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Community-Based Art.

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.

Recently, American society has been confronted with increasing antisocial behavior and violent crime, among the youth and the need for "personal accountability." Youth in our society need to feel a sense of connection with the world around them. Interaction may be generated through community-based activities in art. Such awareness of this relationship to the community would heighten their sense of personal responsibility and generate positive disposition.

Integrating the art curriculum with community-based art resources is one of the ways educators can help their students appreciate these resources and to demonstrate a sense of responsibility towards them. For example, a community playground in Columbus, Ohio, has not been vandalized by children in the community as initially speculated, perhaps, because the children themselves participated in the building of the playground. Similarly, when students find school to be as interesting as the community environment, antisocial behavior and drop-out rates are likely to decrease.

Channeling Art Experiences

Schooling constitutes only a portion of a child's learning activities. Apart from receiving art lessons in school, children are also exposed to various forms of aesthetic stimulation in their community environment.

Children's acquisition of art knowledge should be methodically incremental, progressing from decipherment of artistic experience in their home environment and micro-community to learning about art in the macro-society and different cultures around the world. The ultimate objective of school art instruction should be to help students organize their cultural art knowledge in such a way that it would be useful for application in the classroom and beyond.

Integrating Community-Based Art

Approaches to using community-based art include teacher education and outreach, parental involvement, and collaboration with community artists. Teachers may also attend a community art festival.

Parents can participate in classroom activities and share special artistic skills. This is a way of encouraging transfer of artistic knowledge from adults in the community to children in the classroom. This will also help students to better understand that art is appreciated by members of the community.

Area artists may be invited to schools to facilitate understanding of the relevance of community-based art to school art programs. Beyond sharing their knowledge and skills about art, community-based-artists could contribute to students' understanding of the role of artists in everyday community-life. Either as a follow-up to artists' visits or for expansion of experience, field trips should be organized to artists' studios and to public displays of community-based art when possible.

Conclusion

Integrating the art curriculum with community-based art knowledge would provide a diversified education and contribute to the social and cultural development of the youth. It is through structured discussion and analysis of community-based art that children can fully comprehend the purpose and functions of art within their environment. School art programs provide an ideal premise for such activities.

Works of art that are most accessible to children are usually located within their immediate community which makes it easier for them to learn about profound aspects of art--such as meaning, purpose, value, content, and style. This is expected to result in students' satisfaction with the instruction process and increased likelihood of success in school.

Christopher O. Adejumo is an assistant professor of visual art studies and art education at The University of Texas in Austin, Texas.
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Author:Adejumo, Christopher O.
Publication:School Arts
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Feb 1, 2000
Words:1095
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