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Six Ways the Arts Can Strengthen Community Development

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May 31, 2016

In a recent article at Shelterforce, a magazine that covers community development, Danya Sherman looked at six strategies for using the arts to strengthen community resiliency and further the conversation around equitable housing. The strategies are broken up into categories that were first identified by ArtPlace America in a field scan on how arts and culture interact with public safety. The six categories in which arts can play a role include:


According to Sherman, artists, “by working to express situations through non-verbal, non-analytical strategies, can help unearth important conditions, encouraging identification, empathy and understanding of common barriers and problems and the impacts of them.” Some examples of artists helping to articulate community needs include Project Row Houses in Houston and Mel Chin’s “Safehouse.”


Arts organizations can play a vital role in supporting the success of affordable housing projects – and other city services – once they are put in place. City spaces require a human element, i.e. aesthetic or functional touches that make a space feel welcoming and supportive, in order to be successful over the long term. Artistic interventions provide this opportunity. The Haven, a homeless services organization in Charlotteseville, partnered with New City Arts for the Housing2Home program, which employed artists to contribute work in the residences of recently homeless individuals.


Advocates for affordable housing can use artistic practice to inspire and enliven the organizing process. According to Sherman, “Arts and design-oriented strategies and interventions help educate, empower, and create space for shared decision-making in a housing and community development context.”


Cultural programming has the potential to bring groups together that are otherwise segregated. “Meaningful interactions through the arts can slowly build strong bonds that are fundamental to community development work,” says Theresa Hwang, the director of the Department of Places in California.


Community-based groups have reported that the arts help anchor communities that are facing displacement. Groups such as the Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative are involving local artists in neighborhood stabilization efforts, including the establishment of community land trusts and  other mechanisms.


When it is designed to benefit existing residents, creative placemaking can play an important role in generating new narratives for under resourced communities. Some examples include Theaster Gates’ work in Chicago and Northeast Shoes, a Community Development Corporation (CDC) in Cleveland.

Read the full article here.

This resource brought to you by the National Guild for Community Arts Education.