I Have a Problem... a Civic Engagement Problem.

Danielle Brazell, Executive Director of Arts for LA



Executive Director Danielle Brazell blogged for ARTSblog on her takeaways from the 2011 Americans for the Arts National Convention, and she wants your advice.



I run a local arts advocacy organization in a small fishing village on the west coast that’s home to 10 million people, 88 cities, and 81 school districts in a geography that spans thousands of square miles.

Yes, my little fishing village (aka Los Angeles) is massive!

Our advocacy approach has been high-tech/high-touch advocacy approach and is focused on three critical issue areas:

•    Arts Education
•    Cultural Economy
•    Civic Engagement

Within this context, I constantly ask the question: How can we connect more people to advocate for the arts in their community? I think the answer lies somewhere between community organizing and community development.

This was one the questions swirling around my brain at 8:30 a.m. when I walked into the Civic Engagement Peer Group facilitated by the Barbara Schaffer Bacon (at the Americans for the Arts Annual Convention), half of the dynamic duo known to many in our field as the gurus of community engagement and Animating Democracy cofounders (Pam Korza is the other half).

Barbara is such a skilled facilitator. After giving a brief introduction of the work of Animating Democracy, she gave session participants the opportunity to introduce themselves and share a little about the civic engagement work they are doing.

The spectrum was as diverse and broad as the people in the room. Because of the many ways folks can interpret civic engagement, she broke it down into four buckets:

•    Using creative tools to draw people to be active citizens
•    Activities of groups of people can be indicators of civic engagement
•    Artists and institutions are part of the issues that affect their community
•    Artists that use their artistic practice to spur social change

Each of these slices of the civic engagement spectrum is a world on its own. These categories help those who are doing this work connect the dots and identify where to apply limited resources.

Looking at a continuum of impact, rather than finite check box, is crucial. But operating on a continuum and building relationships take time.

Projects need timelines, benchmarks, and deliverables. Accountability in this work is really hard to measure.

How do you know when you are moving the needle? How do foster accountability rooted in less proof and more into a culture of evidence? Conversations are happening with the funding community to move more into this direction; but, it’s going to take time, more research, better frameworks, and more achievable indicators of success.

Animating Democracy is doing amazing work in developing frameworks to communicate the many ways in which artists and communities are working together to address local issues. They are the ones who build the capacity of artists and arts organizations working on a wide sphere of community engagement/civic engagement work.

This includes helping funders develop qualitative to support the quantitative reporting metrics as well as connecting other practitioners to each other. They also offer technical assistance, professional development programs, and feature an extensive list of publications. If you haven’t checked out their site, I strongly suggest it.

It’s so incredibly exciting to see the catalog of projects that are featured on their website. There’s no limit to what can be created, or how a problem can be addressed through this work.

I left the session energized but with more questions than when the session started.

What are some examples of how this work affects policy? How can I build upon the work of community artists to create a more robust voice in support of arts and community? How can we connect the dots to ensure that everyone has access to meaningful arts and cultural experiences that reflect their community?

If you have the answers, ideas, suggestions and/or examples, please share.

I want to learn from you.


Danielle's blog was written for Americans for the Arts' ARTSblog.  See the original post by clicking here.