Photograph by Stephanie Hofschlaeger

Photograph by Stephanie Hofschlaeger

Today is a new beginning on Artist Strong. There is so much talk right now in the Education world about the importance of the arts. But where is the practice? We can talk all we want, but if we don’t put money where our mouths are, we are still saying the arts are unimportant. This series of articles, called Why Do the Arts Matter? are meant to be a tool you can share with others to promote and argue why it is so important to support and celebrate our arts programs and our artists.

There are SO many reasons why the arts are important. Today, let’s talk about community.

Art can reinvigorate community.

Artists in Detroit.

I especially think of Detroit when I consider this. My family is from Michigan: my parents born and raised in cities outside of Detroit; my grandfather worked for Ford. We hear stories from our family still living there how bad the economy is and how the city of Detroit is a deserted mess. Yet, artists are moving into the city by leaps and bounds and parts of the city are beginning to thrive again. Look at articles talking about the rise of culture in the city: Travel to Detroit,  and one on how the return of culture is having a positive economic impact. Or, go straight to the source, like Art Detroit Now, which highlights the current art scene and events. A cousin of mine, a firefighter outside of Detroit, tries to drive in now and consciously support the arts. Before I realized I had settled myself in Dubai, we talked about my moving to Detroit to join in the arts and share in the revitalization of a city.

I also think of Heidelburg Project, which was started in the 80s to bring light to neighborhoods that were beginning to fall apart in Detroit. Instead of letting his neighborhood fall to pieces, artist Tyree Guyton began to use found objects to rebuild his neighborhood. And rebuild it he did. Now Heidelburg Street has its own community and art support. As crime encroaches on neighborhoods we can run away, or we can take ownership and do something about it!

Candy Chang.

Artist as Activist. Outside of Michigan, I think of Candy Chang in Louisiana. Her Before I Die Project helped to transform run down homes (after Katrina) into places of social engagement. Not only did she create a space for people to share their hopes and dreams, she has empowered people to create their own walls, creating a Before I Die Toolkit for people to build their own social and public engagement on their own city walls. Her artwork pushes people to build connections in their community. She forces people to stop ignoring and avoiding the old and rundown spaces and instead be open and interact with their community right in front of them.


Or what about JR? He has generated dialogue in cities all over the world, even at risk to himself, to get people to talk who are fighting in communities, or to acknowledge the ignored.

One of his first projects was in his home country of France. He knew groups of people were being ignored according to class lines. Different neighborhoods have different reputations, but what about the people in those neighborhoods? He took frank, playful portraits of people from different neighborhoods and plastered their faces all over the “nice” side of town. We can separate ourselves and make it “us,” and “them,” or we can acknowledge the shared existence we all have.

JR took this to another level when he traveled to Israel and Palestine with his Face2Face project. He took portraits of both Palestinians and Israelis and pasted their faces, large scale, side by side. He brought neighbors together to share in laughter and our commonalities of being human and helped people, even if only for a moment, forget their politics.

His award through TED has given him opportunity to engage people worldwide. The Inside Out Project encourages others to take their own portraits, and paste them up on walls to start a dialogue about social concerns or even just to have fun. JR has brought people together through his art.

Why Do the Arts Matter? Because it can bring community to places society has deemed unfit, connect people across racial and social divides, and encourage individuals to participate and act when they see injustice.

BE COURAGEOUSLY CREATIVE: What other artists do you know who help create community?