How and why are arts and cultural practices meaningful to communities?
Highlighting examples from Lebanon, Latin America, China, Ireland, India, Sri Lanka and beyond, this exciting book explores the relationship between the arts, culture and community development.
Academics and practitioners from six continents discuss how diverse communities understand, re-imagine or seek to change personal, cultural, social, economic or political conditions while using the arts as their means and spaces of engagement.
Investigating the theory and practice of ‘cultural democracy’, this book explores a range of aesthetic forms including song, music, muralism, theatre, dance, and circus arts.
It is mid-September 2020. As we gather our thoughts to give final expression to the monumental changes which have occurred since this book project began, it is difficult to overstate their significance for life across the planet. Many of us are reeling from the impact of the pandemic on our sense of self, of place, our frameworks of understanding, our plans, hopes and fears for the future. It’s clear that nobody is unaffected by the coronavirus moment, though clearly not all in the same way. As an Italian correspondent put it in a letter to The Guardian newspaper: COVID-19 exposes:
the enormity of the world’s suffering – the decimated Amazon rainforest tribes, the jobless Indian labourer who walked for hundreds of miles from his ancestral village, the homeless man who slept in the entrance of an office building until metal spikes were placed on the floor – and the understanding that we are all connected. (Francesca Melandri, 2020: np)
The sense of existential connectedness expressed here, and across the chapters in this book, may be a source of both comfort and critique in the times to come, in spite of those systems of power which seek to differentiate and divide. As Arundhati Roy (2020: np) puts it, ‘For all the suffering, finally, we have all been compelled to interrogate “normal”’.
This unparalleled context has precipitated degrees of paralysis, panic or chaos worldwide as powerful interests rush to shore up economic models which have informed and infused all aspects of social, political and cultural life, the mounting and visible contradictions of which have previously been denied or quietly and crudely mitigated.
In line with the aims of the Rethinking Community Development series, and in common with the other volumes published to date, this book reflects a commitment to theorising ‘issues and practices in a way that will encourage diverse audiences to rethink the potential of community development’. For us, the editors, this volume extends our longstanding interest in the potentially rich dialectical relationship between the arts, culture and community development (Meade and Shaw, 2007; 2011; Shaw and Meade, 2013; Meade, 2018a). Taking it as axiomatic that community development’s theory and practice are continuously reconstituted for different purposes and different contexts, this book draws attention to some of the diverse ways that groups of people collectively make sense of, re-imagine or seek to change the personal, cultural, social, economic, political, or territorial conditions of their lives, while using the arts as their means and spaces of engagement. Across its chapters, the book explores the following broad themes and questions:
How can we conceptualise the relationship between community development and arts/cultural practice? What diverse forms does this relationship take in contemporary contexts? How might democratic strategies and commitments overlap and nurture each other within this relationship?
How do communities of people engage with, utilise, make sense of and make sense through particular artforms and media? How can we understand the aesthetic and associated meanings of such engagements?
How are the power dynamics related to authorship, resources, public recognition and expectations of impact negotiated within community-based arts processes?
How do economistic and neoliberal rationalities shape arts processes and programmes in community contexts? To what extent are dominant rationalities being resisted and challenged through arts practices?
This chapter offers a critical overview of the book’s unifying theme: the complex and constant interplay between the processes of community development, politics and power. It discusses in turn the contested concepts of ‘community’, ‘community development’, ‘politics’ and ‘power’, before considering some key challenges for the global practice of community development in an increasingly neo-liberalised context. Against the dominance of managerialism and the fracturing of solidarity between citizens, Chapter 1 highlights the importance of a critical vision of community that supports diversity while promoting dialogue across distance and difference. Its latter sections introduce and summarise the varied perspectives presented by contributors to the book, from a range of settings around the world. It concludes with a hope that despite, or even because of, its critical orientation this book will be a politically useful and emboldening resource for its readers.