The Role of Collaboration to Encourage Civic Engagement through the Arts: The Blurring of the Government and Nonprofit Sectors

The Role of Collaboration to Encourage Civic Engagement through the Arts: The Blurring of the Government and Nonprofit Sectors

Tina Dippert (Portland State University, USA), Erna Gelles (Portland State University, USA) and Meg Merrick (Portland State University, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-1727-6.ch022
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Historically governments have used art's universal language to achieve various goals, including political engagement through cultural enrichment. Employing nonprofit/public sector relationships for the arts presents myriad governance challenges, but always with the promise of intrinsic and extrinsic benefits. This chapter presents two cases to illustrate such collaborative relationships. Applying various nonprofit theories, stakeholder discussions and Sherry R. Arnstein's still relevant community engagement work to explore relationships between sectors in arts funding, the first involves the passage of a local tax to provide funding for arts education and arts organizations. The second illustrates an instrumental relationship between a local government and nonprofit to provide art programs to promote tolerance in an increasingly diverse community. Both cases present imperfect policies, but represent the continuation of an ancient practice wherein the arts are being used for more than arts' sake, but to serve a multitude of non-arts instrumental societal functions.
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The arts are a universal language that nonprofits, government, and for-profits have employed, intentionally or not, throughout history to serve the public and promote civic engagement. Relationships among these sectors, with regard to the arts, continue to hold sway and influence society in countless ways. The extent to which these relationships support and encourage creativity has varied over the centuries, as have definitions of art itself. There is however ample evidence that in contemporary times the relationship between governments and nonprofit arts organizations offer extensive reciprocal benefits to local communities, their citizens, the arts establishment, and even government at multiple levels.

Broadly defined, the arts promote interaction with their compelling illustrations, tactile, visual, and performing, and thus serve as a powerful tool for public engagement, political and social through the three economic sectors as well as civil society in general. Since ancient times the arts have been employed by rulers as instruments to frame public perception of governmental legitimacy, and on many occasions have been used even to encourage a call to arms in support of the state. Regardless of goals, the arts have always been able, when access exists, to encourage public engagement in the broader civil society. In contemporary times, this can be through philanthropically or more direct publically supported venues to house productions that simultaneously awaken passions (as one local Opera company’s publicity document states, “Nights of passion; no regrets in the morning”) while serving social ends (Hansberry, 2000, p. 16). This can take myriad forms that through governmental support encourage the arts or, even arguably, through for-profit design studios or advertising campaigns exemplified in the Clio Awards. The arts, serving societal needs and encouraging dreams, are truly everywhere.

This chapter looks at how partnerships or formal collaborations, especially between the government and nonprofit sectors, exist today much as they have existed throughout time to promote the engagement and education of publics in diverse communities. These partnerships serve instrumental needs, despite the fact that the definition of art itself remains open to debate. Whether the intrinsic value of art for art’s sake is the intent of arts policy, or art and arts programs are justified and supported as efficient instruments for direct public benefit (promoting civic calm, engagement and inclusion in more and more diverse communities), distinctions are not easily untangled. How one measures intrinsic value, passion, perception, or dedication to a creative endeavor is unclear. When access is assured to all communities, regardless of barriers, there is a growing body of empirical evidence that society benefits and values the arts. This is evidenced by regional support for arts districts and tax expenditures, often endorsed through public referenda (McCarthy, Ondaatje, Zakaras & Brooks, 2004; Hansberry, 2000).

Yet expenditures are not without expectations. Funds need to be accounted for, collected and dispersed equitably. And the instrumental benefits of public funding in tight economic times, such as economic development and increased social capital (Coleman, 1988; Putnam, 1995) that can be directly attributed to the arts, needs to be demonstrated to maintain or build the public’s commitment of resources (see for example McCarthy et al., 2004; Hansberry, 2000).

Key Terms in this Chapter

Diversity: The mix of people in an identified environment, often referring to race, ethnicity, age, disability, gender, sexual orientation, socio-economic status, religion or other ideologies.

Heterogeneity: The opposite of homogeneity. Nonconforming. A heterogeneous community is diverse.

Arnstein: Refers to Sherry Arnstein and her seminal work published in 1969 in which citizen participation, especially with regard to the public decision-making process, is illustrated as rungs on a ladder (a.k.a. Arnstein’s Ladder of Citizen Participation). These levels of participation, ranging from low to high are manipulation, therapy, informing, consultation, placation, partnership, delegation and citizen control.

Three Failures Theory: A theory proposing that although the for-profit, public and nonprofit sectors may act independently to provide goods or services, if one sector is unable or unwilling to fulfill societal needs, organizations or units from another sector will step up to address community demand. It explores market failure to provide public goods when there is limited or no profitability; government failure when, despite market failure, the political wherewithal does not exist to meet the needs of diverse communities; and nonprofit failure when organizations emerge to meet societal needs but often do not have the capacity to succeed. Through this sector failures lens an alternative option explores partnerships and collaborations that emerge to address societal needs that cannot be, or have not been, addressed by one single sector.

Community: A group of people that interact with one another, often but not always in a defined geographical area, and share a common lifestyle, purpose and/or faith. Robert D. Putnam and others identify communities as “bonded,” referring to groups of individuals having strong ties to one another. Communities can be intentional or accidental, physical or psychological. Academic communities exist as do communities of color, and communities of thought or action, any of which may overlap or have fluid boundaries. In this chapter the communities being served are geographic, based on ethnic and racial diversity, and purposefully engaged in the arts.

Arts Education: A branch of knowledge which includes, but is not limited to, creativity, imagination and self-expression. Arts education consists of the disciplines of dance, music, theater, literature and visual arts. Adding Art to STEM education (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) results in STEAM, an enriched and well-rounded education that also promotes cultural appreciation.

Public Participation: Sometimes referred to as stakeholder engagement, public participation is a political process that empowers relevant communities through involvement in the decision-making process. Specifically it means involving in the process those who are affected by a decision. See Arnstein.

Universal Language: A form of communication that is easily understood by all participants with little or no formal training. An international language.

The Arts: Modes of imaginative and creative expression that use skill to create objects, environments, or experiences. These works can be shared with others and assist with individual and cultural identification. The arts reflect and influence culture and can be used as an agent of change.

Engagement: The interaction between two or more parties that allows them to determine and meet shared goals. For purposes of this chapter, engagement is (1) where governments and arts institutions provide opportunities for the public to engage with and appreciate one another by promoting communication and education through artistic expression; and (2) where community engagement via the arts serves a larger purpose, particularly community building.

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