Art has long been viewed by many as the exclusive domain of a cultural elite. The perception that creators of art and their audience are somehow different from the common man has led to a chasm that has been difficult to bridge. The ‘bridge builders,’ those who bring art to communities and communities to art have learned as much from the communities they serve as the communities have learned from them. One of the most important lessons that decades of work has reaped is that the approaches that work best are those bottom up approaches where context-specific knowledge is gathered in a culturally sensitive manner and reflected upon before one even begins to work with any community. Gathering context-specific knowledge helps one understand the community one will be working with in order to better determine what learning activities are apt to be more effective than others. Gathering this information about the specific cultural traditions and behaviors of a particular community has an added benefit if it’s done in a culturally sensitive manner; it helps the artist build trust with the members of that community and thus is less likely to be perceived as an outsider whose activities are suspect, and so less likely to be resisted. Based on what has been learned from and about those one seeks to serve needs to be the foundation on which art programs are conceived, for only then can one hope to create art programs that are responsive and provide opportunities for authentic engagement to take place. This is the story of one such artistic journey that an artist in residence and the members of a small community of emerging writers embarked on, and the lessons that were reaped from it. It is my hope that by sharing our story, the importance of understanding the emerging artists one is
guiding, and of reflecting on the experiences that emerge, the challenges of bottom-up reflective approaches will be better understood and thus it will become easier to translate theory into practice leading to more effective implementation.
Associate Professor, Humanities Department, Mercy College, Port Chester, New York, USA
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