Thursday, May 12, 2011

Arts for Social Change Hot Topic at London Creative Cities Summit Unconference

"The arts not only matter today in our cities, they are essential for our community survival."
Cheryl McLean, International Journal Creative Arts in Interdisciplinary Practice

On June 4, in London, Ontario, municipal cultural and heritage leaders from across the country gathered at The Creative City Summit Unconference. Innovative ideas were proposed to help shape the rich and vibrant cities that would attract new residents while serving the diverse needs of communities in transition. A hot topic at the event was the creative arts for social change and how the arts in many forms can ignite communities in common purpose and bring people together to raise awareness about social issues and foster understanding and empathy while leading to positive change.

The Creative Cities Network report, "Making the Case for Culture, Arts for Positive Change in Communities" has outlined how the arts can impact communities in meaningful ways and make a critical difference for citizens.

"The arts and culture are powerful tools with which to engage communities in various levels of change. They are a means to public dialogue that can contribute to the development of a community's creative learning, create healthy communities capable of action, provide a powerful tool for community mobilization and activism and help build community capacity and leadership."

The document goes on to list five important ways the arts in action can lead to change:

1. The arts are one of the primary means of public dialogue

2. The arts contribute to the development of creative learning communities

3. The arts help create communities capable of action

4. The arts can serve as a powerful tool for community mobilization and activism

5. The arts can build community capacity and leadership

I was a presenter at the Creative Cities Summit Unconference and it was very encouraging to note that in the boardroom at Museum London there was a "full house" for the presentation "Arts in Research for Community and Cultural Change". The purpose of this presentation was to provide knowledge and information about the creative arts as applied in research in projects making a difference in research across the country while offering illustrative descriptions and stories of the work in practice. Examples were largely drawn from the research books, "Creative Arts in Interdisciplinary Practice, Inquiries for Hope and Change" published August 2010, and "Creative Arts in Research for Community and Cultural Change" (Eds. Cheryl McLean, Robert Kelly, Detselig Temeron Press.) Later in the day we heard from keynote presenter, Paul Hoffert, co-founder of Lighthouse, media professor at York University and a recipient of The Order of Canada as well a nationally recognized arts advocate. Hoffert presented examples of the arts for change such as "El Sistema" a publicly financed music program in Venezuela which gives poor children musical instruments and lessons to keep them from a life of crime and drug abuse.

For municipal cultural leaders such topical examples of the arts in action can help counter arguments that view the arts as an optional "add on", or "frill" and build a powerful case for the arts as "life" and fundamental in fostering the development of a healthy and vital creative city. The new movement in creative community development may well be arts for social change as city planners balance the needs for accessible residential living in the core with the diverse needs of all its valued citizens.

Cheryl McLean, Publisher, Executive Editor
International Journal of the Creative Arts in Interdisciplinary Practice IJCAIP