An Undeveloped Opportunity: Initiating a Community Arts and Music Collective in Columbus, GA

Introduction

Columbus, Georgia is a city of abundant opportunities for the future and a city with a profusion of missed opportunities in the past.  While this is obviously the case with economic and career options, exploring the city also reveals few opportunities for artistic self-expression for anyone.  There are occasions to view traveling artistic culture in the form of regional and national musical acts and some live theatre.  There are even a handful of galleries displaying safe flower and landscape portraits. But there are no artistic outlets to encourage more alternative and radical self- expression that doesn’t fit into the mainstream, whether fine arts, crafts, or even alternative music outside of the classical musical center at the local public schools and university or the for-profit chain music stores and schools.  There are also no community organizations focusing on alternative arts and music.  Such an initiative should focus on the community that is not served by that mainstream.  It would serve political minorities and youth interested in artistic and musical self-expression that no outlet other than the above, offers.  That isn’t enough. 

An Undeveloped Opportunity

While there are music and arts collectives and community centers in several similarly-sized cities, though there are rumblings of possible activity and some smaller for-profit community initiatives, Columbus has none.  Growing a music and arts collective here is an undeveloped opportunity.  There are a few elements necessary to a healthy existence: Being near water and land for peace and growing food is vital. What draws me to this particular project is simple. Music and Art are Life.  Unless I am meditating or sleeping music is always playing and art is all around.  That’s what draws me to this project.  Both feed my soul.  While music is always playing, I also seek out local music for my internet radio web portal, www.radiocasbah.com, whether it is local to me, the United States, local to Poland or Australia, or local and unsigned to a major record label.  It doesn’t matter.  Local art and writing is also incorporated as often as possible.  I began this in an earlier incarnation in June of 2001, so I have been immersed for over sixteen years.

The primary stakeholders working in the area are the community members who would benefit most from a community center, those interested and creating fine art and music in the immediate area and the surrounding communities:  the children, the youth, and their parents, fine artists and musical artists, the Black community, other peoples of color and other underserved citizens of the community.  They should all be directly engaged in the process.  In order to see this to a successful conclusion, however, collaborations with additional stakeholders in the wider city’s success will have to be approached to sell them on the idea and to ask for their contributions.  Without such an asset-based community development plan to approach as many city, neighborhood, community, religious, and private stakeholders, this imitative is bound to fail like many others have in the past.  The mayor, Teresa Tomlinson, would be a key point of contact.  Because she is primarily interested in local culture to generate tourism dollars, she would be the obvious first person to consult.  Columbus is a former industrial and current military city (and its largest employer), and it retains conventional tastes, though the tourists may not share in those conventional tastes and neither do those citizens existing outside of the conventional elite.  To determine what city initiatives and funding may be in place to facilitate this project, the mayor is ideal.  Politically, she would be able to help promote the initiative to local and external tourism boards, initiate meetings with local conventional, regional arts and music organizations, local corporations and businesses, and city elites.  She would be able to further the idea that we want to work with current arts and music organizations and elites rather than against them.

My biases, if they haven’t been made abundantly clear at this point, are towards asset-based community development (ABCD), participatory action research (PAR), and communitarian anarchism (CA).  For this project, a combination of these will work best, with a dominance of ABCD and CA playing a dominant role. Kretzmann & McKnight’s (1993) text plays a dominant role here, since they provide a rule book, a road map, and a handbook all in one, that breaks down the formation of an asset-based initiative that in some circles might be considered an activist movement, a book that looks at what we have as a community rather than what we need. I will be using that text and utilizing modifications as needed. As I stated earlier, the levels targeted for participation are corporate, political, religious, association, neighborhood, school, and individual (parent, child, and teen, and young adult).  This initiative affects all of them in various ways if this community center initiative is to be successful.  Additionally, in order to grow this initiative into the future, collaborations with national and international groups will be welcomed and explored. 

 

Building a Team

There are local businesses that will either be logical partners or ideal for collaborations during the creation of our alternative music and arts initiative. Two businesses are ideal, and gathering places for local alternative artists and musicians, the Estate, the alternative music venue, and Fountain City Coffee located downtown.  It will make sense to consult with both owners to explore ideas, explain the initiative and brainstorm ideas for other possible businesses that would make for ideal collaborators.  In fact, one venue, the Estate may make an ideal meeting space until an independent space is found.

Forming a team specifically for this initiative will require utilizing the mapping tools within Kretzmann & McKnight (1993) that explore an individual’s skills and capacities from the community, the individual, and the enterprise level.  This mapping will obviously be employed to incorporate the capacities of skill and enthusiasm for children to individuals of retirement age.  The key here is to evaluate assets rather than to focus on assessing needs directly.  Assessing the skills and assets that everyone already possesses allows for an exploration of what might not necessarily be readily apparent that is readily available in the community, to build on its strengths, rather than dwell on it’s weaknesses.  Such an individual evaluation of individuals will include tapping the skills and desires of older retired residents, disabled residents, as well as the youth and to find partners for both.  Youth are not the only focus of this initiative, but they are one of the key participant benefit groups that is a focus of this initiative. 

Additionally, cultural local associations, organizations, and religious institutions will be researched and mapped and assessed in similar ways to determine ideal partnerships and collaborations to form partnerships between individuals, neighborhoods, and the assets of the above organizations.   The work that each cultural organization does in the community will be mapped in detail to determine strengths and resources as collective organizations and as the individuals that make up their organization.  That evaluation may include an exchange of skills and resources that both can access in the future, truly a communitarian exchange of goods to benefit the community overall, which is the overall purpose of the initiative and the reason to work with the organizations in the immediate and surrounding area.

Also key are local institutions, including parks, libraries, schools, colleges, and even police, though I will admit here that I am generally wary of any police involvement in anything, but this is a community effort in an initiative to better the community and if the police department is unfortunately necessary to the community, then they will need to be incorporated into the process and their assets will need to be utilized. Like the above institutions, there are institutional and individual assets that can benefit the community at large, and the more police are made to realize the humanity of that community, the more the police will look upon that community as collaborative rather than adversarial.  It will be important to forge positive relationships between these institutions and the members working on this initiative as well as between these institutions and resources outside of the community.

 

Assessment Methods

Properly for a project like this, it is necessary to use assessments that will benefit the community most, rather than select a method and force the community to fit itself into a pattern of my own choosing.  It is similar to asking how long should a film be?  Ultimately as long as it needs to be and as long as this paper needs to be instead of forcing it into a specific length.  There are several assessment methods at my disposal.  With the team that forms, methods from various assessments will be assessed and utilized.  It will be a recipe where we take from several to make a community loaf that is greater than its parts. 

From a perspective of foresight, though hindsight may provide more efficient means, the best methods will be a combination of asset-based community development mapping, (Kretzmann & McKnight, 1993), the community needs assessments of the Laboratory for Community and Economic Development (n.d.) that focuses more on opportunities than needs, the Community Toolbox (University of Kansas, 2013), and the Appreciative Inquiry (AI) of Watkins & Cooperrider (n.d.).  In many ways, each method shares many similarities with the others and gives the appearance of an overlap.  To be fair and balanced all will be given the benefit of the doubt that they are distinct until the results of each method are assessed. 

Implementing each is simple enough and each include mapping techniques.  I have outlined some of the specific techniques from the ABCD methods of Kretzmann & McKnight (1993), above, where there are detailed instructions available for each section of the community, complete with sample forms.  The community needs assessment specifically recommends establishing a working committee to solicit citizen and community involvement to develop a plan of action, listing important issues, and identifying the population that should be involved.  Without these key steps, none of the methods will really succeed because collaboration is vital rather than suggested.  The Community Toolbox is broken down into sixteen smaller detailed toolboxes.  All are important to this initiative but to begin this project the first two are critical, “Creating and Maintaining Partnerships,” and “Assessing Community Needs and Resources.”  AI (Watkins & Cooperrider, n.d.) is a method that, at first glance is similar to ABCD, but more a mirror of that method.  Appreciative Inquiry assesses individuals and their own assessment of their contributions to an organization.  As an example, it includes questions such as, “When you are feeling best about your work, what about the task itself do you value?” and “What do you value about the organization?” 
As this initiative begins, there is no need to utilize AI but it will prove valuable at a later date when the initiative’s community center is better established.

 

Planning and Launching the Initiative

Planning and launching methods are necessary, but sometimes it’s just a matter of putting one foot in front of the other, finding some neighbors to brainstorm ideas, finding a method that works and moving forward.  Sometimes, planning is necessary, however.  Like previous methods that I explored earlier in this initiative, I plan to explore what is available and take the most practical elements from each and incorporate them into a hybrid.  From future planning (McNamara, n.d.), the core elements are necessary for the success of this initiative, at least in a loose analysis of the community’s individuals, businesses, and associations to keep this organized.  Key elements will include, a vision and mission statement, values, objectives, strategies, and goals.  Future search (Weisbord and Janoff, 2003) while offering some elements that are useful when the community center is in operation, is impractical at this juncture when the major point of focus is to determine the strengths and assets of individuals and associations.  Transformative scenario planning (Van Duijne, 2013, April 8) also has its uses, but it is primarily described as a method for larger organizations and organizations that have challenges with unstable larger organizations in conflict that are not collaborative in nature, not new organizations and not healthy functioning collectives.  While it may be necessary to explore this method at a later date, it is wholly unnecessary at this point. 

However, the Open Spaces of Herman (1998) offers key elements that the others do not that will be valuable for this initiative.  Open Spaces organically organizes one’s initiative or group into an entity that functions naturally, where any hierarchy of knowledge, organization, and authority happens naturally through knowledge and experience, rather than appointments, seniority, or favor. In other words, “‘self-organization’ as we use the term in our Open Space discussions, refers to democratically self-organized systems that do not have a layer of tyrannical organization imposed along side (sic) of the democratic self-organization.” (Herman, 1998, p. 28).  

Alongside the tools, outlines, and plans within Kretzmann & McKnight (1993) some Open Spaces methods would be easily and ideally incorporated within the initiative. Executing these future planning methods would be easily incorporated and implemented with a deliberate intention to begin this initiative as I have done earlier and now with this proposal.  To construct details around how I would implement such a method are speculation at this point unless I take one of the above methods and begin using the sections that apply to this music and arts initiative and seek out a few key individuals who are interested in bringing this to fruition and moving forward with the above plans.  However, to assume that I would be in charge of an initiative for community development that is intended to benefit the community, is a little presumptuous when key leaders haven’t been found or consulted with yet.  I may be an organizer and I may be the one to organize all of the disparate elements, but my voice will be one among many experts or this won’t succeed.  The plans throughout Kretzmann & McKnight (1993) will be an ideal place to start.

 

Conclusion

While this exploration is not exhaustive, it marks the beginnings I would take to create a healthy arts and music community initiative in Columbus, GA.  To begin, it won’t require official surveys, door to door inquiries, or city task forces, but it will require networking with neighbors, friends, community confederates, and creative conspirators, artists, musicians, and community organizers.  For that there are community events, local music venues, libraries, art galleries, and coffee shops to visit and begin to gather a core collective of individuals.  Once a core is assembled for collective action, then the deeper tactics contained in the methods herein will be ready to be implemented.  But without them, it is difficult to speculate on what might work where and how. 

 

References

Herman, M. (1998). Open Space Technology: A User’s NON-Guide. Retrieved from http://www.michaelherman.com/cgi/wiki.cgi?OpenSpaceTechnology/UsersNonGuide

Kretzmann, J. P., & McKnight, J. L. (1993). Building communities from the inside out. Chicago, IL: ACTA Publications.

The Laboratory for Community and Economic Development. (n.d.). Community needs assessment: Taking the pulse of your community. Retrieved from http://www.communitydevelopment.uiuc.edu/resources/factsheets/needpuls.html

McNamara, C. (n.d.). All about strategic planning. Retrieved from http://managementhelp.org/strategicplanning/index.htm

University of Kansas (2013). Assessing community needs and resources. In The community toolbox (3). Retrieved from http://ctb.ku.edu/en/tablecontents/chapter_1003.asp

Van Duijne, F. (2013, April 8). Transformative scenario planning: Working together to change the future (Adam Kahane) [Web log post]. Retrieved from http://futuristablog.com/transformative-scenario-planning-working-together-to-change-the-future-adam-kahane/

Watkins, J., & Cooperrider, D., (n.d.). Appreciative inquiry: A transformative paradigm. Retrieved from https://www.researchgate.net/publication/265104604_Appreciative_Inquiry_A_Transformative_Paradigm

Weisbord, M. and Janoff, S. (2003). Three Perspectives on Future Search: Meeting Design, Theory of Facilitating, Global Change Strategy. Retrieved from http://www.marvinweisbord.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/04/Future%20Search%20Perspectives.pdf

Work Group for Community Health and Development. (2016). The Community Tool Box. Retrieved from http://ctb.ku.edu/en/table-of-contents

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