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The New Work of Building Civic Practice

While written in 2012, Michael Rohd's article from Howlround rings true and relevant today. Michael lays out an argument for how and why artists can engage in meaningful civic practice through community partnerships.

"Activity evolves from a shared, generous curiosity and a co-investment in public work. And at the root of this body of practice is the need to listen, over time, so as to discover how the artist assets and the partner needs may serve each other in surprising moments and previously unimagined forms."

The author also provides some wonderful exmaples of community-embedded work:

  • "Appalshop’s Thousand Kites is a national dialogue project addressing the criminal justice system.
  • Los Angeles Poverty Department’s long-time work advocating for and working with homeless collaborators on Skid Row.
  • Ping Chong and Company’s Undesirable Elements Series, now creating thematically specific story-sharing models based on the needs of partners that contact them, such as their Secret Survivors Production.
  • Marty Pottenger’s work as full-time artist in residence for the City of Portland, Maine learning the needs of those at work in Municipal Government and creating programming with Civic Application.
  • Sojourn Theater’s work with the New River Valley Planning Commission and Virginia Tech in five rural Virginia Counties using part of Sojourn’s interactive production built to make spaces for dialogue and create a Public Engagement tool with Civic Application.
  • Lookingglass Theater Company’s work in Chicago with Alzheimer’s patients and their caregivers using the power of Cross-Sector Innovation to address challenging health and long term care issues."

The ArtsEngage team has been lucky enough to work with one of these practitioners, Marty Pottenger, and to share her work. Click here for a summary and partial recording of Marty's 2020 ArtsEngage webinar, Putting Creativity to Work on Impossible Challenges, and here to read more about Art at Work.

Read the Article

You can find additional information from Michael Rohd in his follow-up article, New Civic Practice Case Studies.


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Doug Borwick is a US-based artist, arts administrator, and leading advocate for community engagement in the arts.

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