Once upon a time civics was taught in our schools in which students had the opportunity to develop into engaged citizens. Today only eight states require that civics be taught at all. I just returned from the National Guild for Community Arts Education in Chicago where I had the opportunity to participate in a pre-conference presented by Michael Rohd of the Center for Performance and Civic Practice on developing such a practice using the arts as the driver.
I became to wonder what it would be like to imagine our work as exchange, not just presentation. I began to envision the possibilities of becoming a community resource not just a space for the dissemination of culture. Don’t get me wrong, I think the Creative Arts Center does an amazing job of building community through creating art through the use of a strong studio practice. And I think we are addressing key social issues for underserved, marginalized and at-risk communities through such programming as ArtAbility, Camp MetalHead and unseenamerica as well as exciting collaborations with The Bridge and Café Momentum. But civic practice using teaching artists working with individuals and groups to build healthier and more equitable communities is formidable work that impacts advocacy, dialogue, story sharing and capacity building. Rather than simply transactional, it is purposeful, intentional and authentic.
One example of that process is a collaboration with Art 180 and Legal Aid in Richmond, Virginia which addresses the issue of mass incarceration intervening in the school to prison pipeline and creating a dialogue between young people and law enforcement. Chicago Young Authors and Kuumba Lynx Performance Ensemble are two groups employing spoken word, hip hop and rap to meet kids where they live and breathe. All you need to do is pick up a newspaper to see what is relevant in the lives of young people in many Chicago neighborhoods like just being able to safely walk to and from school. I came back from an exciting week in arts education in Chicago made all the more wonderful by the Cubs World Series win to an election that has changed the world as we thought we knew it overnight.
Now even more than ever we will need this kind of work in our communities that give youth the voice they deserve to become active and engaged future citizens.