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CAN Report
Table of Contents

The CAN Report

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

A Report from the CAN Gathering, May 2004

Published by Art in the Public Interest July, 2004



Art in the Public Interest (API) is a nonprofit organization that “supports the belief that the arts are an integral part of a healthy culture, and that community-based arts provide significant value both to communities and artists.” API's major project is the Community Arts Network, where a large amount of information about community-based art activity is published on the Web. To help advance its service to the field, API recently convened a small gathering of artists and other practitioners engaged long-term in community arts (also called community cultural development) to learn more about the current state of that field.

API was joined in this convening by The Rockefeller Foundation, which has provided some 90 awards since 1995 through a community cultural development initiative, Partnerships Affirming Community Transformation (PACT). Rockefeller was interested both in evaluating PACT and in assessing the state of the field of community cultural development (CCD) in order to inform decision-making and planning within its Creativity & Culture Division. Both organizations wanted to know what the field looks like, where it's going and what it needs.

The Community Arts Network Gathering took place on May 26-28, 2004, at Lutheridge Conference Center in Arden, North Carolina. The API staff took great care to ensure that the 28 invited participants included artists, administrators, academics and observer-writers; that the visual, performing, media and literary arts were represented; that the group was culturally balanced; and that the group represented small towns and major cities throughout the United States. The group — identified in Appendix I — included several people whose organizations had received PACT funding, but the invitation went to individuals because of their personal long-term commitment to this field (many have been active since the 1960s), not as representatives of organizations. The final group was 27 practitioners; in addition, there were five participant-observers from Rockefeller, and five participant-staffers from API.


API's approach to the task was to ask participants to speak and reflect about their own experience, rather than to make observations about their own sense of the field.

Prior to the Gathering, participants (including Rockefeller and API staff) were asked to:

  • share biographical information
  • respond in writing to: “How do you describe the work you do?”
  • respond in writing to: “What is the most recent significant change in the way you do your work?”
  • “List the burning questions you bring to this meeting.” This question was deliberately left open-ended so that questions could range from the highly personal to the global, from the concrete to the theoretical.
  • read selected portions from "Creative Community: The Art of Cultural Development" by Don Adams and Arlene Goldbard, particularly the definitions. The intent was to provide, beforehand, a common vocabulary from which to start conversation.

Participants’ verbatim responses comprise Appendix II.

At the Gathering itself, participants:

  • introduced themselves in terms of one of their “burning questions”
  • discussed what “making a difference” means to them
  • considered tools and partners that inform their work
  • considered the environment, or ecology, in which they work
  • identified the short- and long-term needs of the community cultural development field
  • made personal action commitments to address these needs

The Agenda is Appendix III.

This report represents a synthesis of the Gathering's discussions and comments as well as the authors’ perceptions of underlying themes; the entire transcript is online at the Community Arts Network (http://www.communityarts.net), and readers are invited to derive patterns and themes for themselves.

Shared Values, Definition and Characteristics of Work

It is important to start with the definition of “community cultural development” crafted by Adams and Goldbard, for it was foundational to the Gathering and formed the context for all discussions:

“Community cultural development describes a range of initiatives undertaken by artists in collaboration with other community members to express identity, concerns and aspirations through the arts and communications media, while building cultural capacity and contributing to social change.” [1]

Some examples described at the Gathering included Roadside Theater, The Village of Arts and Humanities and Pangea World Theater.[2]

The work described by its practitioners at the Gathering always engages community members in participatory art making that is often issue-focused. It generally involves more than a single art form. It frequently engages collaborating practitioners in non-arts fields — people from government, social service, urban planning, medicine — according to the needs of the community and the nature of their aspirations. Finally, CCD practitioners recognize the transformative interdependence of quality process and quality product; they are inextricable.

Consistent with these values, written and verbal “burning questions” and subsequent discussion made it clear that all participants agreed that community cultural development is deeply concerned with:

  • Democracy — All people’s voices must be heard and dialogue between and among groups is foundational.
  • Social justice — Equitable access to resources for all people and equitable treatment of all people is essential, whether the arena is environmental equity, racial equity, economic equity, legal equity, gender equity or countless others.
  • Diversity — Communities, places and cultures are unique and shape people and their behaviors and relationships; diversity is essential for democracy; and its opposite — the uniform, the generic, the monolithic — is a dangerous social state to be avoided.

[Next: Comparing the Field]  [Table of Contents]

[1] Adams, Don and Arlene Goldbard, "Creative Community: The Art of Cultural Development" (New York: Rockefeller Foundation), p. 107

[2] Examples of community cultural development (among the CAN Gathering participants):

  • Roadside Theater of Whitesburg, Kentucky, whose members collaborate with people in their own home towns to create performance derived from community oral histories, self-studies, local concerns and values
  • The Village of Arts and Humanities in Philadelphia, which began when artist Lily Yeh built an art park with children in a deprived neighborhood; 18 years later the neighborhood has become — through arts projects — a healthier, more beautiful and more sustainable place to live and work.
  • The Pangea World Theater in Minneapolis, which uses the tradition of Indian street theater to gather people of different ethnicities and backgrounds to make pieces addressing issues in their lives




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