Embedding the Arts in Community

Community Matters

Blue Mountains artist, Wendy Tsai, asks: “How do we garner and nurture the passion in why the arts are so important in cultural life?”

The answer to this question lies in the strength of the relationships between the creative arts community of practitioners and the wider community of people who are interested in exploring new ideas and discovering interesting perspectives on our world through the arts—music, performing arts, visual arts, sculpture, artisan crafts, writing, dance.

Even for strong individualists, community matters. We humans are social animals. We are also meaning-making creatures, and both these traits drive the way that we like to connect with others—family, friends, neighbours and people we care about or who share our interests. When we lose a sense of being connected to others, or we lose a sense of meaning or purpose in our lives, this can often lead to profound unhappiness and loss of mental health.

“Humans are at our happiest when we are part of a group that provides a sense of belonging and solidarity… People don’t just want a cushy life; humans take pride in making sacrifices for causes that are bigger than ourselves” (Sebastian Junger, Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging).

Learning from the Songlines Tradition

We can take a lesson from our ancient cultural heritage, the 65,000+ year Songlines tradition of our First Nations peoples, where their knowledge system was kept alive and renewed through the arts of the songlines—storytelling, painting, dance, and music.

Head of ANU’s Centre for Indigenous Knowledges, senior Indigenous curator, and principal adviser to the director of the National Museum of Australia, Margo Neale and Lynne Kelly offer an Indigenous and Non-Indigenous perspective on the meaning and significance of Songlines, why they have been so successful in keeping Indigenous knowledge intact for tens of thousands of years and how they work as an effective memory technique and tool.  Find out more:

https://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/latenightlive/songlines/12869102

Combining the Arts with Community Conversation—Bridge to Otherness

The Wild Mountain Collective has partnered with Blackheath Area Neighbourhood Centre (BANC) to host a performance of Jo Truman’s Bridge To Otherness, featuring the voices of the people of the Blue Mountains and the sounds of our environment. It will be held at the Blackheath Community Hall on Saturday 28 November, 4pm – 6pm, with free drinks afterwards.  Tickets are available at:https://events.humanitix.com/bridge-to-otherness-a-response-to-the-great-western-highway

The Program

Welcome to Country by Dharug man, Uncle Lex Dadd of the Aboriginal Cultural Resource Centre

Part A: Portent of Loss—voices of Aboriginal elders

Q&A session with Uncle Lex on how the original crossing of the Blue Mountains was a portent of significant loss for the local Gundungurra, Dharug and Wiradjuri people.

Part B: Delusions of Modernity—progress

Q&A session with Gary Moore, community member of the Blackheath GWH Co-Design Committee, on reconciling village life with the GWH as the main transport artery for the people of Western NSW.

Blue Mountains Cultural Centre—Arts in Community

A compelling example of embedding the arts in community is provided by the Blue Mountains Cultural Centre’s Critical Mass: the Art of Planetary Health project (3 October – 6 December), designed to help the City of Blue Mountains celebrate 20 years as a city within a World Heritage Area. The project includes an art exhibition of local and nationally acclaimed artists—providing a visual exploration of how people relate to our environment and how we have lived then and now, inclusive of food, energy, and resource sharing. It also includes a range of linked public programs:

  • Web with Leanne Tobin— beginning with just a few threads with the community continuing to connect the pieces, stretching and tying recycled fabrics to create a collaborative installation in the gallery;
  • Talks on Sustainable Transitions by leading academics from Planetary Health partner organisations, Western Sydney University and Monash University. These include artist Leo Rubba on ‘Visual Culture: Picturing a Shared Future’, Louise Crabtree on ‘New Ways: Thinking about Resilience’, and Tony Capon on ‘Planetary Health in the Anthropocene’ and Juan Salazar on re-imagining the future, or as he explained in his talk, ‘The Poetics of Tomorrowing’.

Follow these links to find out more:

http://bluemountainsculturalcentre.com.au/public_programs/web-leanne-tobin/

http://bluemountainsculturalcentre.com.au/public_programs/enabling-planetary-health-sustainable-transitions-blue-mountains/

Reconnecting—The Community Builder’s Handbook

Reconnected: A Community Builder’s Handbook (2020) by Andrew Leigh and Nick Terrell.

“Humans are inherently social. We draw our identities from our families, sporting teams, workplaces, neighbourhoods and nations. Most of the lasting achievements of our species have come from people working together, sharing their brains and brawn.”

1   Questions

“Strong social connections make communities more resilient [and people happier]. But today Australians have fewer close friends and local connections than in the past, and more of us say we have no one to turn to in tough times. How can we turn this around?”

“Creating a more connected community is about helping others. So we begin with volunteers—society’s helpers—to see who’s innovating, and what they’re doing. How the rest of us can learn from them?”

“To solve collective problems, we don’t just need smart ideas, we need strong networks through which such ideas can spread. Volunteering bridges groups of people that might never have connected otherwise. How do we strengthen these networks?

“We all like to feel like we’re part of something bigger than ourselves. How can we build a volunteer tribe that creates a self-sustaining identity for our non-profit organisation that seeks to make the world a better place?”

2     Lessons Learnt

Talk it Up

Image, narrative, emotion—these are the currency of influence and influencers, and they are the fundamentals of experience sharing. An organisation needs a compelling story about its purpose, followed by an engaging call to action.

Recruit by Association

One of the factors that draws people to join organisations is ‘finding their tribe’ so we need to deploy user-generated content to attract like-minded supporters that encourages recognition.

Turn Facebook and Instagram friends and followers into true friends—help the iGen learn the ‘art of F2F’

Overcome Obstacles

Find out what is stopping like-minded people getting involved in your organisation and work out how to address them:

  • Easy sign up
  • Advertise your values and principles
  • Fees that reflect differing capacities or exchange volunteer roles for fees
  • Define volunteer roles that enable participation and recognise and develop skills and give a sense of accomplishment
  • Actively reach out to communities who are under-represented
  • Build networks and partnerships

Great Experiences

Provide volunteers with great experiences can create a chain reaction that helps volunteers go on to become social entrepreneurs

Create a Strong Esprit de Corps

Give new volunteers a clear understanding of the organisation’s purpose and their role in achieving it – and create an esprit de corps through sharing success stories, facilitating networking among volunteers and listening to volunteer’s ideas about how the organisation can do better.

Don’t Do ‘Bland’

Build a dedicated tribe of enthusiasts by creating activities that offer an irresistible mix of endorphins and altruism.

Donations

Attracting donations is most effective when linked to enthusiasm, ease and evidence that taps into specific examples of having an effect. For example, the Reichstein Foundation’s banner is ‘Change not Charity’ with the aim to invest in inspirational people projects and organisations—addressing causes, not symptoms.

Innovate

Recognise that in a rapidly changing world, we constantly need to examine what we are doing and how we are doing it. “Disrupt yourself before someone else does.”

Be Welcoming

Think about the experiences of newcomers to your community and make sure their first ‘visit’ is not their last. Reach out to untapped members of your community.

Insights From Success

The fundamental insights from successful community builders include:

  • Community building is rarely painless – it takes commitment
  • Community building requires purpose – a guiding mission distilled into single compelling vision in a few words
  • Community building requires passion and reflection
  • Community building requires partnerships – recognising you are part of a larger ecosystem