5 Ways Arts Projects Can Improve Communities

by Shannon Bowman

Do we need street art? What does this type of art achieve? What role might they play in a future of a community?  Most of us listen to music, watch films or look at pictures at least once or twice a day, but rarely consider the societal impacts of such commonplace things.

1. Promote Interaction in Public Space

Public spaces and marketplaces are essential ingredients in every community. Public space provides opportunities for people to meet and be exposed to a variety of neighbors. These meetings often take place by chance, but they also can come through active organizing. The art of promoting constructive interaction among people in public spaces has been nearly forgotten in many communities. Planners, architects, and public administrators have focused more on creating aesthetic places and on providing for the unimpeded movement and storage of automobiles than on creating places that encourage social interaction. More recently, public officials have been even more concerned with security and maximizing their ability to observe and control people in public spaces.

2. Increase Civic Participation Through Celebrations

Creating the kind of connections between people that lead to collective civic action is a challenge for any planner, organizer, or community builder. It’s a lot of hard work and there’s no secret formula, but it’s an essential ingredient in a democratic society. Annual or seasonal events such as festivals or farmers markets can be especially effective in communities with great social, ethnic, and economic diversity. The processes used to plan and carry out these events are at least as important as the events themselves.

3. Engage Youth in the Community

Including young people as meaningful contributors in the social and economic aspects of community building must not be overlooked and cannot be left to schools and parents alone.
Engaging youth has a dual benefit: it brings more adults into the picture. Research in civic engagement by the League of Women Voters indicates that the factor most likely to get people more involved in community affairs is helping to improve conditions for youth. “Issues related to children, including mentoring and coaching, and education are those most likely to mobilize the untapped reservoir of volunteers.”

4. Promote the Power and Preservation of Place

When people become involved in the design, creation, and upkeep of places, they develop a vested interest in using and maintaining these spaces. When they have a true sense of “ownership” or connection to the places they frequent, the community becomes a better place to live, work, and visit. The residents’ feelings of respect and responsibility for the place bonds them to that place and to each other. No architect or town planner can design or build a place that does that.

5. Broaden Participation in Civic Duty

Community-based arts practitioners bring members of a community together to solve problems, build relationships, and get involved in ways that rebuild communities.