The Columbus, GA Community Arts and Music Collective: Preparations for the Long Haul

Introduction

In previous papers, the creation and planning of the Columbus, GA Arts and Music community initiative has been explored in depth.  In this paper, the long-term existence of this project will be explored through the following areas:  sustainability, maintaining gains achieved, approaches to support well-being, and acknowledging and celebrating gains and victories.  While this initiative is still a hopeful dream in the vivid writings of the author, the dreams are practical and sustainable as the direction of former papers has indicated.  This paper will be no different.  To succeed at such an initiative as this will require more than the work of one or two individuals. And while someone may be necessarily needed to direct its successful formation, this may not necessarily be the case in light of the desire for a communitarian collective that takes in the contributions of a community and utilizes the skills and enthusiasms of each contributor.  Ideally, this will be an initiative directed with hopeful and creative collective views in mind and action.

Sustainability of an Arts and Music Collective

What factors are important for the sustainability of this social change initiative, especially over the long-term for future generations?  While it is difficult to predict over the long haul whether the Columbus Arts and Music Collective will be around in ten or twenty years, or even if it will be formed at all (This author has hopes that it will.), there are a few indicators that should be considered.  First there is the arts community observed.  There is a market for an arts community that can be viewed from a cursory tour of Columbus, GA, from a casual walk or a quiet drive in a car through the downtown area.  The skewed superficial results of such a casual tour of the arts and music availability in Columbus, GA are readily apparent.  The most abundant availability of arts and music is one that is primarily mainstream and supported by those that currently dominate the political and commercial structure of Columbus.  Other than the Estate (which is currently struggling to establish itself long-term), there is no established structure for arts and music alternatives available. Both aspects have been discussed in previous papers. Attending a few alternative-venue shows in the area and assessing the attendants has made that abundantly clear to this author, and some of these shows have been documented at Radio Casbah (http://radiocasbah.com), the author’s internet radio portal.

To sustain this initiative long-term will demand the participation of more than one and more than a few individuals.  However, it is precisely a small group of devotees that will be necessary to begin it.  What those individuals will need will be a collective vision of what this can can become.  Some individuals will bring their artistic passion, some will bring their organizational skills, and some will bring their fundraising skills, and others will bring their enthusiasm and their ability to fulfill roles as they are needed along the way.  It will be necessary at the beginning to be flexible and for everyone, unless otherwise occupied and skilled, to fulfill different rolls from the creative, local and social networking, to coalition building. 

From this beginning, a structure of organization will be uncovered and created organically, allowing it to develop in an evolutionary fashion as the structure develops and departmental needs arise.  Like most organizations that are allowed to evolve, the structure of this will reveal itself by degrees, by skill, by necessity, even if one is not readily created or imposed (Brown, 2006).  Given that this is a community organization and the author will be one of many collective leaders, designated according to areas of interest and expertise, it is also logical to assess those skills and interests according to asset-based community development or ABCD (Kretzmann & McKnight, 1993) that takes into account the whole community, those interested in the initiative, and pools the skills and resources from every person, neighborhood, organization and association, and local government body that is either interested, knows a person or group that is, or desires to offer assistance in one form or another. 

While Brown (2006) seems to emphasize the idea that a structure is necessary, his text also provides exercises to find one’s organizational structure that may be valuable to utilize earlier on as a mission statement, goals, and objectives are created to determine what the needs for the organization actually are, to anticipate what the structure might look like without forcing the author’s ideas upon the groups involved. Bobo, Kendall, & Max (2010) suggest implementing training and supervision and seeking out mentors and trusted colleagues in addition to friends and family. With the utilization of ABCD, these suggestions are elementary.  Additionally, since finishing the last paper discussing this initiative, the author has created a teaching curriculum (requiring much further development), that utilizes reflexivity within study subject matter, whether, artistic or academic, and a critical analysis piece which can be used throughout different projects this initiative develops.  These subjects will include music and arts instruction, mentoring and additional education projects that the community finds necessary. 

 

Maintaining Gains

What actions might be needed to maintain the gains of this initiative? While the immediate goals of establishing this initiative in Columbus, GA as a community center that is accessible to everyone is of primary importance, it is also vital to build an organization that will last.  Towards that it will be necessary to be found a community center that is as diverse as possible, that is as diverse as the people in the surrounding community, that is as diverse in its offerings that that community requires and desires where none exist at the present moment.  This will come with developing a vision that the community participates in wholeheartedly through the ABCD assessments of Kretzmann & McKnight (1993) that take into account the entire community from the bottom up.  It will need to take into account a sense of political vision (Bobo, Kendall, & Max, 2010), a vision that realizes that short-terms goals and plans will need to evolve into long-goals, into the vision of an organization that leads to a sustainable fixture in the community that the community lacked before, one that they can rely upon to be there in the future. 

It will require promotion of the initiative to remind the wider community not directly involved that it exists and is available.  It will be necessary to recruit some form of fund raising expertise whether they are volunteers or employees, whether grant application writers, social networking professionals or expert volunteers, or even a combination of all of these.  These actions will keep the initiative foremost in the minds of the people directly involved, staff and volunteers, to let them know that the organization is sustainable and is serious about continuing the vision from which it began so enthusiastically.  

In conjunction with fundraising efforts and social networking, it will be contingent upon the organizing team to form a legal nonprofit to facilitate donations, fundraising and sustainability long term.  The cost of forming a nonprofit is minimal and can be raised through informal donations of initial enthusiasts and community members eager to see it succeed.  Once the initiative becomes a legally recognized nonprofit, raising funds will become simpler for the organization and for the public interested in making donations.  However, it will certainly not be desirable to be “chasing foundation dollars by continually changing programs,” according to Bobo, Kendall, & Max (2010, p. 242) who also reveal that over 87% of charitable contributions in the United States come from individuals with yearly incomes less that $50,000.  Certainly, foundation and grant monies should be applied for, but the organization will not rely upon these dollars exclusively. 

After a neighborhood tour of a handful of areas in Columbus, GA several months ago, it is apparent that it is certainly feasible to begin sustaining such an organization with personal donations if the community is approached properly.  That approach will certainly need to include promotion, social media, media coverage, and word of mouth.  First, a realistic goal or a series of goals will need to be constructed in a manner that can be easily attained, that encompasses the shorter- and longer-term goals that can be worked towards.  At the beginning, meetings with volunteers can be scheduled to explain the goals necessary to sustain the organization.  This will be done as transparently as possible, and those goals will include benefits accruing to paying members and the costs to non-paying members (perhaps a sliding scale) for community meeting spaces, for classes and mentoring, for arts and music events, and for expansion into other areas of the community’s creative life. 

 

Supporting Collective Well-Being

What approach might be used to support the well-being of each member of the team as well as the team? The Columbus, GA Arts and Music Collective is being initially created to provide a much-needed space and resources for children, teens, and adults to create and make alternative forms of art and music in a space that isn’t available anywhere else in the community.  However, that does not mean that the needs of the community are not subject to change and evolution.  As a result social and political activism may be included in the activities of the collective in the future.  As previous papers on this subject have indicated, the models for this collective are WonderRoot in Atlanta, GA and ABC-No Rio in New York City, both of which do not shy away from activism or politics, so their addition would not be incompatible here.  While this project is still going to be a passion, what must be avoided is treating it like a job for anyone involved, especially for the organizers and volunteers.

Thus, a vision that includes relaxing, vacations, and acknowledgement of personal pressures must be included into the overall plan of the organization.  For staff and volunteers, that break can become the necessary emotional space that allows them time to breathe and occasionally develop a brainstorming idea that can be brought to the collective and turned into a new initiative. (Bobo, Kendall, & Max, 2010). Breaks and vacations can certainly decrease the personal pressures on organizers and others that generally respond to events and activities that come up that are out of their control in very unhealthy ways where their only response is to deny their feelings of helplessness by degrees

These scenarios have a likelihood of happening if regular breaks and vacations are not built before anticipating a crash, judging from the abundance of writings available from just a cursory search through the Internet.  Lakey, Lakey, Napier & Robinson (1995) approach this likelihood with a list of options and explanations that include, not letting work take over, not doing the  work alone, defining attainable goals, finding a balance between getting work done and being challenged by it, delegating, having a good time doing the work, and more. 

Having worked in film and nonprofit, each of these are challenges, but if everyone is enjoined to collectively collaborate, and within a culture where hierarchy doesn’t extend to bureaucracy, and responsibility isn’t loaded onto one individual alone but divided equally among partners in the organization, team meetings can be used to discuss burdens and responsibilities. There is also every probability that the goals and results of the organization can be achieved through a few to many people being trained to perform multiple roles or portions of roles to ease that burden. Such a calculated strategy won’t necessarily avoid any challenges but it might minimize them. This is all about discussion, clarification, and compromising with respect, dignity, integrity, and having fun.  After all, this is an arts and music collective. For some the self-care advocated above will be slightly different or perhaps extremely different, but the results will be the same.  While Lakey, Lakey, Napier & Robinson (1995), discusses the overall necessity of self care, Bernal (2006) takes an in-depth approach that may be necessary to explore some scenarios once the community arts and music collective expands beyond just arts, music, and education and mentoring. 

 

Celebrating Gains and Victories

Like any political campaign with ebbs and flows and victories small and large, celebrating is vital to this organization as it is to any other.  Those victories can and should include the addition of staff and volunteers because even they are important, a vital ingredient to an organization.  Where people make the organization, and people are vital to this organization, acknowledging their addition and celebrating their contributions let’s everyone know that they are valuable, that they are important, and that the people of the organization genuinely care.  These celebrations can be as simple or as elaborate as an office party or a live local concert.  Brown (2006) emphasizes food, and even this simple gesture to celebrate may lead to additional potlucks and to even fundraisers where everyone brings a dish to donate for current efforts. 

In an area like Columbus where there is no current outlet for alternative arts and music, it is necessary to promote it to the community, and a potluck is an ideal venue to celebrate staff and public as well promote the organization.  Even regular meetings can serve several celebrative purposes, including the obvious victory celebrations, an upcoming art show or concert or milestone in the life of the organization.  Imagination will be key here, but in an arts and music collective, there should be a surplus from staff and volunteers to share. Being a smaller community, there can also be a sense of family as there is at the Estate music shows that the author attended.  The lines between meetings and celebrations can also be blurred within a family atmosphere with birthdays, milestones, concerts, and the like, so it is imperative to keep it from overwhelming everyone and to temper activities in the same way that responsibilities and supporting the well-being of each individual volunteer and staff member is necessary.

Why is acknowledging and celebrating important?  While some readers may have worked for organizations that respect and celebrate their contributions to the companies they work for, there are many who work at jobs, or volunteer opportunities, where they are not, where they work for the paycheck only.  This is a familiar story so it won’t be dwelt upon here.  Columbus, GA is no different, and if the Columbus, GA Arts and Music Collective is to survive and to thrive, it must act as a leading-edge organization that acknowledges each and every member, especially at the beginning when everyone is a volunteer and especially long term if it is to continue to lead by the path it began, to not forget the reasons for its existence, and to reward staff and volunteers by example.  In some cases, volunteers will enjoy helping so much that it consumes their free time that when an equitably-paid position opens up as the organization expands, it is only fair that position or positions to one or a few volunteers who learned it from the ground up be offered the position or be considered for it, existing nonprofit federal and state laws that require a proper job announcement, notwithstanding.

 

Conclusion

While several papers have explored the different aspects of the Columbus, GA Arts and Music Collective, there is still more work to be done on the ground.  This paper began to explore the work that needs to be done within the community.  After such an exploration, it certainly seems feasible to sustain this initiative within or just on the outskirts of Columbus as long as it is easily accessible to a majority of the population that would be most concerned with and affected by this initiative.  Sustainability certainly will be key and will manifest itself throughout the organization, with mutual understanding and respect of staff, volunteers, members, and the general public, especially since the alternative arts community in Columbus seems so fragile over the last several decades, but also because a genuine approach will allow the collective to survive and to thrive.  Sustainability also weaves its way through the other necessary challenges of this initiative: maintaining gains, supporting the well-being of the initiative and its people, and the gains and victories of all that everyone involved has accomplished on behalf of avital passion.  Now this work needs to be taken from this paper to the neighborhoods.

 

References

Bernal, M. (2006). Self-care and self-defense manual for feminist activists. Retrieved from http://www.genderit.org/sites/default/upload/self-care-brochure.pdf

Bobo, K., Kendall, J., & Max, S. (2010). Organizing for social change: Midwest Academy manual for activists. Santa Ana.

Brown, M. J. (2006). Building powerful community organizations: A personal guide to creating groups that can solve problems and change the world. Arlington, VA: Long Haul Press.

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

Lakey, B., Lakey, G., Napier, R., & Robinson, J. (1995). Pacing Yourself for the Journey: How to Avoid Burnout and Thrive while Working to Change the World. In Grassroots and Nonprofit Leadership (pp. 1-6). Gabriola Island, B.C.: New Society.

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