Some aspects of Community Art Practice
Community Art is typically defined as a creative process that involves professional artists and non-arts community members, and that places equal weight on process and outcome. Relevant to the stated ‘definition’ is that it varies according to the priorities set by different stake holders, whereas the actual parameters of engagement between artists and community members, including matters such as discipline, location, end-product, audience, etc., evolve through the process, and frequently adapt to shifting priorities arising in a given context. I intend to present examples of projects that roughly fit into ‘models’ of artist-driven, community-driven, institution-driven, community building, labour and social justice. In the North American cultural context, the current state of Community Arts has evolved from different fields such as popular education, art therapy, art activism, community development, and learnings from diverse cultural groups whose traditional artistic practices are less hierarchical and fragmented, and more inclusive and inter-disciplinary. Current challenges/tensions in the field arise generally from the increased polarization of high and low culture, and specifically, from the misperception that community art equals amateur arts, from funders’ preferences of arts education, and arts institutions’ attendance goals over community engagement. The spectacle of art as entertainment increasingly results in commodification of art and artist, and defies the creative process. A recent workshop, part of Community Arts Ontario’s annual gathering, demonstrated how practitioners deal with challenges arising in the field. A chart of pros and cons —conditions that help and conditions that hinder our work as community artists—showed not only more or less balanced content in both, but mapped a third territory of situations that could be in both or neither field. Participants agreed that ‘Anarchistic parameters’ outside of defined models or institutions enable artists to be more responsive and responsible, therefore more ‘relevant’ to the community.
Ingrid Mayrhofer (BFA, MA, York University) is an independent curator and cultural worker. Her curatorial focus is on international exchanges, and exhibition projects with artists who engage the public in meaningful social and artistic dialogue. A member of the Red Tree artists' collective since 1989, she is active in labour and community art practice. At present, she is coordinating an exchange/collaboration with artists from Hamilton and Cienfuegos, Cuba, and is working on projects with The Print Studio and Workers Arts and Heritage Centre in Hamilton, and with the UFCW Migrant Workers Support Centre in Simcoe, Ontario.