Center for Cultural Exchange
African in Maine Case Study: Center for Cultural Exchange [PDF]
by Bau Graves, Juan Lado, and Patricia Romney

The Center for Cultural Exchange’s African in Maine aimed to build culture and community by assisting three newcomer African communities in Portland with developing cultural programming that would represent  their respective cultures and people. Dialogue occurred first within each of the Sudanese, Congolese, and Somali groups and second between individual African groups and the wider, white community of “Mainers.” The project aimed to address how cultural representation (or misrepresentation) can impact public perception of refugee communities and aimed to build a broader awareness of the diversity and conflicts affecting these newcomer African communities. It also sought to identify what constitutes valued cultural resources for these groups and how these reources might be recognized and supported. 

The African in Maine case study, written by Bau Graves and Juan Lado (with a preface and reflections by Animating Democracy project liaison Dr. Patricia Romney), challenges the concept and illuminates the realities of “dialogue” within and between cultures, particularly with respect to divided immigrant and refugee communities. This case study deepens understanding of the significant internal differences that exist within each African national group—tribal, generational, religious, immigrant/refugee, and gender—and how these differences need to be taken into account. Furthermore, it explores language and cultural differences between the center’s predominantly white U.S. staff members and the immigrant groups and also examines the role of an “outsider” cultural organization in fostering cultural democracy.

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The Esperanza Peace & Justice Center
Arte Es Vida Case Study: The Esperanza Peace & Justice Center [PDF]
by Graciela Sanchez with preface by Andrea Assaf

Arte es Vida is an ongoing program of the Esperanza Peace & Justice Center in San Antonio. Supported by Animating Democracy from 2001 to 2003, Arte es Vida addresses issues of cultural equity and democracy, examining “the role of artistic and cultural expression in a society that inherits the deep wounds, economic and political disparities, and continuing practices of injustice that are the legacy of cultural domination in the United States.” It explores cultural grounding—the concept that a strong sense of selfhood and identity, as rooted in creative expression and cultural practice, is necessary to empower marginalized communities and individuals to participate actively in public dialogue and civic life. In addition to creating, facilitating, and presenting art and cultural events, the Esperanza hosts pláticas (community dialogues) facilitated by animadoras (trained Esperanza staff, artists, and community members).

In telling the story of Arte es Vida, Executive and Artistic Director Graciela Sanchez details four areas of activity within the larger project that reveal underlying cultural, political, and philosophical dimensions of the Esperanza’s practice. These areas are: (1) community revisioning of labor leader Emma Tenayuca; (2) the effort to preserve La Gloria Building and other cultural landmarks in Chicano/Mexicano neighborhoods; (3) the conflict of values within San Antonio’s Westside community; and (4) historical conflicts between Chicanos and Mexicanos in San Antonio. She also articulates a clear statement on the significance of culture itself as a civic issue. The preface, written by Animating Democracy staff liaison Andrea Assaf, highlights some key points of the case study, particularly those that illuminate the role of arts-based civic dialogue work in a cultural organization oriented toward civic action and activism.

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Hawai'i Alliance for Arts Education
The Kamehameha I Statue Conservation Project Case Study: Hawai'i Alliance for Arts Education [PDF]
by Pam Korza

On the island of Hawai’i, residents of the rural region of Kohala deliberated how best to conserve a statue of King Kamehameha I—a hero revered as the indigenous unifier of the Hawai’ian islands and native son to Kohala: should the statue be restored to gilded bronze, the original intent of the mainland artist; or should it be repainted in life-like colors, thereby continuing a longstanding community tradition? Through the respectful collaboration of the Hawai’i Alliance for Arts Education, conservator Glenn Wharton, and the Kohala community's leaders and cultural practitioners, multiple gatherings and activities were designed to engage local residents in the decision-making process. Exploring the question of whether to paint or gild the statue helped to deepen understanding of Hawai’ian history and its connection to cultural identity and traditions. As a result, the links between cultural identity, heritage preservation, and current issues of land and economic development became even clearer. The project fostered a heightened sense of responsibility toward the statue, which has, in turn, helped people to see their role in the larger issues of cultural preservation facing Kohala. 

This case study, written by Animating Democracy Co-Director Pam Korza, points to the potency of history and traditional cultural forms as vehicles for connecting the past to the present and the future. It reveals how historical, social, and political structures affect public participation in civic matters today and how cultural grounding can empower disenfranchised groups to participate in civic life. In addition, the project illuminates the importance of understanding and respecting cultural norms of communication and exchange that affect how people engage in civic matters.

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Northern Lakes Center for the Arts
The Water Project [PDF]
by Cheryl Yuen

Water is a critical life-force for the small community of Amery, Wisconsin. The Water Project was a multidisciplinary exploration into the issue of water—its use and abuse. Between November 2000 and December 2001, artists working in different art forms presented creative strategies for discussing perspectives on water, including: a reading and publication of new writings inspired by water; an adaptation of Ibsen’s An Enemy of the People to present-day Amery; a chamber orchestra concert featuring water-related classical repertoire juxtaposed with newly commissioned work; the creation of Amery’s first three-dimensional piece of public art; and an exhibition of photography chronicling life along Amery’s Apple River. 

This project illuminated the vital role that a local arts agency can play in catalyzing and linking public interest and discourse around a key civic issue in a small community. It examined the training and use of community members as facilitators for dialogue, particularly highlighting the vital role that young people can play; the potential to employ both classic and new work as a stimulus for dialogue; the tailoring of dialogue techniques to the art presented, as well as its anticipated participants; and the effectiveness of joining forces with other partners to build understanding and awareness around an issue. 

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Out North Contemporary Art House
Understanding Neighbors: Art-Inspired Dialogue Bridges Diverse Viewpoints About Same-Sex Relationships [PDF]
by Lynn E. Stern

In 2003, Understanding Neighbors brought together nearly 100 citizens in Anchorage, AK, in a month-long series of dialogues to address one of the community’s most contentious civic questions: “What is the social, moral, and legal place of same-sex couples in our society?” Understanding Neighbors, a collaborative project sponsored by Out North Contemporary Art House, in partnership with the Interfaith Council of Anchorage and Alaska Common Ground, aimed to foster respectful dialogue and mutual understanding among community members holding divergent views on this question.  Artists Peter Carpenter, Sara Felder, and Stephan Mazurek created eight performance-based video works derived from interviews with community members to serve as dialogue catalysts. Using a dialogue approach based on a Public Conversations Project model, the project trained 25 community volunteers to facilitate dialogues. To engage a mix of Alaskans with socially conservative, moderate, and liberal viewpoints on the topic, the project implemented a broad-based recruitment and media strategy.

This case study reveals project organizers’ discoveries in relation to employing art with a “point of view” in dialogues, as well as in relation to tensions between creative autonomy and civic intent in creating the artistic work. In addition, given Out North’s activist-oriented leadership and previous work, the case study also examines the benefits and pitfalls of Out North’s effort to position itself as a more neutral space in order to encourage diverse participation, and also endeavors to answer the key questions that this prompted about civic dialogue as a means to achieve Out North’s vision for social change in its community.

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Hip Hop Mental Health Project (HHMHP) [PDF]
by Suzanne Callahan and contributing writers Jane Jerardi and Caitlin Servilio with artist reflections by Rha Goddess

Artist Rha Goddess’s Hip Hop Mental Health Project (HHMHP) seeks to contribute to shifting the cultural paradigm of shame and alienation surrounding mental illness, and satisfy a need for a SAFE place to confront the issue and obtain vital information. Through the integration of performance and dialogue, the HHMHP works to impact public discourse and values among urban communities in a way that educates about the signs, symptoms, and spiraling course of mental illness, and to explore possible solutions to the contributing life stressors of societal stigma and the difficulties of an overtaxed mental health system. A key creative component of the project is LOW, Goddess’s one-woman performance that unflinchingly depicts the human reality of mental illness in our culture.

The Hip Hop Mental Health Project is committed to engaging young urban and low-income communities of color as they are the most detrimentally affected by the disparities in mental health diagnosis, treatment, and care. Dialogues that immediately follow performances of LOW aim to create a safe space for audiences to confront issues around mental health that might not happen in another context. Through performances such as LOW and its related dialogue, HHMHP seeks to: educate about the signs and symptoms of mental illness and tools for recovery; decrease the social stigma of mental illness, especially for those of lower incomes and of color; explore possible solutions to some of the life stressors that influence mental health; increase awareness of, and access to, mental health services and support; and impact public discourse about mental health.

As part of Animating Democracy’s Arts & Civic Engagement Impact Initiative, a collaborative inquiry between Rha Goddess and evaluator Suzanne Callahan of Callahan Consulting for the Arts focused on the impact of LOW, and post-performance dialogue on audiences’ attitudes, beliefs, and perceptions about mental health and illness. This case study documents the assessment of impact based on: 1) a formal evaluation conducted by City University of New York (CUNY) researchers using an IRB-approved study (Institutional Review Board); and 2) an alternative approach to audience evaluation developed in collaboration with Callahan and tested with one audience.  The two studies complemented each other and allowed comparison of two research processes that asked similar questions in different ways.

The Hip Hop Mental Health Project is an initiative of 1+1+1=ONE, a Brooklyn based nonprofit organization that utilizes the methodology of Arts Based Civic Transformation to empower individuals and communities to affect positive social change.

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Tucson Pima Arts Council
Two-Way Mirror: Ethnography as a Way to Assess Civic Impact of Arts-Based Engagement in Tucson, AZ [PDF]
by Maribel Alvarez, Ph.D.

Finding Voice, an ongoing program supported by the Tucson Pima Arts Council (TPAC) and Every Voice in Action Foundation, helps refugee and immigrant youth develop literacy and second language skills by researching, photographing, writing, and speaking out about critical social issues in their lives and communities. Through the creative process, the program also aims to help young people develop a better understanding of their Tucson neighborhood and U.S. culture, and build a strong connection to their culture and family. As part of Animating Democracy’s Arts & Civic Engagement Impact Initiative, TPAC collaborated with ethnographer and evaluator Maribel Alvarez to learn how principles and practices of ethnography could be applied as qualitative evaluation strategies to better understand the social and civic effects of Finding Voices as well as help TPAC reconceptualize its role in and approach to assessing the civic impact of its work toward more effective casemaking with local civic leaders.

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