By Amalia Mesa-Bains

The Community Art Research and Convening Project begun in 2006 has hosted three convenings and sponsored three writing projects. Each Convening has been preceded by a call for writing aimed at establishing a body of scholarship supporting the field of community arts. This has been accomplished as part of an open, inclusive process of writing, reflection and research.

Through these three writing cycles, submissions were received and approved through an editorial review process, with specific efforts made to include a diverse group of community arts theorists, practitioners and community scholars with the goal of publishing the best thinking currently shaping the field. The Project has demonstrated how critical this ongoing dialogue is to promoting the long-term relationships that are essential to the growth, wellbeing and documentation of the community arts. This online journal is now firmly established and increasingly recognized as the academic journal and resource for the field.

Over the years, a unique intersection of arts practitioners, scholars and students have developed a contemporary view of the diverse field of community arts. The first year of journal essays focused on four themes including Critical Pedagogy in the Academy, Partnerships: Campus and Community, Community Practices: Values, Beliefs and Aesthetic Forms and Community Arts and Artist. The overall goal of these groups was the production of material that would address the principles, practices and action steps related to their area or theme.

In the second year, the Project continued to emphasize the value of shared learning within an inclusive process of writing, reflection and research. In moving forward in preparation for the convening, the writing process model was revised to include online writing clusters. Specific efforts were made to build a national dialogue on broader community arts issues by including the regional perspectives of community arts theorists and practitioners from around the country. This initiative included the development of California-based community groups including the CSUMB (California State University Monterey Bay) community arts program around Latino issues, the Latino Dialogue and the East Bay group from the Iron Triangle of Richmond.

Six national dialogues were awarded funding to develop texts for the journal and to promote substantive dialogues on topics of national importance: The Pratt Center for Community Development; Caribbean Cultural Center/African Diaspora Institute, The Latino Dialogue; The Iron Triangle Legacy Project; The Curriculum Project Dialogues; and Alternate ROOTS, Resources for Social Change. These dialogues were published online, as were the first year’s collection of texts, via the Community Arts Network.

In this year’s Journal, emphasis was placed on the historical aspect of organizations and collectives from several regions working on projects in community arts settings.

From its inception the journal has continually sought to spur innovation and new insights in and about the field. In a time of diminishing resources in communities and on campuses this has become an even greater challenge. As is often the case in times of scarcity, it is essential to cultivate group life with a sense of generosity and hope. These journal writings reflect the best of these collaborative and rooted narratives in community life. To this end, each writing group was provided resources to select a writing coach and received ongoing writing feedback from the staff of the Project. As a result, the Project is proud to present the following collection of narratives, scholarly analysis, community histories, poetry and visual images that honor the rich, varied, miltifaceted approaches to community arts.

Writing Groups

The five writing groups represent a unique blend of artists, community practitioners, historians, scholars and students.

The San Francisco-based International Hotel (I-Hotel) writing group investigates the decades-old history of community resistance and empowerment around housing for the Asian immigrant elderly, urban development and community displacement. This writing introduces the history and spirit of the community through the lens of the artists who worked hand in hand with activists to bring visibility to this long-term struggle. The merging of text and image captures the themes of social history, community life, the role of artist in community and a rich and diverse ethnic legacy.

Littleglobe artists, writers, dancers, filmmakers, musicians and community/cultural leaders bring insight to a collaborative model embedded in the deep regional history of New Mexico and the southwest U.S. Eleven essays explore the complexity and rich diversity of this ancient landscape and its people while illuminating powerful examples of creative practice and community transformation — from nursing homes to tribal life in projects spanning theater, dance, music, poetry and visual art making.

The Community Arts University Without Walls (CAUWW) writing group formed to establish a certificate program in community arts that addresses the challenge of educating community members in an era of escalating college costs. This collective of educators, artists and students has drafted an interdisciplinary curriculum, building coursework and evaluation models that reflect the principles of social justice, cultural equity and the artistic practices of diverse communities. In a collaborative exchange among the Caribbean Cultural Center/African Diaspora Institute, the New York University, MICA and the Centro de Estudios Avanzados de Puerto Rico y El Caribe the writers developed course work and community-sponsored residencies. These essays address both process and product in this visionary program.

The Baltimore United Viewfinders illuminates the process for working with a vibrant collection of youth living in distressed neighborhoods of Baltimore. The project uses graphic, photographic and video media that engages these youth in the examination of civic life, individual and collective voice, leadership development and service to community.

The Ritual of Healing writing group takes on a rarely discussed process of grief, remembrance and healing within community. This essay provides an in-depth case study of loss and remembrance in a cancer center where the artist collaborates with chaplaincy, social work and medical providers in the creation of a Service of Remembrance for grieving families and staff. Art’s role in rituals for meaning-making provides the context for this delicate narrative of mourning and loss, in which the true transformative and healing potential of art is revealed.

Convening Reports

At this year’s Convening, a gathering of practitioners and educators from across the country shared their own projects, practices and insights. Three of these presentations have been published as convening reports including, “Helping the Field Flourish: Community Arts Research,” “Alternate ROOTS Resources for Social Change” and “Arts and Democracy Bazaar: Challenging the School-to-prison Path.”

The following essays were developed through a long-term process with committed authors who represent the deep connectedness, history and potential that is the field of community arts.

Amalia Mesa-Bains, Ph.D., is an artist and cultural critic. Her artworks, primarily interpretations of traditional Chicano altars, resonate both in contemporary formal terms and in their ties to her Chicano community and history. She has pioneered the documentation and interpretation of Chicano traditions in Mexican-American art and is a leader in the field of community arts. Among her many awards is the distinguished MacArthur Fellowship. She is Professor Emerita in the Visual and Public Art department at California State University at Monterey Bay.