The fixed notion of Community Art is elusive, and yet, community art has been around for centuries. Artists are intrinsically drawn to the world they live in, and for many that means not only viewing but participating in it. As I start my personal journey with Community Art, I intend to find out what exactly it means, how exactly it can be defined, so I can help spread this creative fervor and transform the general public into the creatively passionate.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Clearwater Festival

Today I'm taking inspiration from a different venue: from live performances instead of sitting alone and reading. Don't get me wrong, reading the theory and the experience of others is important and it leads to better understanding and greater appreciation of community art, but participating in live community events can trump almost any amount of late night reading.

This weekend, for instance, I went to the Clearwater Festival in Croton, NY. The festival displayed a different type of community art than what I have been focusing one. Although it is the main direction in which I am going, visual art is far from the only community form. Music, theater, dance, writing, and any other number of other, less generic, art forms are just as important and Clearwater, with a heavy emphasis on music, managed to use many of these forms.

Now I've been going to folk festivals my entire life, although I grew up in the hills of the Falcon Ridge Folk Festival myself, and I always heard the music and enjoyed the community atmosphere, but not until recently did I really think about the connection between the two. However, if there was ever an embodiment of an innately community art experience it's at a music festival.

As I listened to the musicians over the past two days, I realized that they, of course, already knew this. Billy Bragg, a wonderful British musician whose set I randomly stumbled into, spoke about how in the 60's singer-songwriters thought they were going to change the world. In reality, he said, it's not the performer but their audience who make the change. By performing, the musician brings a group of like-minded people together and sets the stage for them.

Janis Ian followed and switched the discussion from music as politics to music as art. Music, she said, is the one art form that cannot be destroyed. In a purely literal sense, this is quite true. Sound cannot be burned like books and paintings and can never be completely silenced. Janis Ian continued that as long there is one person willing to sing a "we shall overcome" then the tradition of music would live on.

Both of these musicians, who have already dedicated much of their lives to music, showed me what a community artist really does; we bring people together to open their eyes. The community artist him- or herself may not change the world, but they change the people within the world and depend on them to continue the changing chain. Billy Bragg’s songs may not actually bring down the debt or create peace, but he will inspire the people who hear him to do so.

Although unlike the music that Janis Ian was talking about visual art can be destroyed, the reason that the art was created cannot be. There are and always will be artists out there inspiring and creating in the face of destruction and a community ready to come together and listen to or view their work. Sitting amongst a hillside full of people who had contributed to Pete Seeger’s dream of cleaning up the Hudson river and were putting up with the heat, bugs, and crowd just to hear the music that meant something to them reminded me just how powerful a community drawn together by art can be.

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