Cross-­Sector Partnerships and the Role of the Arts in Policy and Systems Change

An event report


A Session Report from the April 2009 Meeting of the Community Arts Convening and Research Project

In April of 2009, 27 participants from the arts, community development, education and other diverse sectors around the country met at California State Monterey Bay as part of the Community Arts Convening and Research Project to discuss “Cross-­‐Sector Partnership and the Role of the Arts in Policy and Systems Change.”

The session was created in response to the concern that community arts practitioners sometimes address only the symptoms of structural inequities and often do not deal with the underlying root causes. While it's true that self-empowerment, personal expression and development of community cohesion are important elements of positive social change, these elements gain momentum and strength when linked to strategic policy development. While artists and the arts have assets to offer cross-sector partnerships, such as vision (being able to see that which does not yet exist), resourcefulness (doing more with less) and (of course) creativity, they are not always integrated as partners in broader policy and systems change work. Framing questions posed by the session organizers focused on what it would take for artists and the arts to develop cross-sector partnerships to affect policy and systems change. These questions include:

  • What opportunities are there for the community artist to connect across sectors with activists, organizers and others who are looking to make systemic change?

  • How would our work in the arts change if we were more conscious and deliberate about connecting with those trying to shift power on a political or institutional level?

  • How do we position/frame artists and the arts (and the various assets they bring to the table) as potentially powerful partners in community and systems change efforts?

    The following six “framing metaphors” summarize key themes, concepts and ideas that arose from the conversation: 1) Setting the Table; 2) Seeding; 3) Being Part of a Relay-­‐ race Team; 4) Mapping; 5) Widening the Circle; and 6) Translating and Building Bridges. These are neither neat nor universally applicable, but, as one participant noted, there is value in “wrestling with the box—creating principles just to throw them out.” These metaphors represent that wrestling, reaching and grasping of the group that convened in Monterey in April, and we hope they model the notion that the process can often be as valuable as the end product. 

    The full report, originally published in Community Arts Perspectives, A Publication of the Community Arts Convening and Research Project is attached.