Participatory Art-Making and Civic Engagement
There is a growing trend among innovative organizations to use participatory art-making programs to increase civic engagement, due to the wide variety of positive outcomes such programs engender. Participatory art-making experiences can have a profound impact on communities. They can build social networks, encourage new leaders, increase the quality of community life, enhance the lives of individuals, and engage citizens in new and profound ways. Three case examples illustrate the ways in which participatory art-making programs can have a positive impact on community life. In Oakland, California, Banteay Srei, a small social-service-oriented nonprofit, fulfills its social service mission of community engagement and transformation by bringing together community elders with at-risk young people. In New York City, Make Music New York, a grassroots effort, engages people in more than a thousand participatory music-making events in the course of a single day, transforming the city and providing people access to spaces they would otherwise not use. And a major U.S. performing arts center, The Music Center in Los Angeles, fulfills its mission as a civic, cultural institution by programming participatory art-making alongside its traditional programming. This dynamic approach can be implemented in a variety of other contexts, leaving open numerous possibilities for a group or organization to test new program ideas. This trend paper, researched and written by urban planner Ferdinand Lewis on behalf of The Music Center, is intended to encourage innovation and exploration of the many ways in which active art-making can enliven, enhance, and enrich communities. Lewis teaches in the Department of Urban and Regional Planning at the University of Florida’s College of Design, Construction, and Planning, where he also directs the Center for Building Better Communities.