Creating community. Celebrations, arts and wellbeing within and across local communities
"In all four communities, the most effective local events and activities took account of the specificity’s of place and of the importance of a sense of place for effective community arts practice. In some cases, locally relevant projects were also able to address broader social concerns, such as the integration of migrants, impacts of gentrification, the restructuring of rural economies, or a fear of constant change and insecurity.”
Humphery,K., James, P., Mulligan,M., Scanlon, C., Smith,P., & Welch, N. (2006). Creating community. Celebrations, arts and wellbeing within and across local communities. Melbourne, Australia: The Globalism Institute, RMIT University.
Research was carried out in four communities, ranging from inner-urban to rural and regional. Both quantitative and qualitative methods were used, including: random and targeted surveys; photonarrative techniques for exploring less conscious aspects of lived experience; lengthy strategic conversations with community arts practitioners; response interviews with project participants; the collection of specific stories related to the projects and activities being examined in each community. The research also involved the collation of existing data relevant to the study (e.g. census data, other published surveys) and the construction of detailed profiles relating to the history and character of each community.
Presentations on the findings emerging from the study were given in each of the four casestudy communities in order to gather feedback before the completion of this report.
The findings shows that ‘authentic’ art practices and community celebrations can have a wide range of diffuse and quite profound social outcomes, such as helping people process their emotional responses to lived experiences; providing cathartic experiences for people at risk of social isolation; foster dialogue, rather than conflict; creating new optimism about what communities can achieve; helping people and groups connect to other people and groups; helping to capture and retain stories from the past and animate them in ways that foster a greater sense of belonging.
All of these practices can generate a deeper sense of place that contextualises a local sense of community. In all four communities, the most effective local events and activities took account of the specificity’s of place and of the importance of a sense of place for effective community arts practice. In some cases, locally relevant projects were also able to address broader social concerns, such as the integration of migrants, impacts of gentrification, the restructuring of rural economies, or a fear of constant change and insecurity.“While the individual pieces of evidence regarding the social benefits of the arts may still be fairly weak the overall case is mounting that the arts have an important role to play in the search for meaning and the sustainability of community in a rapidly changing world. The irony is that, while there may be a growing sense that the arts are becoming increasingly important in social and communal terms, public funding for the arts is not growing and practicing artists rarely have an adequate income to concentrate on their practice. “
These results have given an overview of preliminary findings on community arts events and festivals. The key finding that the public generally value the contribution that events offer communities, regardless of active attendance, has methodological implications for future research. It suggests the importance of researching wider public outcomes of community cultural events rather than purely focusing on event specific outcomes and the perceived benefits to an attending public. In a much broader, and perhaps less measurable sense, events and festivals potentially provide (as we will argue later in this report) an important sense of community avowal or visibility, a source of public exhilaration in face of their festive and celebratory aspects, and a sense also of the pleasure of community presence and activity—all of which is clearly highly valued by a broad range of individuals.
This study has in no uncertain terms empirically established the wisdom and value of a focus on cultural activities by health and community development bodies as a vehicle for facilitating community and individual wellbeing.
| Copyright © 2006 The Globalism Institute