Topic: Arts and Social Development
The arts are an asset in fostering the well being of the American people. For example, creativity and expression can help neglected children find a sense of self, assist hospital patients in coping with injury or illness, and encourage aging adults to stay active. In the private realm of religion and the public space of democracy, the arts provide both a form and a forum to discuss social values. They allow us to share our cultures and often provide access to the social sphere for the disenfranchised. In their own programs and through partnership with a wide array of social services, artists and arts organizations help to knit together the vast and diverse social fabric that is the defining characteristic of American life.
Local arts agencies engage in a wide variety of social service and community development activities. According to the Local Arts Agency Facts 2003, more than 90 percent of Local Arts Agencies manage or support programs that address community development issues, and 30 percent of agencies collaborate with social service agencies.
Barriers to arts participation can be financial, psycho-social, physical, or geographical. Many arts organizations address the issue of greater access to arts and culture. For example, VSA arts is an international organization that works to create a society where people with disabilities can learn through, participate in, and enjoy the arts.
Arts-Based Civic Engagement
The arts have proven to be a potent catalyst to engage people in civic concerns. In arts-based civic engagement, the artistic process and/or presentation provides a key focus, forum or form for public dialogue/engagement on the issue; or opportunities for dialogue/engagement are embedded in or connected to the arts experience. Led by artist Marty Pottenger, Abundance was a two-year theater-based dialogue about economic resource, distribution, and consumption, which led to a fully staged production inspired by the social impact of money on people's lives.
Criminal Justice and the Arts
An increasing number of communities realize that arts programs provide alternatives within the justice system and in community-based crime prevention. For example, many communities in the United States and abroad have Playback Theater groups that work with adjudicated youth and adults through improvisational theater.
Health and Healing
Economic factors and changing demographics make the alliance between the arts and health care an important part of community vitality. Arts for the Aging, Inc. provides artistic outreach services to psychologically and physically impaired seniors in senior day-care centers and nonprofit nursing homes.
Through partnerships with local housing authorities and other community developers, arts organizations help to transform lower-resourced neighborhoods into places of hope, inspiration, and opportunity. For example, Project Row House in Houston, TX, blends the arts, affordable housing, historic preservation, and community education through a focus on 22 distinctive shotgun-style row houses reminiscent of the homes built by freed slaves throughout the South.
Many congregations integrate the arts into the fabric of their worship with music and performance during services, the design of ritual spaces, and the display of works of art. The artistic process itself is seen by many as a spiritual experience, affecting both artists and audience. In addition, many view congregations as safe places where the culture of national and ethnic groups can be respected and preserved.
Arts-based social services for youth are carefully customized by programmatic focus and youth population served. As a result, arts-based youth services provide a great array of models for programs serving other needs and populations. The YouthArts Toolkit is an important resource for this field and other social service programs.