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Six factors to consider when planning community arts programs

This is an excerpt from Arts and Cultural Programming by Gaylene Carpenter & Doug Blandy.

During the summer, after school, and on the weekends, young people and their elders throng to city recreation facilities, local community centers, and arts organizations. Festivals, fairs, circuses, and parades are aspects of the exciting community arts field. Part of the rituals of association, the community arts are a growing national movement that encompasses virtual realities as well as public plazas.

Though the nonarts and arts fields intersect in multiple arenas, they do have significant differences that play into the success or failure of joint programming between arts and recreation, city services, or social services. Recreation staff members frequently view the arts as an add-on to sports and other recreational activities. Artists often find community and recreation centers challenging environments to work in because their expertise and needs are often undervalued. The time and space needs of the arts differ from those of sports and other recreational activities, and the goals and values of arts programs may be underrepresented or misunderstood.

The following list includes six factors that influence community arts programming in recreation and community settings. Paying attention to these six factors will help to increase the likelihood that the community arts program meets the expectations of everyone involved. Recent research in planning after-school programs that include the arts, in partnership development and collaboration, will also assist the effective development of community-based arts projects with recreation programs. These factors include: expertise, time, space, organizational structures, goals, and values.

1. Expertise-Artists, arts administrators, and teaching artists are professionals who spend their lifetimes continuing their education in their respective crafts. Through their artistic skills and knowledge and their ability and experience in working with the target populations, arts professionals make a difference in the values and success of the programming. Arts classes offered by professional artists who are also professional teachers and educators affect the outcome of the arts events, and the success of the programs. The expertise of arts professionals needs to be recognized and utilized throughout the program planning, implementation, and evaluation.

2. Time-Time is critical to the success of any arts program. Often the time involved in planning, developing, and implementing arts programs is underestimated. Arts specialists and other community professionals who are working together must meet frequently and get acquainted with each other's knowledge and needs. For example, in a youth arts development project, all the participants, including artists, program staff, and youth leadership, should get to know the language and tools of the arts as well as the language and tools of the social service and community organizations involved. Time also affects the program participants: The time required for participation is frequently cited as a major difference between enrichment programs and arts programs. Arts classes require participation so that attendees build on the skills learned in the previous class sessions and so that participants can benefit from the teaching artist's expertise. Drop-in sessions common to recreation and enrichment programs can often work against the goals of an arts program. For instance, youths participating in a drama program at a Boys and Girls Club need to attend each class so that they can take part in the final productions that are planned as part of the community celebration.

3. Space-When arts and nonarts partnership programs are planned, it is critical to address the issue of space. When planning a music or drama program, space must be allocated for that program so that it does not interfere with the other activities of the organization and vice versa. Drama and music are loud activities-so be prepared! It is also important to establish expectations about the use of the space. When are students allowed in the allotted space? If there is a common area where participants convene before and after the program, who takes care of the common space? Also, where are arts supplies stored between classes?

4. Organizational structure-One of the biggest challenges that partnerships between arts and nonarts organizations face is negotiating their differences in organizational structures, leadership styles, and accounting systems. Blending the different organizational cultures takes leadership and careful attending to the steps necessary to achieving the desired outcomes. For instance, when arts programs are grant based, it is critical to decide who the fiscal agent is and how payment for personnel and supplies will be handled.

5. Goals-When arts and nonarts organizations join forces to create arts programming that dovetails with nonarts goals, the various groups involved in the programming will frequently define the purposes of the program in vastly different ways. Whereas the funding agency may believe that the purpose is to help kids stay in school, the kids may think that they are participating just to have fun. Meanwhile, the teaching artist may be planning to address social development or academic enhancement goals in very specific ways. The different program constituents may also have different ideas concerning the length of the program and issues of sustainability. Research has shown that creating a continuing relationship (lasting 2 years or longer) with a program participant influences the ability of an arts program to effect long-term change, and yet many artists and community organizations expect that their programs will stop at the end of a school term. Expectations regarding the length and the goals of the program need to be articulated from the outset.

6. Values-Articulating the values and missions of the participating arts and nonarts groups is essential to the success of the program. What are the various groups expecting from the program, and how will they know that they have achieved their objectives? How can the differing values of the participating organizations be respected and at the same time integrated to serve the larger goals of the program? As well, how the different partners articulate values for participation and outcomes affect the evaluation criteria of the program. How do the program partners define successful implementation? Clarifying each partner's role and relationship to these six factors will make a significant impact on the attitudes and outcomes, as well as sustainability, of community-based arts projects.

This is an excerpt from Arts and Cultural Programming: A Leisure Perspective.

More Excerpts From Arts and Cultural Programming