by Sarah Blosser, M.A., Program Specialist: Teaching Artist, Community Art
In the global scope, Community Art has many facets. It is often defined broadly, and each practitioner facilitates based on the needs of the community they are working with. This idea—art in service of community—is the basic tenet at the heart of Community Art.
Community Art is a tool for promoting positive social change and can take many forms. It means equal access to the arts and arts programming; it ignites social dialogue, promotes awareness and advocacy, and combats issues of social justice. Whether by creating murals or other forms of public art, facilitating arts programming for those who might not otherwise have access, or beautifying community spaces, Community Art builds up and empowers communities.
At Friends Life Community, we have been happily making art and expanding our arts programming for the past three years. From studio art to music to theatre, not only have we experienced the many therapeutic aspects of the arts, but we have seen our Friends take to each new medium with excitement—learning and growing in ways that were unexpected. This speaks directly to the transformative power of the arts.
After several years of witnessing firsthand how powerful the arts programming was in promoting personal and social growth for our Friends, I was eager to take Friends Life Community’s arts programming one step further.
My work as a Community Artist lives within the exploration and appreciation of the creative process as an innate human ability and need. As a creative spirit I strive to continually illuminate—for others and for myself—creativity, not as something that only certain special individuals possess or have access to, but rather, as something that we all embody by nature of being human. It is my belief that, as trees are rooted in the earth and grow to deepen their roots and reach out their branches, so too is creativity rooted in humanity. As creativity is nurtured its roots deepen and its branches reach out, uplifting the whole of human potential.
I have a master’s degree in Community Art. This quarter I am piloting a Community Art class with my colleague Heather Barrie and eight of our Friends. The group is working first on learning basic concepts of Community Art.
They are breaking down words like social justice, equality, rights, and advocacy, and participating in group activities to explore and experience the concept of social justice.
The class will also begin learning more about the rights and responsibilities of individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDDs). From there they will practice talking, writing, and making art about social justice issues that are important to the group. They will learn about what they can do to improve social justice for themselves and for others. Finally, the class will brainstorm project ideas and look for community partners and/or venue spaces where they can work collaboratively on projects about social justice issues that are important to the group or our larger community.
My hope is to increase the visibility and scope of what Friends Life Community’s Arts Program can do for individuals with IDDs. We know our Friends benefit from the expressive and meditative aspects of the arts, but art can also be a powerful tool when used to address the needs of a community.
At Friends Life Community, we help our Friends learn how to be more independent and take care of themselves, but we also want to help them become active participants in advocating for the things they need—and want—out of their lives.
Social, written, and verbal expression can be difficult for our Friends, especially when it comes to higher level concepts, like advocating for their rights and communicating personal desires.
Art can be a way for them to do this.