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Common Characteristics of Effective [Arts-based Community Development] Programmes

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Americans for the Arts, a nonprofit organisation, conducted research of more than 850 arts-based community development programmes in the United States. The purpose of the research, which used telephone interviews, focus group discussions, site visits, and evaluations, was to determine which elements have contributed to the success of existing programmes.


Successful programmes were found to:

  • Use existing community resources - existing community arts programmes, as well as individual community members, can contribute resources such as work space and information about which community needs and age groups the arts should address.
  • Establish partnerships - partners may include local arts agencies, museums, arts organisations, youth groups, schools, resident councils, community organisations, police departments, and other local government agencies. These groups contribute experience, creativity, resources, energy, and access, and help build a base of support for a programme within the community.
  • Hire committed artists/teachers - artists must work to understand the community and its residents. Many artists serve as mentors and role models for young participants.
  • Network with community members - effective programmes meet regularly with citizens to seek feedback, collect ideas for making programmes more inclusive, and discuss future plans and possibilities.
  • Create a safe environment - arts programmes can serve as a refuge from community problems like substance abuse, gang activity, and violence. Use of pragmatic approaches to sustain a safe environment range from asking participants to sign in and sign out, prohibiting unauthorised visitors, and setting up "community policing" efforts provide security during programme hours.
  • Encourage family involvement - in youth programmes, for example, parents are encouraged to meet with teachers, volunteer for field trips, and to stop by to see their child's creative work.
  • Offer comprehensive services - in some arts programmes for older Americans, elders are provided with free or inexpensive meals, transportation, and health advice (a social worker on staff helps with home care and medical and counseling referrals).

The conclusion is drawn that community-based arts programmes that are successful in some or all of these ways are notable in that they build community, especially by "building innovative partnerships between diverse sectors of the community". Reflecting on a community-based arts programme in Seattle, the city's mayor is quoted as saying, "The arts really play an intervention role. They really play a self-esteem role. And when kids feel good about themselves, they can combat some of the negative elements they are exposed to."


Click here for the full article on the Americans for the Arts site.

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