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About the Community Arts Network

About CAN

About the Community Arts Network

The Community Arts Network (CAN) is a portal to the field of community arts, providing news, documentation, theoretical writing, communications, research and educational information. Headquartered at its Web site on the Internet, CAN is a program of Art in the Public Interest (API), a nonprofit organization based in North Carolina. For a complete explanation of CAN's mission and activities, see the Welcome page.

A CAN History

Art in the Public Interest (API) is a nonprofit organization providing information and resources in support of art that is culturally engaged and serving communities. API's co-directors, Linda Frye Burnham and Steven Durland, founded and edited High Performance magazine for its entire 20 years, with an increasing focus on the field of community arts and art for social justice. In 1995 they sharpened their focus and mission by creating a new nonprofit organization, Art in the Public Interest, and, with Virginia Tech, founding the Community Arts Network in 1999.

Joining Burnham and Durland as founding directors were artists Robert H. Leonard and Ann Kilkelly, both faculty members in the Department of Theatre Arts at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Va. The university's interest in the field of community arts was rooted in the Department of Theatre Arts' Consortium for the Study of Theatre and Community, organized by Leonard and Kilkelly to bring together members of community-based theater ensembles from across the U.S. to share resources and concerns. Many of the consortium members went on to found the Network of Ensemble Theater.

Leonard and Virginia Tech raised initial funds for CAN as a collaborative project with API. Leonard directed, along with Kilkelly, one of CAN's most important first projects, "Performing Communities: The Ensemble Theater Research Project." Leonard remains a co-director of CAN, with Kilkelly as a member of its board of advisors. Once the CAN project gained viable momentum, API assumed primary responsibility for its support.

CAN is API's only program and API is CAN's sole base of support. API manages CAN and its content in frequent collaboration with other artists and organizations, including Virginia Tech.

Who We Are

Linda Frye Burnham and Steven Durland, CAN co-directors, have been visible figures in the arts in the U.S. for more than 25 years. Durland is a visual artist and designer who is responsible for organizational and product design, now mastering CAN's Web site. Burnham is a writer who specializes in community arts and is responsible for editing and much of the writing on the CAN site. She also co-founded the 18th St. Arts Complex (of which Durland was executive director) and Highways Performance Space, both in California.

Robert H. Leonard, CAN co-director, is professor of theatre arts at Virginia Tech and director of its graduate programs in Stage Management and in Directing and Public Dialogue. He was founding artistic director of The Road Company, a theater ensemble based in Johnson City, Tennessee (1972-1998).

Maryo Gard Ewell, CAN contributing editor, is a consultant in community arts and development and former associate director of the Colorado Council on the Arts.

Jami M. Haft, CAN assistant editor, is program coordinator of Imagining America: Artists and Scholars in Public Life, based at Syracuse University, N.Y., and national organizer and Web editor for Voices from the Cultural Battlefront: Organizing for Equity.

CAN is advised by a board of scholars and practitioners in community-based arts. They include:

  • Ysaye M. Barnwell, member of the a cappella quintet Sweet Honey in the Rock, composer/arranger, choral conductor, author, actress, healthcare worker, living in Washington, D.C.
  • William Cleveland, author/musician and director of the Center for the Study of Art and Community in Bainbridge Island, Washington
  • Dudley Cocke, artistic director of Roadside Theater and member of the leadership of Appalshop, Inc., in Whitesburg, Kentucky
  • Jan Cohen Cruz, director of Imagining America: Artists and Scholars in Public Life, based at Syracuse University; author of numerous books on theater in community settings; and formerly professor at NYU Tisch School of the Arts, where she directed the minor in applied theatre and Tisch's Office of Community Connections
  • Kathie deNobriga, organizational consultant and former executive director of Alternate ROOTS, based in Georgia
  • Grady Hillman, poet, folklorist, anthropologist and arts-and-education consultant, based in Austin, Texas, who has written prominently about and developed arts programs in criminal justice
  • Ann Kilkelly, professor of theater arts and women's studies at Virginia Tech and scholar/practitioner in jazz-tap dancing and history, performance studies and interactive performance techniques
  • Shishir Kurup, Los Angeles-based actor/writer/director/composer and ensemble member of Cornerstone Theater Company and Great Leap, based in Los Angeles, California
  • Sonia BasSheva Mañjon, vice president for diversity and strategic partnerships at Wesleyan University and former director of the Center for Art and Public Life and chair of Diversity Studies and Community Arts at California College of the Arts, where she developed and one of the first "Community Arts" majors in the U.S.
  • Meena Natarajan, playwright, performer and founding executive and literary director of Pangea World Theater in Minneapolis, Minn., a theater committed to bringing people together from different backgrounds and ethnicities from around the world
  • Shannon Turner, writer/director; manager of programs & services at Alternate ROOTS, Atlanta, Ga.; 2007 graduate of the MFA in Arts Administration program at Virginia Tech

The Roles of Collaborators

One of API's primary strategies is to collaborate with individuals and organizations that participate in community arts, in different ways on special projects published on CAN. Sometimes these projects are initiated by API, sometimes by collaborators. All these projects incorporate the voices, opinions and creative input of community members who help design and participate in them.

CAN collaborators have included:

  • Alternate ROOTS
  • Appalshop
  • Center for Community Change
  • Center for the Study of Art & Community
  • Columbia College Chicago
  • Creative Exchange
  • Critical Press
  • James Irvine Foundation
  • Liz Lerman Dance Exchange
  • Maryland Institute College of Art
  • Robert E. Gard Foundation
  • Rockefeller Foundation
  • The Washington, Oregon and Idaho arts councils
  • Virginia Tech


Initial support for the Community Arts Network was provided by Art in the Public Interest and the Virginia Tech ASPIRES Program.

Additional support for CAN has been provided by

  • Nathan Cummings Foundation
  • Rockefeller Foundation
  • David and Lucile Packard Foundation
  • Open Society Institute
  • National Endowment for the Arts
  • Threshold Foundation
  • Virginia Tech's Office of Outreach and College of Arts and Sciences
  • Individual donors

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From the CAN Bookstore

Performing Communities
Performing Communities
Grassroots Ensemble Theaters Deeply Rooted in Eight U.S. Communities

By Robert H. Leonard and Ann Kilkelly
Edited by Linda Frye Burnham
Published by New Village Press
Paperback: $19.95


Making Exact Change
Making Exact Change
How U.S. arts-based programs have made a significant and sustained impact on their communities

A Report from the Community Arts Network
By William Cleveland
Published by the Community Arts Network
Printed/bound: $14.99
PDF Download: Free


The CAN Report
The CAN Report
The State of the Field of Community Cultural Development: Something New Emerges

A Report from the Community Arts Network Gathering, May 2004
By Linda Frye Burnham, Steven Durland and Maryo Gard Ewell
Published by the Community Arts Network
Printed/bound: $12.00
PDF Download: Free


The Citizen Artist
The Citizen Artist
20 Years of Art in the Public Arena An Anthology from High Performance Magazine 1978-1998

Edited by Linda Frye Burnham and Steven Durland
Published by the Critical Press
no longer available


CAN Oval bumper sticker
CAN Oval Bumper Sticker


CAN Oval

The Community Arts Network (CAN) promotes information exchange, research and critical dialogue within the field of community-based arts. The CAN web site is managed by Art in the Public Interest.
©1999-2010 Community Arts Network

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