Loving the Question of Beauty

Why is beauty, a word often included in definitions of aesthetics, missing from the list of 11 attributes of excellence in the Aesthetic Perspectives framework? It is a question that prompted many conversations during the making of the framework as we wrestled with exclusive connotations of “taste” and what is “beautiful.” I posit that the sum total of the 11 aesthetic attributes complexifies beauty and provides a framework for reconsidering what is beauty in Arts for Change. 

Social Transformation Under the Sheltering Sky of Aesthetics

The integrity and transparency with which we conduct ourselves at the National Public Housing Museum is extremely important to everyone involved. This is work where the process is as vital as the result itself. And we intend to evaluate the so-called “excellence” of our efforts in how much justice we help to create in the world. The Aesthetic Perspectives framework emerges at a key moment for our work, as both a blessing and offering. It opens up a utopian and expansive new terrain for how to reflect on work that is meant to be socially engaged and transformative.

The Case for Complexity

Change requires doing things differently, in new, creative, and risk-taking ways. Public Matters wants to see the arts recognized as a critical element of civic life and of a healthy community. Doing so requires pushing beyond standardized conceptions of who or what an artist is and does. The Aesthetic Framework can play a role in this conversation by expanding the appreciation of what this work entails and what it can achieve. Openly embracing risk-taking is essential, within the arts and in partnerships with historically risk-averse disciplines and agencies seeking better outcomes.

Complex Movements: Artists Put the Framework to Use

For the past seven years, we have been developing super-hybrid work that pushes us to seek new ways to define quality, integrity, and success. After many years of development and touring, we wanted to understand and be able to talk about this work among ourselves and with others who are working similarly. Throughout the project, we tried developing surveys ourselves and with support from other people in the field. We got some useful feedback but most of it didn’t get to the heart of both the social justice and artistic goals of the work. Aesthetic Perspectives helped us do that.

Aesthetics of Process in a City Master Plan in Western Sydney, Australia

The Future of Penrith/Penrith of the Future came out of the C3West initiative (community, commerce, contemporary art), and demonstrates how partnerships between artists, city councils, urban planners, architects, and businesses have resulted in positive social outcomes where communities reimagine urban life, establish relationships to place, and experience what art can be and do outside the museum. The C3West model challenges the orthodoxies of community art by bringing in civic and business partners, tapping into sources of money that would not normally be available to artists.

Enough with the Tea Already

At the MAP fund, we want panelists to be passionate advocates for artists and share their unique perspectives; the problem is that those preferences can block their ability to support artistic work that is not reflective of their tastes, expertise, and cultural biases. The Aesthetic Perspectives framework offers a bold new lexicon that greatly improves upon what is often dismissive language used by gatekeepers to assert one dominant aesthetic approach above others.

Changing a Dominant Evaluation Paradigm

Aesthetics and their interpretation are defined by institutionalized notions of excellence, and when artistic work speaks to social justice or traditional practices, its creative aspects are often considered lacking the value assigned by entrenched evaluation standards and practices. The Aesthetic Perspectives framework takes the conversation of evaluation to the next phase as it broadens the frame and brings forth a holistic approach to include and honor alternative attributes to define excellence in arts for change.

Evaluating the Social Impact of Indigenous Art Projects by Way of Aesthetic Impact

Aesthetic Perspectives firmly positioned our inquiry as “How do we know that this is going well?” as opposed to “How well is this going?” This step was pivotal. As evaluators, we understood our work to be asking the former question. Yet the word “evaluation” often shifted our conversations uncomfortably toward the latter. By returning again and again to the questions in the framework, we were better able to draw out stories and to identify the projects’ specific impacts. As a result, the final impact evaluation report presents a textured set of findings that allows artists, funders, and communities to see the difference these projects have made.

Validating the Democracy of the Arts

For a very long time, the criteria for excellence in the arts have been owned by a particular body of experts who generally have a condescending view of the quality of art developed in community-based and social change programs and projects. These credentialed “experts” hold to a definition of quality largely based in an “art for art’s sake” paradigm. However, this definition loses the connection with the vast majority of people who live in the country, as well as the vast range of arts that is produced here and the range of reasons for which people make art. Art is for many sakes, including but not limited to art’s sake (whatever that restriction means in practice).

The Spirits Sitting on My Shoulder

Maybe these are familiar to you: you have a great idea but you cannot get it off the ground because funders cannot see its worth; or, worse yet, you cannot get the community you want to come see it to actually come. Those are real problems. So, that’s when the Aesthetic Perspectives: Attributes of Excellence in Arts for Change could beautifully help guide our creations, and to truly engage community. 

A Slap Upside the Head: Attending to power, privilege, and cultural context in panel process

As grantmakers, we distribute scarce resources, so I worry when panels cannot have an open, honest discussion about important issues like cultural appropriation and how that might result in how we mete out funds. If tokenism limits the ability of people of color to impact grant decisions, or panel dynamics shut down discussions about uncomfortable issues, we are not doing our jobs. The 11 attributes offered in Aesthetic Perspectives provide a new framework for evaluating applications that could facilitate productive and meaningful panel meetings.

Get Sticky with Me

One of the issues arts presenters face when programming for social change is that of follow-up. Often, we bring in an impactful work that delivers a clear and concise message to our audience. But once the performers leave our city, there is no follow-up. The topic of the work is forgotten and we move on to our next presentation. Given this, I was fascinated to read the 11 qualities in the recently published Aesthetic Perspectives: Attributes of Excellence in Arts for ChangeRight there … attribute number 11. Something called stickiness.

Rural America’s Art of Connection: Building Community through Exchange

As a field focused on demographic similarity across great cultural and physiographic difference, rural artists explore their commonalities by exchanging projects, strategies, and challenges. Relationship to place is our tie that binds, so the field is increasingly prioritizing projects that connect people and organizations across distance and divide. These relational projects, conferences, and digital resources use cultural exchange as a vehicle for social transformation by expanding connections between people and places.

How Art is Creating a Youth-led Vision of Justice

When artist-activists Mark Strandquist and Trey Hartt contacted me about partnering on a project to make people see, through art, that youth are more than their crimes and more than statistics, I felt both completely out of my depth and finally understood. This was something I wanted to do for years, but I didn’t have the partners, the talent, the language, or the framework to make it happen. I knew instinctively that if decision-makers could see, feel, and hear the experiences of youth, they would empathize with them, and that could open up new possibilities. 

A beautiful & eclectic voice in a family of frameworks

Animating Democracy’s new beautiful Aesthetic Perspectives framework gives voice and importance to the myriad aspects that work together to create strong art for social change. With this lens, it adds important ways of seeing “quality” in general, offering an eclectic voice in the family of other frameworks that describe what quality and excellence is—in product, in process, and in programs. Able also to hold the paradoxes, it states, “Ambiguity, contradiction, and co-existence are essentials for a tolerant democratic society. Art can help us live with the ambiguities and contradictions of our world; it can show us how each thing contains its opposite.”

Seeking a Common Language for Community Development and the Arts

The worlds of community development and art for social change are intersecting frequently these days, and this leads, at least, to a need for simultaneous translation and patience if not treatment for outright culture shock. How do we talk about and track these new types of interactions? How are the respective practitioners getting along? And what happens when a planner, researcher, and evaluator steeped in 35 years of relatively conventional assessment of community development issues and organizations—that would be me—needs to understand, appreciate, and gain insights about the radically different styles, motivations, and ways of seeing and interacting that are employed by artists engaged in social change?

Of Distinction: Community-engaged notions of value

Animating Democracy’s new Aesthetic Perspectives framework spawned multiple parallel scenarios in my head. In one, I was continuing my conversation from a few weeks ago with a foundation grant officer, who told me that their organization was “not so interested in social justice”; you simply had to “have artistic excellence.” I had presented my most cogent argument that artistic excellence is often conceptualized in dangerously narrow ways, to the detriment of appreciating arts and social justice work—only to be brushed aside. What would have happened if the framework, offering many different ways of reading “excellence” in socially engaged art, had been at my fingertips then? 

A Humane Framework for Creative Practice

Aesthetic Perspectives is described as “a guide for description rather than a scorecard.” This is an apt explanation; it provides a framework for use by an evaluator rather than a rubric for evaluation itself. As such, there are aspects of Aesthetic Perspectives that are particularly useful or important and a few elements that raise some questions for me.

Wake Up to a New Day

Notions of excellence and equity are linked and increasingly demand that we attend to both the positive and negative ways they intersect in policies, practices, and decisions. Which artists get opportunities, who gains resources, how are arts and cultural practices understood and valued by critics, audiences, and gatekeepers? Our Excellence and Equity Blog Salon explores these questions and provides guidance in the form of Animating Democracy's new framework Aesthetic Perspectives: Attributes of Excellence in Arts for Change.

Animating Democracy

Aesthetic Perspectives:
Attributes of Excellence in Arts for Change

NEW framework offering 11 aesthetic attributes defined by artists that enhance the potency of arts and culture to motivate change in communities. Supports understanding, description, funding, and evaluation of arts at the intersection of community, civic, and social change.  Find out more.

What’s Measured Matters . . . Private Giving to Arts & Culture: Way Up in 2014!

Support for the nonprofit arts in the U.S. is a mosaic of funding sources—a delicate 60-30-10 balance of earned revenue, private sector contributions, and government support. The arts sector relies on contributions to keep its cultural products and services affordable and accessible to our communities.  We pay close attention to philanthropy because even small fluctuations in contributed revenue can be the difference between an arts organization broadening its reach or facing a deficit. Every year the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy publishes their annual Giving USA analysis on philanthropy. Their latest report shows that 2014 was a very good year for the arts.

The Arts Partnership of Greater Spartanburg Receives One of Four Public Art Grants from Bloomberg Philanthropies

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Category: 

The Arts Partnership of Greater Spartanburg recently received a significant grant from Bloomberg Philanthropies to execute a public art project with a purpose as part of Bloomberg’s Public Art Challenge.

NEA “Imagine Your Parks” Grant Deadline Alert

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Category: 

Grant deadline alert!  Did you know that funds are available for arts projects in and about the National Park System?  

July 23 is the deadline for “Imagine Your Parks,” a funding collaboration of the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Park Service to support projects that use the arts to engage people with memorable places and landscapes of the National Park System. This NEA/NPS collaboration celebrates the NEA’s 50th anniversary in 2015 and the National Park Service’s centennial in 2016.  

Great Expectations: One Measure at a Time

Tis the season for all things grants. Grant applications, grant reports, grant prospecting (well really, that season never ends). In the past 90 days, I have had my hand in nearly a dozen grants, mostly to corporate and community foundations, as well as (state) government.

Those of you who work in this realm or in tandem with your development team know the drill: mission, check. Need, check. Project description, check. Impact, check. Or in this one, outcomes. But wait, the other one is asking for metrics and measurements. This one is looking for more quantitative measurement. That one encourages qualitative data. And the school systems to whom I am providing services are looking to still different outcomes and measurements altogether. And while so many benevolent community funders have taken the seemingly Herculean effort to equitably support both social services and cultural (education) funding, so often then, we are asked to complete evaluation templates that are really geared towards social service sector outcomes.

Pages

Subscribe to RSS - grantmaking