Special Articles / Anne Riggs, Venkat Pulla / Community Work : Theories, Experiences & Challenges
Common to community development and social work processes and art (drawing, painting, collage, sculpture) are opportunities to express emotions, thoughts, memories and ideas. Yet the recognition and nurturing of a symbiotic relationship between the two professions to build the psychosocial supports that could enhance the quality of life of our clients has not become a mainstream agenda. The arts for a long time have remained at the periphery of community development and social work processes. While the profession of social work provides coping, resilience and active hope (Pulla, 2013; Pulla & Riggs, 2013), forms of art would assist in regenerating purpose, rejuvenating life processes and uplifting the affective domain of our client systems. Arts-centred community building is inherently complex because it involves other community sectors such as social services, community development and public safety. This chapter utilises autoethnography (Chase, 2013) in its methodology, combined with critical arts-based critical inquiry (Finley, 2013).
Key words: Art and Social Work, Resilience Development, Artists is Community, Community Development, Empowerment
Arts practitioners and social work practitioners in the field of community work have several shared concerns regarding development options for individuals and communities. They do work with and see children, families and communities that are impacted by a number of variables such as absence of basic amenities, poor education, discrimination, and limited opportunities and choices. As practitioners we also see trauma, mental health and other illnesses including incidence of drug and alcohol addiction, poverty and isolation. Arts practice within the communities and community development practice is always looking for innovation, creativity and opening up so that people not only cope, survive, but come out daringly and resiliently (Pulla, 2013). When creativity is expressed, it results in positive health and wellbeing, maximises human potential and allows people to lead productive lives true to their needs and interests (Dunphy, 2013). Although creative practice as part of community development has gained considerable recognition in some sectors (such as in the field of refugee settlement, trauma recovery, arts and disability) and a substantial and growing body of evidence supports its efficacy, creativity and arts-based community development practice have yet to be widely embraced in the domain of international community development as an informed practice to enhance efforts to address social issues. NGOs rarely include arts as integral to their programs (PLAN UK, 2013). The purpose of this chapter is to strengthen our argument for consideration of arts practice within the prevailing ethos of social work and community development and to strengthen existing trends of arts-led community development by inviting social and community development workers into collaborative and participatory creative practices with artists. As authors of this chapter, we believe that arts and social/community work practitioners have a shared vision for creative inputs into client solutions. In an earlier paper we have developed a Chart of Commonalities (see below) between arts practice and community development and social work values (Pulla & Riggs, 2013). One of the better known definitions of arts-based community development comes from William Cleveland (2002) who defines it as an arts-centred activity that contributes to the sustained advancement of human dignity, health and or productivity with a community. An arts-centred activity ‘contributes to the sustained advancement of human dignity, health and/or productivity within a community’ (p. 7). His full definition suggests the inclusion of ‘creative activities that EDUCATE and INFORM us about ourselves and the world, … INSPIRE and MOBILIZE individuals or groups, … NURTURE and HEAL people and/or communities, … [and] BUILD and IMPROVE community capacity and/or infrastructure’ (Cleveland, 2002, p. 7).
A community arts program is characterised by its experiential and inclusive nature in which artists work with non-artists in grassroots settings, creating art in the public interest (Lowe, 2000) or in the public domain. Fun and pleasure are key components of the practice, as are the social interactions with participants. Community art is distinctive in its collaborative nature and is most effective when a skilled artist sets the stage with a framework and repertoire of skills to share, which enable rewarding, enjoyable and enriching experiences for participants. In our view, essential to good practice are the opportunities provided for participants to learn new skills and be challenged creatively. Some forms of community arts have been described as ‘NGO Art’ for their practices with disadvantaged social groups using activist methodology and lacking in creativity (Andersson, 2012). In contrast, in this chapter we discuss visual and performing arts in community work utilising the skills and focus of trained and practising artists.
The most successful programs have been developed by artists making art, not artists doing something else (Cleveland, 2002). We begin with a case study.
Case Study: Artists in Community International
Anne Riggs, the first author of this paper and Alex Pinder run visual and performing arts programs with vulnerable communities – and find this an exhilarating way to enter the life of a community and an opportunity to share their skills with those who rarely, if ever, have access to creative programs such as theirs – Artists in Community International (AICI). Riggs and Pinder formed the artists’ collective in 2012 to formalise promotion of art and its benefits to education, health, community and individual or personal development that builds self confidence in young girls and children. As freelance artists, the AICI join an inviting NGO from the third world or a sponsored program of an international agency and at other times accept being guests of a foundation or an educational institution. AICI also responds to impromptu invitations. AICI has facilitated arts programs in village communities, schools, training institutions, a mental health hospital, girls’ home, sex bar, with internally displaced persons, students, teachers, tribal people, the sick, the deaf, street children and child labourers, sex workers and community leaders, with children, adolescents, adults and refugees that settle in first world countries such as Australia.
AICI art and drama programs are structured to impart arts-practice knowledge, as well as provide a range of other benefits, such as helping participants develop self-esteem, express their feelings about their lives, learn and practise working co-operatively as a group, and gain skills for self-empowerment. They reach and connect with the humanness of those who are collectively bundled together as homogeneous groupings, such as people in developing countries (Gamble, 2012), people in distress and or people facing common concerns. Aligning with a Strengths Perspective, we build on people’s aspirations, strengths, resources, and resiliency in order to engage in actions pursuing social justice and personal wellbeing (Pulla, 2012; Robbins, Chatterjee, & Canda, 2006). AICI also recognises the individual’s need to express and explore the emotional effects of poverty, their feelings of exclusion and oppression, as well as other emotions and experiences.
Most participants know or have known significant hardship, prejudice and suffering; they are considered low class or low caste and therefore ‘unworthy’ within their own country and by their fellow citizens. Most have or are being treated poorly by others, although that is not to say they have not also been met with significant support and kindness from others. Commonly, adults struggled to house and feed their family, children had little access to education; child labour was widespread, many women were involved in the sex trade, and many women and children lived in danger of being by trafficked (Australian Agency for International Development, 2012). Alcohol and other addictions, as well as preventable and treatable illnesses ravaged communities; medical care was a luxury most could not afford. It seemed these communities and individuals did not expect to be heard or valued and had neither expectation nor opportunity to express their individuality, creativity or opinions. AICI observed many outmoded and sometimes illegal practices not supportive of community and individual wellbeing that underpinned hardship and prejudice, some of which we describe in this chapter.
As authors of this chapter we see potential for collaborations between visual and performing artists, with social workers, community development workers and educators in a strengths-based approach to community development that could unleash the capital of creative arts practice to create stronger communities in which individuals can grow and flourish.
Artists commonly work in partnership with arts practitioners from all disciplines, such as the AICI collaboration between a visual and performing artist, each bringing their unique suite of skills to a project, and also a common set of shared skills such as setting up projects and working with communities. Amongst the benefits and joys of collaboration is the new space that opens as our individual skills meet to enable something in the other artist and for a new process and creative journey to evolve. In the authors’ experience this meeting has been particularly useful in creating new arts work around shared themes, such as looking at and working with the body with young adults in processes that include observational exercises, physical movements, as well as drawing, sculpture and or painting in the creation of a new work (see figure below) and changing the energy of the groups as performing artists and community development workers.
Arts practice has the highest potential to regenerate communities when run by artists in collaboration with effective community/social workers and deployed as part of a wider program of development (Pulla & Riggs, 2013). The potential exists at multiple levels for the arts to impact community/social work by infusing reflective, critical, and ethical inquiry and as a means of expression and social activism (Arts and Social Work Research Initiative, 2007).
Wellbeing and Human Potential
Internationally widely accepted concepts of wellbeing include social inclusion, eliminating oppression and violence, increasing investment and improvements in health, education and social supports. Manfred Max Neef (1991) compiled a list of needs that he considered basic to all civilisations and cultures and which provides guidance towards naming the elements necessary for human wellbeing. This list includes: subsistence, protection, affection, understanding, participation, leisure, creation, identity, and freedom. In Human Scale Development, ‘wellbeing’ describes qualities of being, things one should have, abilities or actions one could take, as well as relationships or interactions (Max Neef, 1991). While achieving a sense of wellbeing is an aspirational goal, reaching full potential is a greater and more challenging one. Community development, including social work, is concerned with ‘putting people at the centre of development … about assisting people to release their potential, increasing their choices’ to enjoy the freedom to lead lives they value (UNDP, 2010, cited in Gamble, 2012, p. 1). For a community to be ‘functioning well’ in social work terms as well as in family situations can mean a renewal of the community or even a rediscovery of the community and its innate strengths. Thus utilising Strengths-Based Practices our work can concentrate on the inherent strengths of individuals, families groups and organisations and assist us in deploying people’s personal strengths to aid their recovery and empowerment (Pulla, 2012). Community development approaches that empower alternatives to traditional methods with individuals, groups or communities allow us to refrain from using crippling, labelling and stigmatised language. A strengths-based approach in arts and community development practice offers opportunities to build and foster hope from within by focusing and working with precedent successes (Pulla, 2012).
Artists and social workers and community development workers perform with intense commitment enhancing individual and community wellbeing and facilitate reaching their respective full potential. Biography, drama, philosophy, joy and suffering can be the backdrop to both professions, but we speak different languages and so, of course, do our participants and clients (Graybeal, 2007). Within community development there can be a tendency to look for easy ways, the ‘one size fits all’ response, and that is the antithesis of arts practice. Graybeal (2007) argues that the science and arts aspects of social work must do more than co-exist in order for the (social work) profession to reap the full benefits of either. It must remain open to the challenges that the arts bring, the capacity of the arts to disrupt as well as add to knowledge and practice (Damianakis, 2007). Acknowledging the artistic dimension of the profession can enrich and expand the scope of enquiry; even how a problem is defined may, according to Graybeal (2007), be one of the most creative parts of practising social workers. If problems, aspirations and concerns are met with innovation, solutions that have a positive impact can be found. A nurturing creative program opens space and opportunity to explore, and develop techniques for investigation and reflection, upon their world as it is, as it has been, and how it might be in the future, enabling communities to grow in ways impossible through other means. However, creativity can also be hindered. The question of how to reach human potential is inextricably linked to the question of what may be preventing it. The authors are concerned over the inadequacy of both the theoretical and practical framework that drives development today as it does not recognise that humans flourish and can meet their potential when creativity and arts are part of their lives. Schools that encourage creative thinking in their students, organisations that inspire their members to be innovative, and opportunities for individuals to explore new ideas are all required. Each of the AICI arts projects has a unique genesis, but common to all is the exchange and consultation with community leaders. We rely on at least one person in a leadership position to collaborate with us to enable the arts program. Our project partners in our visits abroad were teachers, community development workers and leaders and doctors.
From art and community development contexts we think of culture as a living organism, rather like yeast or a sourdough culture, bubbling up with life and the potential for growth and nourishment; and like these cultures, a healthy human culture also requires feeding and nurturing, if it is maintain its life-giving forces. When community development is restricted by an active lack of input into creative and cultural practices, it is a failure of social justice. The central issue in community development is to connect concepts of justice, inclusion and diversity with creative collaborations between artists, community development, including social workers, to develop and modernise discriminatory practices guided by principles of equity.
Arts, Education and Social Work
Bochner and Ellis (2003) note that art has the ability to transgress stifling conventions and boundaries, resist oppressions, grieve and heal, produce inter-subjective knowledge and come to terms with multiple and contradictory identities (2003). The arts in education allow us to investigate the world in which we live, in addition to providing the opportunity to express the world of others. The arts become more powerful when they aim to ‘frame a debate or to help people to see the world differently’ (Seidel, Tishman, Winner, Hetland, & Palmer, 2009). Artist Antony Gormley considers the process of art-making as ‘a journey of discovery and recovery’; for him it was like ‘an instrument for thinking, or perhaps (since thinking cannot be divorced from being) a catalyst for new states of being, and an artwork may initiate transformations in both maker and viewer’ (Nesbitt, 1993, p. 13).
Graybeal (2007) describes prominent parallels that exist between the art of performance and the art of social work, which we expand here to include the visual arts. In the first, it is to recognise the undeniable importance of basic skills and techniques and the intuitive knowledge of when to let go. Graybeal describes the theoretical and technical knowledge, discipline and ongoing commitment that underpin the intuition and responses required of both practices. Human development theorists, such as Jean Piaget, use the concept of accommodation and assimilation to explain the process of knowledge and behaviours being absorbed and no longer requiring conscious thought (Salkind, 2004). In each of our own ways and words we are describing the embodiment of learning as when the practitioner is able to give attention to the other, more important means of giving and receiving communication in a process of revelation (Graybeal, 2007). The second parallel referred to by Graybeal (2007) is the shared need for self-knowledge and an ability to put the self at the service of others. Well-considered community arts projects, facilitated by artists, use the language of repair and healing: of ‘response to Care’s call’, as artist Pip Stokes described it. She wholly believed that artists are ‘at the service of their others’1 and required to ‘open themselves emotionally to what was needed’ which resonates with Levinas’ description of ‘the call’ of the other, that ‘summons a response’ (as cited in Stokes, 2010, p. 24). As the artist witnesses the crushing sense of loss, the pain, the fragilities and frailties within the community, and as Stokes describes, the tending and attending of identity, culture, a form of Care – through a practice of participatory making, the artist also facilitates the transformation of complex human needs and aspirations into concrete form or performance, rousing a sense of resurgence and hope for the future (Stokes, 2010).
One distinctive characteristic of arts practice is that captivation often leads to imaginative flight. Weinstein (as cited in McCarthy, Onaatje, Zakaras, & Brooks, 2004, p. 46) describes art as an exhilarating emancipation, ‘a magic venture out of our own precincts and into something rich and strange’. We tend to grasp and express things through art in ways that are rare in everyday life, which enables participants a departure from the everyday self, the state of helpless distress and inability to effect meaningful change. As the individual’s capacity to perceive, feel, and interpret the world of everyday experience is enhanced through this intense engagement with an art form, so the space for new possibilities is opened up.
Participants experience, sometimes for the first time, feelings of being competent and discovering unknown strengths, a growing self-confidence, a surprising and joyful relationship with art and beauty, as well as an ever-diminishing feeling of being hopeless and unworthy. Rather than art being a distraction, it is exactly the opposite: those engaged in a committed arts practice have entered the creative space with purpose and intention, for pleasure, to learn, to participate in a community or to engage the inner self. Distraction is a diversion, the drawing away from purpose whereas an immersion into art-making, by contrast, is a drawing towards purpose.
In a strengths perspective we do not believe that most people who are the victims of poverty or that all people who have been traumatised (discriminated again) inevitably become ‘damaged goods’ (Pulla, 2012; Saleebey, 2000, p. 129). We believe that as workers we are unaware of the upper limits of human capacity to grow and change; therefore, the message is to take individual, group, and community aspirations seriously. In community development the process is to build communities, hopes, values, aspirations, and visions (Pulla, 2012).
McCarthy et al. point to pleasure and joy as some of the ‘intrinsic values of the arts experience’ (2004, p. 68), achieved both through the excitement of the creative process and the aesthetics of the work. They refer to Csikszentmihalyi’s study of creativity (1997) and argument that it appears that the role of pleasure in creative activity of all kinds has been underrated, that the enjoyment comes with the achievement of excellence in rather than from the direct pursuit of pleasure. We add that it also comes when the work yields meaning for the maker (and others) and pleasure, of itself, is a worthy pursuit of arts.
Case Study from Community Work in India: The Salt Pans of Gujarat
It was inspiring to meet community leader, Dhanraj Malik, and be invited by him to run a project with his extended community. ‘The First in two million years!’ he claimed. He lives at the edge of the village of Zainabad and works in the Rann of Kutch, a desert in the state of Gujarat, India, where his formerly Royal family has a long relationship with this land and to the families who work within it. Our short winter visit to this intense, yet awe-inspiring land exposed us to some harsher aspects of Indian life. Entire families, including children, work up to 13 hours a day as labourers producing salt. Summer temperatures soar to 50 degrees; winter temperatures reach into the 30s during the day and drop dramatically at night. There is little available fuel in this vast and almost treeless land to warm families in their flimsy houses on cold nights. Once a fortnight supplies of food, water and fuel are delivered; there are no shops or markets nearby. Medical or other care is almost non-existent and, as a consequence, families are large, child and maternal mortality is high, children are unwell, and early death is inevitable for all. Schooling is insubstantial and infrequent.
We met the families, saw the poverty, learned of the deaths of their children and felt the intensity of the desert heat. Dhanraj’s invitation matched our own desire to offer a fun and happy art day to these families. He agreed to provide the art materials, a community feast, as well as our transport, food and accommodation whilst we provided an art and drama program for the saltpan families on one day, and students in the local village school on another. One week later with crayons, red noses and lots of excitement we returned to Zainabad. We wondered whether the saltpan children would understand concepts of art and drama, and whether they would know what oil pastels are for, or how to use them, knowing that illiterate and uneducated people often lack these learned skills. We wondered whether their profound isolation would affect their sociability, and whether because of all the insufficiencies in their lives, they could concentrate or would even be interested in what we had to offer. We arrived at the desert community to find children and families waiting enthusiastically to be part of this creative community day.
Alex Pinder and Anne Riggs ran the workshops bouncing back and forward between drama and art and supporting each other’s program. Dhanraj and his daughter provided the translations. Drama is lively and fun, drawing is quieter and relaxing; together they give participants a chance to be stimulated, to laugh and be silly, then to come into stillness and calm, to recharge themselves. Alex Pinder as a theatre artist approaches the workshops with a particular sensitivity toward their unique circumstances. He does not expect high energy performances as the children barely have enough sustenance. The focus was more on detail and precision of mime work, rather than high-energy clowning. Their response was immediate engagement, their focus astonishing. We thought perhaps that lack of the everyday distractions that most of us have in our lives such as the phone, television, internet, enabled them to fully immerse in the activity. Anne Riggs planned to create a series of flags to bring colour to a muted landscape, a project that would be successful regardless of participants’ skills. Dhanraj suggested we use old bed sheets from his hotel, which we cut up and had strings attached in the nearby village. Children were invited to draw patterns and images on the small flags. At first they were tentative but soon all were totally engrossed; mothers and fathers also became involved. We dipped the flags into coloured ink to create a beautiful background to the oil pastel pictures. Long bamboo poles were dug into the dry desert earth before children were hoisted onto father’s shoulders to attach a line between them. We strung up a line to hang the flags on and the wind caught them – they looked so beautiful. But the kids thought we were going to take them away with us when we left – which is sad because it revealed how little they have and how little they expected of us to leave them with anything. We focused on the rights of children to play, to be creative and have fun and in the end these spilled out to encompass the whole community.
As authors we believe that personal empowerment and social empowerment are two interdependent and interactive dynamics achieved simultaneously which characterise empowerment in our communities. Personal empowerment recognises the uniqueness within the communities and it is analogous to self-determination; that is, communities provide direction to the process, take control of their lives, while social empowerment provides individuals resources and opportunity to undertake roles in their communities. It is once again a territory for a combined approach of arts in social work. Empowerment theories identify and help individuals and communities to recognise barriers and dynamics that allow oppression to persist as well as circumstances and actions that promote change, human empowerment, and liberation. Creative and collaborative projects with artists can contribute to the purpose of all the eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) by enhancing engagement with community/individuals; these are:
A criticism of the Millennium Development Goals is that too little attention is given to education (Unterhalter, 2013) and to acknowledging that learning takes place in multiple sites, not only school. We know education nurtures students and brings about the vital social development that catapults societies to develop in ways they desire and value (Regan-Denham, 2013), but missing is the action that can link and build individual and community capacity and lead to participatory or active citizenship. Community development workers and social workers’ creative collaborations with artists can be that link.
Nepal Case Study
The artists’ visit to Bhaktapur in Nepal was a unique opportunity to work with two groups of children who shared a background of disadvantage: orphaned, abandoned, living on the street, neglected, or from families touched by illness or addiction. Each group now live very different lives although both receive considerable support from the Unatti Foundation. One group flourishes at the Unatti Home for Girls, where the Unatti Foundation is a non-profit organisation dedicated to providing food, shelter and education for the multitude of orphaned and underprivileged children of Nepal. The children are well cared for and are educated, whilst others still live on the streets and experience many difficulties of that life. They attend a weekly art and music program run by the foundation in collaboration with the Children’s Art Village, which is a non-profit organisation working to bring art curricula to orphaned children around the world. Some children are supported by Unatti to be educated at local schools. The difference between these two groups was as stark as it was to be expected. We worked mainly with the street children. The facilitators from AICI feel a kindred connection to the Unatti Foundation and the Children’s Art Village in shared philosophies on the value of arts practice and participation, the many contributions they make to community and individual wellbeing and development, for the pleasure the arts bring, the education they provide and skills they impart. Artists and community workers in this event had shared views on commitment to practice and how to support and encourage children and communities to learn, share and grow. Alex Pinder opened the weeklong program with mime and clown routines that he performed and then invited children to join. It was an invitation to imagine and laugh, and also an invitation for the children to focus and learn. Use of comic skits develops skills in working co-operatively together through the mime and clowning itself, but also in expectation that children watch each other attentively. This is challenging for children living in a highly stimulating environment, but unused to the structure of a school environment.
Alex Pinder in conversation with the second author of this paper commented: ‘The use of performance art forms, such as mime, storytelling, or comedy varies depending upon what we wish to see as end results. Do we wish that the group or community enjoy and have fun? Do we envisage that the marginalised community’s current reality is exposed to sensitise to the larger community? The built-in purpose makes a big difference. The clowning techniques used here with the children are also useful for adults. They are born of great traditions in the art form. The spontaneity and transience of the movements build a great relationship between my learners and me. (Pinder, 2013)
Street children lead very lean lives. Social skills, such as waiting, sharing materials or being quiet are challenged by their participation and we often see little skirmishes erupt as children seem uncertain of whether there will be enough of anything for them. Focusing, working hard and finishing tasks well are also challenging. In different situations, children learn these skills through their upbringing, social and community relationships, and formal education but because these are not in place, skills are under-developed and need to be taught and learned. Nonetheless, the children’s innate spark, creativity and perseverance helped overcome these impediments and led to beautiful artworks and fun performances. One group painting project ran over two days. With the group as facilitators we continued working with colour mixing as we designed and painted two large market scenes. Markets are central to Asian life, their eye-catching colourful displays of fruit, vegetables and other wares are a great inspiration for painting and discussions about colour, shape, design.
Anne Riggs taught the children drawing and painting through individual as well as large group works. Skills in observation, imagination, and painting using a limited palette to create a myriad of colours can be nurtured. There is nothing more disheartening to the new painter than for all the colours to collapse into brown. A palette of either warm, cool or earth colours brings a vibrancy to the paintings that surprises participants; it starts a process of them believing in their own capacity to learn and create. An arts education at any point in the lifespan has potential to improve individual, as well as community wellbeing (Riggs, 2010, 2012, 2013). Community-based art initiatives invite marginalised minority groups into the public sphere to forge a communal sense of belonging and acceptance. When people work together they begin to sense themselves as a collective body, even when previously unknown to each other, and at the same time create an image of that collective body, says artist Anthony Gormley (Nesbitt, 1993). Creativity, thus, is a tremendous conduit to community. The act of making art together with all that happens around it opens space for human exchange, for caring relationships to develop naturally, a space to test and explore ideas. Janice Fournier, Arts Corps, believes creativity involves generating ideas, digging deeper into ideas, encouraging openness to exploring new ideas, and listening to one’s inner voice (Seidel et al., 2009). The exposure to a larger slice of humanity opens participants, many of whom lead very isolated lives, to reconsider prejudices and engage differently with the world around them. For those that are going through harrowing experiences or unsettled lives, being part of a creative endeavour in a community can ease tensions and normalise relationships.
Alex Pinder in his conversation with the authors described his work as an approach to children through fun and pleasure, that gives him the ability to help children reach places where they are able to create comic sketches drawing attention to what has been lost from their lives, to their unmet needs and to the violence which they have regularly confronted as part of their everyday life as child labour. One tradition of clowning, giving the vulnerable ‘little guy’ the opportunity to have the upper hand and finally win at the expense of the oppressor, created much laughter and gave the children the kind of pleasure that McCarthy et al. astutely recognised as ‘art relates powerfully to our own experiences and emotions’ (McCarthy et al., 2004, p. 47). The fulfilling pleasure of giving expression to what is seen, lived, heard and felt is different from the kind of pleasure felt when encountering most forms of entertainment, and therefore its value is anchored into our cognitive, emotional, and imaginative interactions with them.
Arts practice aligns with the Strengths Perspective to build on people’s aspirations, strengths, resources, and resiliency and to engage in actions pursuing social justice and personal wellbeing (Robbins et al., 2006). The Strengths Perspective is committed to promoting social and economic justice, considering that social work practice deals with transactions between person and environment in which the dynamics of power and power are embedded. In Thailand the adults were invited to safely, and creatively, acknowledge and speak about deeply personal, relevant and threatening matters and express about their imperilled lives. Accordingly, the project’s structure, its lessons in improvisation, collaboration, listening and making together, the authenticity of the relationships and the final work of art were completely appropriate.
Social work and community development work in areas and concerns of dysfunction in communities. While we are aware that such concerns are multi-causal it is equally important to find multivariate interventions in response. The creative arts offer that opportunity to help us understand our clients and communities. As social workers working in the communities would be interested in the conscious and unconscious feelings, conflicts and emotions that individuals experience, the visual and performing arts introduce to us that opportunity to explore the mindset of our communities. The growing recognition in community program policies in developing as well as developed nations is an indication that the inclusion of arts programs is consistently being sought; they are likely to have some profound impacts on the present and future of the communities through developing strong and meaningful ways, not restricted by text and language, for participants to create or find community life, and then participate in it. The aim of community development is to always enhance and leave individuals and communities with a range of new skills, both creative and personal coping, and for promoting resilience and building their hopes (Pulla, 2013). Habits of participation fostered through creative interactions enhance community relationships and understanding. We are always surprised, delighted, touched and amazed by what we uncover, enable and witness. When people can express their feelings and their stories, they are presenting their situation that contains their hopes, dreams and visions. In community development, noticing these strengths and resourcefulness provides a powerful witness of change. People’s potential is enhanced through this process. When so much is possible with so little … we imagine and dream … what would be possible with some deliberate and sustained support to arts practice in community development?
While a considerable body of research demonstrates the efficacy of utilising arts practice in community development, the needed long-term collaborative engagement in communities and with other stakeholders who can support a creative process is still to take full-fledged roots in our society.
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