The art of community transformation.

Lowe, S.S. (2001). The art of community transformation. Education and Urban Society, 33, 457-471.

Abstract:

This study describes how community arts programs support the development of a sense of community. The researcher defines “sense of community” as an interconnection among community residents characterized by “private, organic relationships that share common interests” (p. 458). The researcher bases her findings on an evaluation research study of a non-profit program that uses art to forge a sense of community among residents in low-income, urban neighborhoods. In this study, she gathered data on the program through observations, interviews with professional community artists, and analysis of program record data. Her findings suggest that community art programs help forge community when they: (1) take place in a setting that creates a safe and fun atmosphere; (2) provide opportunities for people to express themselves creatively through art and at the same time build community by having people work together, make decisions collaboratively, and celebrate accomplishments; and (3) have a professional artist to guide the process.

Key Findings:

For community art to be effective the following components should be in present:

  • Community art must take place in a setting that creates a safe and fun atmosphere.
  • Community art projects should provide opportunities for people to express themselves creatively through art and at the same time build community by having people work together, make decision collaboratively, and celebrate accomplishments.
  • Community art projects should be guided by a professional artist.

Significance of the Findings:

The article presents the conditions that must be met for an arts program to be effective in building a sense of community. Those interested in implementing a community arts program may use this study as a guide during the planning process to ensure they incorporate these important elements into the project.

Methodology:

The evaluator focused on a program funded by a nonprofit organization that uses community arts projects to build a sense of community in urban, low-income neighborhoods. Two of the program’s projects were the foci of the evaluation, a community mural project and a play production. The evaluator interviewed nine of the professional community artists, and conducted 30 field visits to the project sites to identify the components most necessary for the project to succeed.

Limitations of the Research:

The evaluator based the finding of the evaluation of one program, which engaged the arts to build community. The results might not be generalizable to other community arts programs. The evaluator did not interview community members participating in the project, which could have provided a broader perspective of what they believe is essential and why they participate in the project. It would be important to learn from the community members why and how the program was effective in building a sense of community.

Questions to Guide New Research:

Besides the three elements listed in this study, what other elements are important for a community arts program to be effective? What other effects do community arts programs have on participants and the wider community? How long is the increased sense of community sustained, and does it last beyond project participation?