Share this page Print

Community-Based Arts Work: Co-Creating Beauty and Meaning

Arlene Goldbard, Writer, Speaker, Consultant and Cultural Activist
Presented by Arlene Goldbard, Writer, Speaker, Consultant and Cultural Activist

What can public art do? Around the world, artists collaborating with community members are answering that question. The images and experiences that emerge from their collaborations become sites of public memory, calling our attention to places in the social fabric that need mending or moments that merit celebration. Public art can express cultural citizenship, helping everyone to feel at home in their own communities by seeing their heritages and contributions valued and reflected. It can invite contemplation or inspire action. It can delight, educate, beautify, engage. Your answers are shaped by the way you see your work as an artist and how you understand your roles and relationships in community. Arlene’s talk aimed to enlarge that understanding, engaging your largest, deepest vision.

Part 1: Ethics of Community-based Arts Work: An Interactive Workshop

As more and more artists get involved in the exciting field of community cultural development, they encounter the unique ethical challenges of participatory arts practice (sometimes called community arts, social practice, art for social change, etc.). How do you handle censorship, conflict, disruption? How is it possible to balance the commitment to a funder or sponsoring organization with commitments to community participants? Is the community artist’s role to channel others’ creativity without intruding, or should the artist’s own aesthetics, values, and priorities be part of the mix?

Through this workshop, participants discovered their own values and ethical commitments, equipping themselves to anticipate and head off conflicts, and finding mutual, respectful solutions when they do arise. In the first half, Arlene offered a toolkit for understanding, recognizing, and navigating ethical challenges. In the second half, participants picked a case-study and tried out their new tools.

Part 2: Story Circles in Community-based Arts Work: Learning by Doing

A story circle is a small group of individuals sitting in a circle, sharing stories—usually from their own experience or imagination—focusing on a common theme. As each person in turn shares a story, a richer and more complex story emerges. By the end, people see both real differences and things their stories have in common. A story circle is a journey into its theme, with multiple dimensions, twists and turns.

You could say that story circles are the DNA of community arts practice. People use them to generate plots and dialogue for devised theatre, explore neighbourhood history or community issues for a mural, and much much more. The workshop divided into small groups and used the story circle format to explore participants’ own stories about art and community, then talked about how to use this technique in their own work.

Date: Saturday, January 24, 2015

Time: 1:00 – 5:00pm
Location: Nickle Galleries, Gallery Hall, Taylor Family Library University of Calgary

About Arlene Goldbard

Arlene Goldbard is a writer, speaker, consultant and cultural activist whose focus is the intersection of culture, politics and spirituality. Find her blog, talks, and writings at Her two newest books on art’s public purpose—The Wave and The Culture of Possibility: Art, Artists & The Future were published in spring 2013. Prior books include New Creative Community: The Art of Cultural Development, Community, Culture and Globalization, an anthology published by the Rockefeller Foundation, Crossroads: Reflections on the Politics of Culture, and Clarity, a novel. Her essays have been widely published. She has addressed academic and community audiences in the U.S. and Europe and provided advice to hundreds of community-based organizations, independent media groups, and public and private funders and policymakers. She serves as Chief Policy Wonk of the U.S. Department of Arts and Culture ( and President of the Board of Directors of The Shalom Center (