Qualities of Artistic Leaders

Keep in mind that these four skills are what is required of the leader of a community art project. Successful community art projects also need:

  • Participants
  • A working space
  • Materials
  • Equipment
  • Community ownership
  • Resources
  • Time
  • Audience (sometimes)

The list above is adapted from A Toolbox for Community Projects, Commonweal Community Arts, pg. 3

The great thing about the list above is that it is external to your skills – if you have all the internal strengths of a great community art leader, getting all of the above becomes much easier!

1. Artistic Talent and Experience

It is essential that an artist is involved in community art projects. No particular artistic practice is better than another, but the inclusion of an artist is essential to the success and integrity of the project. The artist should be a practising artist. They can be self-taught or hold an MFA, they can have no exhibition experience or have participated in international shows, but at the end of the day they need to be undeniably an artist.

Many people with great intentions and a true appreciation of art have decided to run art programs. At first, it can be quite successful, as the process is more important than the product. The program introduces people to the joys and benefits of creating. They even do a little amateur show. This is all great,

until about year three. After three years of regular exposure to various artistic mediums, participants desire a more in-depth project or exploration that really requires the presence of an artist. There is something about the accessibility of the arts, especially visual and dramatic arts, that people believe they can run them without including an artist. Imagine a community decides to open a community bike hub. They offer free bike parts, a working space and volunteers who are passionate about bikes. Can the community bike hub be successful without a mechanic? Not really. The volunteers don’t need to be certified mechanics, but they need to know how to use all the tools and solve the more complex and difficult challenges. Similarly, a community artist needs to know how to use a variety of tools and solve complex and difficult problems. Artists know the art world, they share tricks and tips, they add value and professionalism to the project, they are necessary.

2. Compassion and Passion

An artist working alongside a community to create art needs to have compassion for the people they work with and passion about the project and process. They are a great listener and they truly care about the participants. What does compassion look like in community collaborations?

  • Welcoming all community members no matter what their skill level or experience
  • Adapting the program to meet the needs of the participants
  • Engaging in conversation while making art to build community
  • People come before the art, always

In terms of passion, the leader needs to show outwardly that they believe and have a vision for the project. Their enthusiasm and belief will inspire others to join and empower others to take ownership of the project and their participation in the project. What does passion look like in community collaborations?

  • Artist shows up when they say they will
  • Artist arrives prepared to work
  • Artist advocates for the project and community
  • Artist has a vision for the project
  • Artist follows through on tasks
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