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WI(L)DER COLLABORATIONS : reflections on community engaged arts practices

©Beth Carruthers 2005

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It’s important to remember that the aesthetic is always relational. We often forget that the root meaning of the word is to perceive with the senses – sensual perception. The aesthetic may also involve pleasure, if not always; beauty, if not always – or at least not beauty in the impoverished sense that we usually consider it – as the pretty or the good. At its root, the aesthetic is embodied, intersubjective, relational. Community Engaged Arts Practices embody this rather nicely. They bring to the forefront the embodied aesthetics of the relational, insisting on engagement; they champion reciprocity.

Most projects are primarily about process, not necessarily an object, or “product” as the end-all. At times, these projects have legacies, or outcomes, that are difficult to assess in traditional disciplinary or “product” terms. Some projects lack “tangible” artworks as results. Often, the primary or intended results are better human/environment relations; increased political awareness; an informed and transformed community; a cultural epiphany. Community engaged work is very often activist in nature – politically, socially and/or environmentally charged and profoundly concerned with ethics.

It is important to remember that the arts have been vital to the life of communities for far longer than they have been relegated to their presently perceived place as unimportant, incomprehensible, self-indulgent, and/or frivolous. The roots of arts practices in community are ancient and deep.

Whatever voice is making us sit up and take notice of this work, it is important to listen. It is essential that the work receive the support and recognition it needs and deserves.