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Initiative aims to connect arts, community

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By Todd Cohen

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — Teaming up with local arts councils, Salem College has launched a two-year effort that aims through community partnerships to “harness” the power of the arts to help build community.

“The arts are incredibly powerful,” says Doug Borwick, director of the not-for-profit management and arts management programs at Salem College. “They have the power to transform individual lives. They have the power to transform communities.”

But the majority of the population “does not see, understand or necessarily believe that to be the case,” he says.

Initial plans for the new effort, known as the Piedmont Triad Initiative for Community Arts, include compiling a registry that will highlight existing programs and ideas, and spur new ones, for using the arts to help build communities in the region, and integrating the arts into efforts to keep students in local schools.

“We are looking for existing demonstration projects and desiring to serve as a catalyst for new ones,” says Borwick.

As a result of the “culture wars” of the late 1980s and early 90s, Borwick says, he recognized that “no politician paid any price for beating up on the arts, and no politician gained any significant leverage by supporting the arts.”

That lesson was a “real wakeup call,” he says. “It acknowledged that, in the broad population, there’s a huge disconnect between what I call the ‘established’ arts organizations and the individual in the street.”

For the past five years, he says, he has learned about Animating Democracy, a program of Americans for the Arts, and the Community Arts Network, a program of Art in the Public Interest, two national efforts that serve as clearinghouses for information about the use of the arts to build community.

The new initiative, a partnership of Salem College and the High Point Area Arts Council, United Arts Council of Greater Greensboro, and Arts Council of Winston-Salem and Forsyth County, aims to raise $60,000 to $70,000 to support its operations and individual civic projects, plus additional funds for education initiatives, Borwick says.

Funding so far totals $20,000, including support from Salem College, the United Arts Council of Greater Greensboro, the Charles Babcock Jr. Field of Interest Fund at the Winston-Salem Foundation, the Arts Council of Winston-Salem and Forsyth County, the state of North Carolina, and the National Endowment for the Arts.

The effort kicked off with two community forums in November, one attracting 60 representatives of arts and community organizations in the three cities, and the other attracting 45 community leaders.

Now, the initiative is looking for demonstration projects that address student engagement in elementary, middle and high schools in Forsyth and Guilford counties.

It also aims to team up with the Piedmont Triad Partnership, a group that serves 12 counties, to present workshops on making more effective use of the arts and culture in economic development.

The arts can play a catalytic role in social change, Borwick says.

In Los Angeles, for example, a nonprofit theater troupe known as the Los Angeles Poverty Department, or LAPD, consists of homeless persons who develop and present their own work, “giving themselves voice, which is personally transforming,” Borwick says, but also “getting their stories in front of people who would otherwise never hear them.”

In the Triad, the Winston-Salem Arts Institute offers intensive summer programs for young people who lack one or more significant elements of family support.

The programs teach writing, cinematography and technical skills the children can use to tell their own stories.

“The more of this kind of thing that can be done in a city,” Borwick says, “the better off a city is.”

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