Community art is a generic name for a contemporary practice involving co-creative actions by artists and non-arts groups. New genre public art, art in the public interest, art for change, collective art making, cultural democracy, civic dialogue, activist or social-action art are other terms applied to this type of activity. While collaboration in artistic phases of conception, perception, production, dissemination and evaluation is key, community art has been contested, at times, by the "high" art world for its radical processes of inclusion. However, the practice is already recognized as being a lab situation for possible patterning of extended social action. The open and highly communicative practice may entail any type or size of community [defined by such parameters as geography, ethnicity, age, ability or interest] and find expression via multiple creative forms or contexts. Processes and expressions may range from the more traditional, yielding conventional objects or events to research based approaches that engender new conceptual frameworks for exploratory dialogue and experimental creation. "The regulative idea of community art" to employ Toronto artist, Robin Pacific's words, "is to co-create our own reality." The Inter-Arts section of the Canada Council for the Arts sets community art into a "self-defined, open category called New Artistic Practice which "responds to concerns other than those traditionally governing the production of artworks ... subvert[ing] established notions of what art is..."
The notions of participation and social connection found in today's community art continue to reflect the etymological roots of art
[from IE base ar-], to join or fit together. Following the views of ethologist, Ellen Dissanayake, the arts are an adaptive mode of thinking and expressing. Her notions of "art as a survival behavior"
and "making special" [see Gell] are also seen through an anthropological lens where a critical social function of small scale
societies is served in the shared meaning-making of their entrenched artist-community relationships. Current day versions
may still be witnessed in indigenous groups and often in close-knit communities of common ethnicity. Humans expand their
understanding of the world and each other through participation in cultural production, becoming more versed in the languages of
symbol, image, gesture and emotion. While such literacy might now be [erroneously] perceived as the specialized domain of
professional artists, the ability to imagine, to respond, and to interact with ideas is inherent. New links between contemporary
artists and public consciousness were brought forward by art historian, Arlene Raven, who identifies "the crucible of the sixties"
as a spring for many of art's new conceptual and socially oriented forms, including the resurgence of artist-with-non-artist creative
action. A range of information in this area has been compiled by Beverly Naidus in a recent and extensive online bibliography.
Within the TEMPLATES for Activism project, there is an effort to examine, build and share new models of collaborative creation
between artistic and legal disciplines and to support and reflect a feminist dialogue on visionary processes and social justice. Key community colleaues are Elizabeth Sheehy, University of Ottawa Law School and the National Association of Women and the Law. NAWL is a national non-profit women's organization that promotes
the equality rights of women through legal education, research and law reform advocacy.
c.j. fleury, July 2000
Anderson, Richard (1989 ) Art in Small Scale Societies. Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey. Prentice Hall
Assaf, Andrea, Pam Korza, Barbara Schaffer Bacon (2002) INROADS:The Intersection of Art & Civic Dialogue www.communityarts.net/readingroom/archive/intro-commdev.php
Dissanayake, Ellen (1995) Homo Aestheticus. Seattle, London. University of
Gell, Alfred (1998) Art and Agency: An Anthropological Theory. Oxford. Clarendon Press
Lacy, Suzanne (1995) Mapping the Terrain, New Genre Public Art. Seattle. Bay
Naidus, Beverly (2002) Bibliography Arts For Change www.artsforchange.org/bibliography.html
Pacific, Robin C. (1998) "This is Not a Benneton Ad: The Theory of Community Art". Mix Magazine 23, #3 (Winter 1997/98) p.38-43
Raven, Arlene (1993) Art in the Public Interest. DaCapo Press. NY