Community Arts

Community Arts

Photo by Philip Vile
Flemish Government
Empowering people through the arts

As the little brother of the lively art scene in Belgium, community arts remained quite of an enigma for a long time. Professional artists are intrigued by the practice but lack the knowledge and experience to really get started. The Department of Culture of the Flemish Government sent Méthos in collaboration with Ghent University on a journey to theatres and film sets across Belgium. The result is an energizing how-to roadmap on arts with socially vulnerable people.

Community arts engages people in an artistic activity in a certain community or local neighbourhood. The people involved in community arts often are the most vulnerable in society: they grew up in poverty, are facing long-term unemployment or have a migration background. This makes it ever more challenging for professional artists to end up with a work of art as the community arts participants don’t have a professional background and often have specific social needs.

So then, how to make a powerful work of art with people who do not engage easily in the arts? What are the key factors for a successful community arts project? Traveling across Belgium from theatres to film sets to observe and participate in more than 70 rehearsals, Méthos experienced all stages of an emerging play or film. Together with the participants we laughed, learned, improvised and felt our nerves. But it was more than just entertaining: often community arts projects actively deal with difficult societal topics, they are in itself pieces of political, subversive or critical work.

Successful projects combine this seriousness with an energizing context: artists push participants in a fantasy world where they can improvise, dream and imagine alternatives. It gives participants a positive boost and a feeling of accomplishment. These "side-effects" were often as strong as the artistic messages, turning community arts into truly empowering processes where the end result is artistic as well as identity-forming or even therapeutic. 

The roadmap that was designed serves as a practical tool for artists, theatre and film students and those who want to commit themselves to a practice that is artistic as well as social. In times where socially vulnerable people have more difficulties than ever to stay in tune, it is exactly by working on the link between the artistic and the social that community arts shows it empowering qualities. Break a leg!