Community-Based Art

By Adejumo, Christopher O. | School Arts, February 2000 | Go to article overview

Community-Based Art


Adejumo, Christopher O., School Arts


An increasing number of youngsters are receiving instruction in the areas of art history, criticism, aesthetics, and interdisciplinary learning. But how much of comprehensive art instruction do young people in K-12 actually comprehend?

Children may not be able to understand certain works of art due to the lack of an accessible point of reference. Their previous art experiences influence how they interpret new knowledge. This does not mean that children must recognize an image to understand it, but that they can better appreciate works of art that relate to patterns of lived experience. To make school art programs more meaningful to children and society at large, art educators may need to look beyond the classroom for ways and reasons to build bridges between their program and the community.

Reviewing A Current Approach

Currently, comprehensive art education is a popular approach to art instruction in schools. It emphasizes ideas and procedures that are expected to engender appreciation of art and cultivate aptitudes that will result in productive citizenship. To achieve these goals, art teachers across the country are taking the art curriculum through an evolutionary phase--from a predominantly studio orientation to a more diversified approach.

Today, many schools provide art education that entails a complex mix of technologically-aware, studio-oriented, and discipline-conscious learning. Added to this sometimes crowded agenda, is incorporation of global perspectives. Aspects of students' community-based art experiences are rarely accessed for further learning, and artistic resources within the community are often completely neglected or under utilized.

What is Community-Based Art?

Throughout history, people have expressed themselves artistically as individuals and as groups or communities. "Community-based art" is a term I am using to describe works of art produced by people living within the same locality, and defined by common interests such as shared concerns, cultural heritage, traditions, and language patterns. Community-based art consists of a wide variety of aesthetic objects, such as sculptures, murals, architecture, and various crafts.

Cultural and Social Significance of Community-Based Art

Individuals and groups produce works of art within communities for various reasons, such as economic, religious or ceremonial purposes. When viewed collectively, art forms produced within a community may portray certain consistent characteristics which are often referred to as "style." For the purpose of continuity, practicing artists within a community must impart their artistic knowledge and skills to youth within the community.

Sustaining the material culture of a community provides its members with a source of pride. A feeling of unity arises from shared activities that reflect a sense of common purpose. This type of social atmosphere is especially beneficial in orienting the youth toward a positive social and cultural disposition.

A Sense of Responsibility

Society has often looked to the schools to find solutions to emerging social ills. However, we must address the question of how realistic it is to expect resolution of children's behavioral problems primarily within the school environment--especially since the events and conditions that precipitate antisocial behavior among children are hardly isolated within the schools.

It is more realistic to search for solutions to social problems among youth in community settings--more so because children do not shed experiences acquired within the community environment at home before going to school. Hence, there is constant interplay between children's experiences in the home environment and their activities in school. This makes it important for the schools to access learning activities within the larger community. …

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