Arts impact

Benefits are engagement, diversity, problem-solving, sharing stories.

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Yesterday, I met some of the greatest people I have met in some time. It was the first day of my new internship. I am a Duke student interning this summer in Winston-Salem, dealing with the as-of-yet amorphous goal of studying its minority youth community.

One of the organizations I was sent to is the Winston-Salem Youth Arts Institute, formerly the Summer Youth Film and Theater Institute. The institute is magnificent. For the past two years, a small group of remarkable personalities have created an intensive, five-week, summer institute of art that molds kids considered at-risk into authors.

Auditions are held, and the core group (that is growing from the original 14 to almost 30 with findings of undeniable potential) writes, creates, and then performs all of their own material. This material (monologues, stories, poems, raps), presented through acting, dance, film, and the visual arts, is an indelible expression of the lives and insights of these aged children. They become wonderful artists and fountains of wisdom, and they continue to perform.

The artistic product of the first year, the integrated result of the ensemble, was a groundbreaking production called “Home and Hood.” I watched them rehearse yesterday, and then I sat in on auditions for the institute’s third year.

These children have so much to say and they are rarely asked. These are born artists. I can say no more. Just imagine the circumstances, and let me tell you that the transformations facilitated by such remarkable artistic expression are immense (oh, the words these children deliver).

Above all, instead of being asked to pay a fee for this invaluable opportunity, these children are offered a stipend for their whole-hearted participation. These are kids whose wishes are to pull their parents out of debt. They may earn $100 a week for the five weeks of the institute. It is not just their spirit that finds sustenance in this project.

I highly recommend for you to participate in this endeavor. Come to a performance. It is wonderful. And beyond that, this program has been sustaining itself almost impossibly on sparse funding and contributions.

Let’s undertake a swift and concrete answer to the question “How can the arts build community?” They are building a community in Winston-Salem. Honestly, we should facilitate the construction.

Haley Hoffman, intern, Forsyth Youth Council for Families and Children and the Winston-Salem Youth Arts Institute

The same way as everyone else can — by being willing to take the time to listen to others, learning to deal with difficult issues, bridging differences with integrity, relating with compassion and respect and welcoming and affirming diversity.

There is a technology that teaches these principles. It is called community building — imagine that. It was begun by Dr. M. Scott Peck after the success of the book The Road Less Traveled.

Bonnie Poindexter, interim director, WS/Forsyth County Arts Council


I direct a small women’s transitional shelter in Seattle that runs an art therapy program.

We have seen wonderful sharing and community building through our use of arts and volunteer art students from the University of Washington.

At the very least, working in the arts gives residents a sense of creativity and accomplishment.

Susan Clifford Jamroski, director of development and community relations, Sojourner Place, Seattle.

I was associated with The Scrap Exchange in Durham, N.C., for many years and one of its incidental byproducts was a great community-building effect.

One could always see people of very different backgrounds working side by side at our “make and take” events because they were free to the participants and the hands-on nature of the activity was inviting and easy for everyone.

The activity loosened people up, made them smile, and empowered to do their own arts projects after our staff left the scene.

The loyalty and affection that people had for the organization derived, I think, from the fact that we were listening and facilitating, not imposing a project on them.

People also seemed to really need a community nexus that promoted creativity in general and supported what they did as teachers, artists and parents.

The Scrap Ex store offered them this with pleasant sociability and, again, it was affordable.

When we had to move the store, we proactively sought a downtown location, which we hoped would support grassroots development in Durham by drawing our constituents from other cities and other parts of Durham to the Central Park.

I feel sure that under its new director, staff and board, The Scrap Exchanage continues to play a community building role.

Its focus and programs may change, but the key is that its central art idea is participatory, instead of the typical passive arts experience.

I believe any arts organization can increase its community-building impact by seeing and facilitating the artists in the “audience,” and going to the community, or at least making it as easy and affordable as possible for the community to come to it.

Pat Hoffman, program coordinator, Women’s Studies at Duke, Duke University, Durham, N.C.

The arts can build community by bringing out the hidden insecurities and problems we have in the world, and give us ideas of how to prevent these problems from spreading.

Through visual arts, music, theater and dance, we can see and hear how our communities can become closer and trust one another.

The arts are about relationships, and without relationships we can’t build communities.

The arts have so many cultures within their disciplines working together every day to make this world a better place.

If people would take time to learn about the arts we would build better communities.

Erik Waller, Alexandria, Va.

Living in our society requires a great deal of sameness.

We are expected to take a number, stand in line, apply for licenses, get inspections, pay our taxes, and meet deadlines.

The arts lead us to express what is unique about ourselves.

We each have a story to tell that is unlike anyone else’s.

In artistic expression, we locate those details that are ours and only ours. How can the arts build community?

Community comes from sharing these real stories with one other, from connecting with one another on a personal level.

Here is an example of a community-building project in the arts from my organization, Writers in the Schools, or WITS, in Houston, Texas.

In an effort to widen our circle of partnership, WITS collaborated with Interfaith Ministries, IM, in April to provide a writing workshop for refugees, mostly from Sudan and Kenya.

Julie Eberly, director of community outreach, and refugee services volunteer, musician and photographer Rodney Waters approached WITS with the initial idea.

The writing project was a part of IM’s 3rd Annual Herzstein Interfaith Day of Service and served as a way for volunteers to build friendships through writing and storytelling, while working alongside others of different faiths.

Program Director Bao-Long Chu, a former refugee himself, served as the writing facilitator for 25 volunteers and refugees.

The refugees were asked to trace their hands onto a piece of paper and then imagine the story of their life as seen through their hands.

Personal stories were recounted and written down.

First-grader Bertand “Bobby” R. wrote:

My hand was born with me in Kenya, September 1996. I was a very big
baby. It was not a good time because of the war. My grandpa was killed. Mom and Grandma were smart so they left Kenya and the war and brought me to America on a plane. I waved goodbye with my right hand to Kenya and said hello with my left hand to Houston.”

IM’s mission is to build relationships with the various faith communities represented in Houston.

IM assists refugees by locating and securing adequate housing; coordinating English instruction; developing employment opportunities; and helping with family reunification.

Kat Mims, president of WITS board of directors and a member of the advisory board for IM’s Youth Leadership Council, observed that “this was the first time the Sudanese refugees had a chance to tell their stories.”

She continued, “The writing project was important in that it brought the Houston community and the refugees together. These are stories that should be shared.”

Robin Reagler, executive director, Writers in the Schools (WITS), Houston. 

The problem with the arts is that productions are often too expensive.

It’s impossible for a single mother of three to take her children to the theater or ballet: It would cost her a week’s salary.

I think nonprofit arts organizations should be offered grants through foundations, or programs such as Arts Orange County, for offering sliding-scale tickets and arts classes for families.

While there may be great programs in the schools, I know my children don’t come home and talk about them.

But if we saw a production together, or took a music class together, these would be life-long memories and inspire my children to appreciate the arts in their later years.

I love the arts because my dad, a wealthy physician, took me to see 42nd Street, Porgy and Bess, The Nutcracker, Phantom of the Opera and others, not because I went with my school to watch an orchestra performance.

Stephanie Dufour, Costa Mesa, Calif.

In our experience, the arts really created a community of like-minded people.

By conducting monthly concerts and meetings with local immigrants from Russia, our organization built a support base big enough to pull off a citywide Russian Community Festival “Russian Mosaic” last year on Penn’s Landing, and became, de-facto, central to the arts development in the area.

Michael Zorich, vice president, marketing and development, Creative Collective Arts Center, Philadelphia.

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