community Arts Partnership curriculum was hatched by Dyan, community arts veterans Bob Leonard and Alice Lovelace, and me. The highly experiential arts-infused program emphasized the history and dynamics of arts and social change, equitable and accountable collaboration, and the moral and ethical dimensions of the work. Needless to say, they were a demanding three days. It was also a hit.
In the fall of 1997 Ann Haubrich, a participant in the second AES Community Arts Institute, contacted me to talk about creating a community arts training program for the St. Louis Regional Arts Commission (RAC). For some time RAC’s community arts investments had not lived up to expectations. That fact and Ann’s AES experience had convinced her that the time had come to start professionalizing the field in St. Louis. Using the AES format as a foundation, we designed a five-month training institute with the audacious goal of creating “a permanent cross-sector community arts partnership network for the St. Louis region.” Exceeding our most optimistic aims, the resulting Community Arts Training Institute (CAT) graduated its 25th class in the spring of 2023.
In the fall of 2001 Sandy Agustin, the artistic director of Intermedia Arts in Minneapolis, approached me about bringing the AES/CAT show to the Twin Cities. Intermedia artists had been working with Twin Cities communities addressing issues such as gentrification, substance abuse, and support for new immigrants. Like RAC, they were interested in investing in the sustained development of a creative leadership network. And, like their St. Louis counterparts, this commitment led to training programs presented in six Minnesota communities for more than 400 artists and their community partners over a 17-year period.
All told, the AES-spawned programs in St. Louis and Minneapolis trained over 1,000 creative community leaders. These graduates form a multi-community network that has produced arts-based community partnerships, programs, and policies in education, transportation, housing, public safety, healthcare, and community cultural development with demonstrated positive impact.
But that’s not all, the AES institute also planted the seeds for community arts leadership training programs in four other U.S. communities: Mississippi and Delaware (both state-wide), San Diego, CA, and Tulsa, OK, producing hundreds of other graduates.
That’s a lot to be proud of, but it's not the end of the story. In 2018 a conversation I had with AES Director Dee Boyle-Clapp brought AES’s prescient investment in community arts learning full circle. The result is a pioneering online course called Creative Community Leadership. Like its predecessors this new course explores how the arts can be used to spur social change, and advances skills needed to support cultural practice as a resource for collaborative, creative problem solving and innovation across multiple community sectors. And, like its fruitful forerunners, you never know where it will lead.
William Cleveland directs the Center for the Study of Art & Community and hosts the Change the Story/Change the World podcast. He is regarded as a pioneer in the cultural community development movement and one of its most poetic documenters. His books Art in Other Places and Art and Upheaval are considered seminal works in the field.