Art is about making space for new things to happen and new images and ideas to emerge. Community art is about creating spaces we share, sometimes interacting and sometimes sharing a moment of reflection, quiet or awe. In October I went to a talk at the National Museum of Women in the Arts by Swoon and Liz Ogbu, two women who work at the intersection of creativity and community. Liz Ogbu is an architect committed to building communities as well as buildings. Her focus is on the stories of people who inhabit spaces. In talking about community work, she said that she prefers to say “co-power" because it notes a real sharing of power. She contrasted this with "empower" which still involves one having power and giving it to another. Her reflection on this impact of language really stayed with me and brought me back to thinking about creativity. I can't think of a word that would suggest giving one's creativity. It can be inspired, invited, noticed but not really given. At the same time, my favorite kinds of community art not only invite but also require co-creation. An artist may begin the idea or set up the framework but the piece only comes to be through the contributions of participants co-creating in the offered space.
In the past few months, I’ve sometimes struggled to see how art might be relevant. And yet, for myself I continually come back to the arts to re-find my center and find hope in the world. For me what is central is the ability of art to serve community by inviting participation and then allowing participants to co-create in ways that they can see their small individual piece and also be part of a greater whole.