Groundswell, the community engagement arm of the Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance, held a community engagement forum last Thursday, January 22, In honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service.
The forum, meant to provide an open discussion on the tremendous impact that arts and culture is having in our communities, began with a brief speech from Maud Lyon, the new president of the Cultural Alliance. She spoke about how the best way to increase support for the arts is to share how they make a difference in communities.
“At the Alliance, we feel that best way to increase support is to share the story of our work. Your work,” said Lyon. “Research shows that people want to donate to organizations that are making a measurable impact on people and lives in communities, and that’s what we have to get better at as a sector at communicating to people.”
Here’s an overview of four leaders who spoke at the forum about community engagement at their arts organizations in the city.
The intersection of mental health and the mural arts program
Arthur C. Evans, Jr, Ph.D, Philadelphia’s behavioral health commissioner, shared how the Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual disAbility Services works with the Mural Arts program.
One specific project Evans spoke about was the Bridging the Gap Mural, which brought together members of the West African immigrant and African American communities in Southwest Philadelphia to address the conflict in their community and co-create a visual representation of their relationship building efforts.
Image (c) 2008 City of Philadelphia Mural Arts Program / Willis Humphrey Photo (c) JackRamsdale.com. Used by permission.
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Evans also noted that the murals helped DBHIDS connect with a community that they wouldn’t have been able to do if it wasn’t for the art project.
“We continue [the relationship] today, and we are working with that community around mental health issues, which are pretty significant, because if you remember many of the people who come from that part of the world are coming from war torn countries with significant amounts of trauma that goes untreated.
The struggle to engage parents and the community at Taller Puertorriqueno
Photo of the panelists. (Image via Groundswell)
Asdrey Irizarry, education director at Taller Puertorriqueno, spoke about two of the education programs she runs a Taller Puertorriqueno, the Youth Artist Program and Cultural Explorations Program. Taller’s YAP program provides students an opportunity to build a solid portfolio of work for art college applications or other post-secondary pursuits. Irizarry mentioned that many students have went on to fine arts colleges and stayed in touch about what they’re doing.
Cultural Explorations is for younger children, ages 5 to 14, for which engagement with parents through the program can be a struggle, noting that parents often see them them as daycare, although they’re working to engage parents as well as the surrounding community.
“We’re getting the community more involved with us. They’re changing their perspective of who we are and what we are doing, so we have more people coming in to help us out,” she said.
Engaging People at PEC through Community Art
Cassandra Green, manager of community outreach and partnerships at PEC People’s Emergency Center, spoke about how it’s been tough engaging the community. For example, around the Lancaster Avenue Arts and Jazz Festival. They had 3,000 visitors last year, she said, “but it took a lot of marketing and PR and on the ground work to let people know that this is an event that is all inclusive.”
Another program Green spoke at length about was the Neighborhood Time Exchange: West Philadelphia Artist Residency. The program was created by by the founders of Broken City Lab, who will be curating the residency in collaboration with PEC, the Mural Arts Program, and the Office of Arts, Culture and the Creative Economy (OACCE).
For the program, a community gives artists studio space in which they can develop their work. In return for studio hours, artists will be expected to apply their art skills to neighborhood needs and revitalization efforts, such as the community message board Generocity.org covered last year.
Getting Students involved in Community Service
Mary Javian, director of professional development and community engagement at Curtis Institute of Music, founded Curtis’ first community engagement program while still a student. Now, community engagement is a required class at Curtis.
“They have to complete in a semester 15 hours in a community service program as part of their education,” Javian said, mentioning that students get to choose from a lot of different partnerships, including Mighty Writers, Asian Arts Initiative, schools, and hospitals.
They can also complete the Community Artists Program later on, which is a full year program where they’re given mentor and a budget to create a project of their own design.
“I personally feel that the arts needs to continue to work with social programs to create social and artistic value within the community,” she said.
Learn more about Groundswell at https://www.philaculture.org/groundswell
Image of Maud Lyon (top) via Kristen Gillette-30-
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