FUTURES/forward Curriculum Overview
Community-engaged art for social change (ASC) is a form of cultural democracy. We define ASC as an art practice wherein groups of people, who may not self-identify as artists, co-create art in any of its forms to address what matters to them. This process is facilitated by a professional artist who has specialized skills needed to do this work safely and deeply. Often partnering with other change organizations and most often working with underserved, under-represented populations, the artist facilitator is in service to community participants.
The FUTURES/forward program is an experiential learning curriculum based in a mentorship model, designed for early to mid-career community-engaged artists in any arts discipline. This 6-month mentorship offers skills development; hands-on experience; knowledge exchange in tools, methods, and techniques; and networking. The program does not dictate a formal curriculum that mentors and mentees are obligated to follow. Instead, its one-on-one learning/exchange structure combined with the experience of creating and delivering a partnered community arts project, usually with a non-arts organization, provides a wide range of exploratory questions and experiential learning opportunities. FUTURES/forward is designed to help develop a community of ASC practice across the country, while providing skills and experience and exchange of tools and perspectives with which artist/facilitators can enrich their own practices, connections, and opportunities.
Underlying the mentorship learning process is rigorous attention to the underlying values and processes of ASC work. Although approaches/methods can vary, these principles and values underpin the practice throughout the sector. They are explored with mentors even before the “matching” process with a mentee is undertaken. These include:
- everyone is an expert of their own lives;
- there must be respect for every perspective;
- every voice in the room has equal power;
- participants, themselves, can decide how they can best work together;
- every project process is flexible, open to change as it evolves;
- co-creative artmaking allows us to hear and see each other as well as understand the issues we are exploring in new and powerful ways.
- Mentorship term is 6 months (paid – mentees receive installments totaling $5000 and mentors, $2000)
- Each cohort consists of 10-15 artist-mentees recruited through a national call for applications.
- After careful consideration of individual needs and experiences, mentees are matched with a mentor, from our group of affiliated mentors (artist-educators).
- Mentors and mentees meet regularly, bi-weekly being the minimum. These one-on-one relationships provide the opportunity for the mentee and mentor to collaboratively customize the learning program to suit the mentees.
- Mentees are matched with a host organization (ENGOs) as an artist-in-residence. The mentee/artist-in-residence and organization co-create and implement a community participatory arts project.
- Monthly cohort meetings provide a unique opportunity for peer-to-peer exchange and support across the group.
Learning Domains and Competencies
Over the course of the program, mentees engage with their mentors and with the full cohort in inquiry, dialogue and knowledge sharing, covering a range of domains and competencies including but not limited to the following:
- Arts-based Facilitation Tools and Strategies
- Dialogue, Collaboration and Group Process
- Digital Methods and Tools
- Approaches to Community Engagement
- Ethics and Safety
- Partnerships and Non-Arts Sector Relationship-Building
- Theoretical Frameworks & Resources
During the course of six months (a minimum of 175 hours) in the program, mentees complete a community-engaged arts project or program, usually situated within a host organization. Examples of projects and programs include: a workshops series for community members; an arts-based curriculum for the host organization; and, always, artistic projects across varied artistic forms and practices. In addition, mentees complete the following program elements:
- a mentor/mentee learning agreement
- a mentee/artist-in-residence and host organization agreement
- 2 project reports: one at mid-point and one final report/story (published on ICASC.ca)
The ICASC website contains many teaching and learning resources developed over decades. These include the ASC Web (200 hours of categorized video conversations about ASC as well as workshop excerpts); a comprehensive Evaluation Tool; documents on facilitation approaches; a booklet about recommended ASC Policies; recommended books, articles and video presentations, and more.
Mentorship Co-Learning Model
In ASC work, the artist/facilitator has deep responsibility for the wellbeing of community participants while working with them, making it essential that they have knowledge of safe methods, including group facilitation. In some cases, they may provide opportunities for professional counselors or community members to help participants should they need support. Artists must also develop expertise in the many details of creating successful partnerships with non-arts change organizations and initiatives. In addition, evaluation, documentation, and knowledge about the logistics of projects such as the defining of roles and responsibilities, budget development and monitoring, as well as fundraising, are fundamental for many ASC artists, many of them independent arts workers. Mentoring is the most relevant and effective learning model for professional artists newer to the practice of ASC. The co-learning and exchange with mentors, their support during the community projects, and the development of productive relationships within the cohort (as supported by internal communications and monthly full-cohort meetings) and with host organizations all contribute to the impact of this work for the communities ASC artists serve. Our mentors see themselves as co-learners in the mentoring process. This is not a top-down pedagogical approach, nor simple delivery of information; but rather, a dynamic two-way explorative flow about what matters in this often-challenging work.
In Canada, ASC advances goals in diverse contexts: with youth and seniors; people with physical and/or cognitive disabilities; LGBTQ2SAI+; immigrants and refugees; incarcerated folks; and in agendas for IBPOC justice. This work explores and creates change in many often-challenging areas: EDI/JEDDI; intercultural conflict; climate justice; racism; and lack of adequate and equitable housing. In this work, the process of co-creation and dialogue are often as important or more important than the ultimate “products.” In ASC, content is created by community participants and radiates out to partnering organizations and, in many cases to the public, validating often-unheard voices and creating dialogue that can lead to new action for positive change.