Atlanta — Oct 28, 2021
The Atlanta Regional Commission is reimagining the way it engages with community-based organizations across the metro area.
ARC is shifting gears to reach out to community-based arts and culture organizations that are led by and serve communities of color. The Community Engagement and Arts Team was created one year ago so that the way ARC engages with these community organizations is intentionally more inclusive and equitable.
Focus on equity
The goal is to work through these trusted organizations with communities that have been historically marginalized and excluded so as to dismantle inequities in policies, programs and systems, an effort that is in line with similar initiatives in other peer regions.
“This is a very intentional shift for us in how we’re engaging communities through the arts,” said Marian Liou, manager of the five-person Community Engagement and Arts Team.
“Over the past year, we have shifted our priorities to focus on the communities that planning has historically excluded and still frequently excludes from the planning process,” she explained. “These are primarily the communities of color that constitute nearly all of metro Atlanta’s growth, and by focusing engagement efforts on these communities, we inform and enact policy change that will ultimately be more equitable and sustainable.”
The shift in focus comes as non-White communities continue to grow fast across the metro region. In the past decade, the White population in the 11-county ARC region shrank by 2%, while the Asian, Hispanic and Black populations grew by double digits, according to 2020 Census data. White residents represent 38.5% of the population in the metro area, followed by Black (36%), Hispanic (13%), and Asian (8%).
The Community Engagement and Arts Team aims to amplify these diverse communities through arts and culture, by supporting diverse cultural practices and incorporating these as an integral part of the planning process, as well as by working with artists, creatives, and cultural organizations of color.
The dialogue with these entities is just getting started. In mid-October, 10 community organizations participated via Zoom at the ARC’s first-ever community planning through arts and culture workshop.
The organizations represented were: Alif Institute, ArtsXchange, Ballethnic Dance Company, Center for Pan Asian Community Services, Clarkston Community Center, Freedom University, Global Village Project, Latino Community Fund, South View Cemetery Association, and We Love Buford Highway. These were identified based on economic indicators that reveal significant harm experienced during and prior to the COVID-19 pandemic; all possess deep roots in their communities; and they champion arts, culture, and storytelling.
“These communities bring a vibrancy and their own cultural traditions and practices to this region,” Liou said. “We want to engage them in their own spaces and figure out how can we support them and build long-term trust and relationships.”
Art as a means to activate social justice
Central to the online gathering was making participants familiar with the message of resistance expressed at Praise Houses, small wooden structures where enslaved people gathered in the American South to worship, chant, and build community. Atlanta artist-activist Charmaine Minniefield presented a multimedia piece of meditative remembrance shown in her Praise House installations. She shared how her great grandmother, a Pentecostal, taught her these spiritual practices. Seeking the origins of this tradition led her to West Africa, where she explored the history and meaning of the Ring Shout.
“This tapped me into an infinite narrative of power, just through memory, that sustained me during the pandemic, but that I also knew would sustain all community as we consider equity and justice forward,” Minniefield said.
“I wanted to tap into that infinite possibility, that infinite power, that our ancestors harnessed. They harnessed this power and they gathered. … They created a drum out of the floor, a communal drum. They beat the floor with sticks and feet, to reaffirm their lives and community.”
Minniefield talked about using art and storytelling to activate resistance and social justice, and to create a gathering of sorts, “where we can all come together with collective intention and lift our voices as a community toward change.”
A pilot program
Liou said that the ARC and the organizations came out with a desire to continue the conversation.
“We are looking at how to best support and collaborate with the groups,” she said. “We heard a desire to continue gathering and learning from, and with, one another as a group, as well a request for the Atlanta Regional Commission to provide support and visibility for the communities each serves.”
ARC is developing a pilot learning program with a small number of these groups that will meet monthly, beginning in 2022.
“We want to provide a gathering and learning space to support storytelling, interpretation, and activation around community cultural spaces and places with the goal of creative place-keeping and cultural preservation for a truly equitable region,” Liou said.
Contact Name: Aixa Pascual