Arts spark conversations and community engagement
By Katrina DeBerry, program officer, Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta
The arts are a physical manifestation of the heart and soul of community. Not just what feels good, but all the things that make us human can be expressed and understood through artistic representation. The arts give voice to issues that give us joy and break our hearts. Of course it makes sense as an integral part of civic and community engagement.
This year, the Community Foundation awarded General Operating Support grants to two arts organizations at the intersection of arts and community engagement. C4 Atlanta and Out of Hand Theater are doing more than creating and supporting artists. They are utilizing the arts as a tool to amplify community voice, drive important conversations and create wealth-building and entrepreneurial opportunities for artists.
Created in 2001, Out of Hand Theater (OHT) uses the arts as a conduit for substantive community conversations. OHT partners with civic organizations to address regional issues through arts-driven programming and intentional community engagement. Each year, OHT performs over 30 shows in the homes of community members and offers facilitated conversations around issues like poverty, addiction and gun violence. This work places the organization in communities that experience these challenges, but also exposes these issues to members of the community who may not be directly impacted but are willing to learn more. This summer, OHT, in partnership with City of Decatur, One Small Change and Decatur City Schools, hosted 100 Decatur Dinners: Conversations on Race and Equity. OHT used creative performances by local artists to begin each of the conversations around race and equity.
C4 is an organization focused on the business side of the arts, providing tools and support to artists as entrepreneurs. Created in 2010, C4 plays an important role in the artistic entrepreneurial space. It sees the arts as a key economic development driver for the Atlanta region and serves to ensure that artists are taking full advantage of their art from a business perspective. C4 also provides training for artists who seek to work in the community and helps to define what community-driven/community-led work looks like. C4 does this by bringing awareness to policies that affect artists, like healthcare, workforce development, voting rights and tax policy, and creating opportunities for artists to advocate for those issues. C4 hosted a two-day civic education workshop in partnership with the YMCA and the New Georgia Project to present information to young voters during a free concert in 2018. That project evolved into an advocacy workshop for arts workers and created space for artists to actively engage in civic issues and connect to their local representatives.
Both organizations are working to support the arts community and our collective community. And we are a better regional community because of it.