Creative Community Building through Cross-Sector Collaboration

Published in: GIA Reader, Vol 16, No 1 (Spring 2005)

Centre for Creative Communities in partnership with the MELINA Project. Reviewed by Judi Jennings, Kentucky Foundation for Women

2004. Centre for Creative Communities, 118 Commercial St., London E16NF, UK.

These two recent reports explore emerging policies and practices linking arts and culture to community improvement in the U. S. and western Europe. The Community Arts Network (CAN) Report, The State of the Field of Community Cultural Development summarizes a meeting of senior-level artists and cultural workers who gathered to reflect on lessons learned and develop new strategies for future action. Creative Community Building through Cross-Sector Collaboration, A European Mapping and Consultation Initiative is the result of a study, commissioned by the Ministry of Education in Greece and carried out in nine European countries, that explored the integration of the arts, culture, and heritage in the policies and practice of people who are primarily focused on social, health, and educational outcomes.

What both reports reveal is the clear emergence of hybrid sectors in which artists and cultural workers are joining together with social, health, and educational experts in new coalitions to address shared problems at the community level. Both reports also point out that new combinations and methods of public and private funding are keys to the continued vitality of these new efforts.

According to The CAN Report, "the most significant discovery resulting from this convening was the emergence of a new energy, a vibrant hybridity, an accelerated fusion of community-based arts and other fields of activity." Using artistic tools and cultural strategies to strengthen community relationships, improve health, and develop better educational practices means that, "the center of activity" is not just a new "field" but an "intersection of interests and commitments." The CAN Report calls on artists, cultural workers, policy makers, and funders to develop more "integrated thinking" that looks at arts and community development as a continuum rather than as separate spheres. Individual participants quoted in the report also called for more case studies to illustrate this new trend and comparisons with similar activities in other countries.

The extraordinarily well-written and thought-provoking study of Creative Community Building through Cross-Sector Collaboration provides the kind of cogent case studies called for in The CAN Report and examines a wide variety of western European models that promote creative new thinking about arts, culture, and civic development. It examines several case studies organized around three "values-based concepts" linking arts and culture to other "sectors": 1) "social inclusion" (such as work with juvenile offenders or homebound seniors), 2) "well-being" (including health-related projects that range from hospital aesthetics to new ways of encouraging regular medical checks for men in rural England), and 3) "creativity and learning" (encompassing both school-related projects and lifelong learning activities).

Questions and reflections about artistic quality, social impact, and sustainability are threaded through each section of case studies presented under the three major concepts. This approach is a model for the kind of integrated thinking called for in The CAN Report and grounds overarching questions in the realities of community practice. Unlike The CAN Report, which focuses on arts and cultural practitioners, Creative Community Building is primarily concerned with the impact of this new hybridity on participants, the community members who benefit most from the fusion of arts, culture, and local improvement efforts.

Although neither of these two reports is aimed mainly at funders, they raise interesting questions and point to new directions that membersof GIA might want to consider. What do art and culture have to offer to community development, health and well being, education, and civic engagement? Can arts and cultural activities have a social impact and still maintain high aesthetic standards of quality? Should arts and culture funders consider developing their own forms of "vibrant hybridity" as a strategy to meet the increasing demands on the philanthropic community? The two studies don't answer these questions but do provide important new ideas for funders to ponder.