What Is Community-Based Art Education?

By Ulbricht, J. | Art Education, March 2005 | Go to article overview

What Is Community-Based Art Education?


Ulbricht, J., Art Education


With regard to definitions of community-based art education, several concepts come to mind. One might initially envision organized community art programs to improve art skills, or alternatively, outreach programs to empower special groups of people. With more thought, we might consider programs that promote contextual learning about local art and culture (Kincheloe, et al., 2000; Neperud, 1995).

Community service projects (Taylor, 2002) are another form of community-based art education. Some may see public art itself as a form of community-based education. This range of possibilities can be confusing for those who contemplate the possibilities and implications of new and existing community-based art education programs.

Today educators may feel the need to contemplate community-based education when (1) well intentioned citizens try to figure out what they can do to support or reform school art programs; (2) arts administrators seek to advance their enrollment figures; (3) citizens try to eliminate art education from school curriculums; (4) teachers try to figure out how to get students involved in "real world" situations; and/or (5) educators and artists confront important social issues through their artistic endeavors.

At the risk of drifting away from some of the traditional focuses of art education, art educators need to take a careful look at the rationales, goals, and definitions of community-based art education before dismissing it, or conversely, implementing new programs of their own. Although several art educators (Bolin, 1999; Clark & Zimmerman, 2000; Congdon, Blandy & Bolin, 2001) have illustrated their concepts and implemented new courses and programs (Fahey & Frickman, 2000; Garber, 2004), it is the purpose of this article to take a second look at various forms of community-based art education and propose ideas for future curriculum initiatives.

Informal Teaching

If community-based art education is defined broadly as something that takes place outside of K-12 schools, it is not a new form of art education. Informal teaching has been and is the dominant method by which individuals learn about art. If we think of art education in communities, each culture and historical period has had its own methods of teaching individuals about art. Renaissance artists frequently taught apprentices about their ways of working, and traditionally folk art is passed down from generation to generation in non-school settings. In the preindustrial period prior to the latter part of the 19th century, arts and crafts skills were taught in many middle and working class homes. Wealthier parents often provided an education in connoisseurship through foreign travel and museum visits. We could consider many of these teachers as "invisible" (Ulbricht, 1999) because they have not had formal art education classes.

Although we often think of communitybased art education as "teacher" initiated, we are increasingly aware of the informal "education" that is provided by visual culture. With the expansion of technology and visual media, increasing numbers of citizens are learning about a range of issues through imagery and we could consider this another form of community-based art education.

Organized Community Teaching

In the past hundred years, many teachers have made community-based art education more formal in a number of organized programs. In rural areas of the U.S., craft schools (i.e. Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts, Penland School of Crafts, and Haystack Mountain School of Crafts) emphasize education in traditional art materials and skills. In urban areas, museum schools (i.e. Metropolitan Museum of Art, Cleveland Museum of Art, and School of the Art Institute of Chicago) provide opportunities for citizens to learn about art.

Although many historical programs were the result of individuals who had traditional and modernist art perspectives, there are other community-based programs that tried to distance themselves from the canon and focus on the needs of individuals.

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