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  • Writer's pictureDallas Area Visitors

5 Ways Art Projects Help the Community

Over the weekend Willamette Valley Fiber had something pretty special happen on their building. Together with "A Production of Wall Together Now", they developed a giant paint by number mural for the community to take part in. This mural depicts various things that are specific to Dallas. Not only was it a great way to engage the community, but it was a time for the citizens of Dallas to come together despite their difference! Thank you to Willamette Valley Fiber and Craig Downs & Candice Fulton from for blessing our community with this!


Public spaces and marketplaces are essential ingredients in every community. Public space provides opportunities for people to meet and be exposed to a variety of neighbors. These meetings often take place by chance, but they also can come through active organizing. The art of promoting constructive interaction among people in public spaces has been nearly forgotten in many communities. Planners, architects, and public administrators have focused more on creating aesthetic places and on providing for the unimpeded movement and storage of automobiles than on creating places that encourage social interaction. More recently, public officials have been even more concerned with security and maximizing their ability to observe and control people in public spaces.

William H. Whyte asserted that crowded, pedestrian-friendly, active spaces are safer, more economically productive, and more conducive to healthy civic communities. "What attracts people most, it would appear, is other people," he wrote. Since the 1950s, city planners, developers, policy makers, and transportation engineers have built and modified communities in just the opposite vein.

While the design of public space influences its use, Project for Public Spaces notes that 80 percent of the success of a public space is the result of its "management," referring to how the space is maintained and activities programmed. In other words, even in the best-designed spaces for public interaction, activities need to be planned, and the space needs to be clean, secure, and well maintained, or it is unlikely to serve people well.

Public art administrators and cultural planners of all kinds can be significant players in designing, managing, and programming public space. Increasingly, artists are being tapped to collaborate with architects, landscape architects, engineers, and city planners in the design and creation of public spaces, buildings, roads, highways, and public transit facilities.

As important as the space, piece of art, or event is the process by which it is created. A puppet parade may simply be a group of artists marching in the street, or it may be the result of a lengthy, community-wide process involving hundreds of residents who brainstorm themes, construct and paint the puppets, plan the activities, and march together with their families and neighbors.


Creating the kind of connections between people that lead to collective civic action is a challenge for any planner, organizer, or community builder. It?s a lot of hard work and there's no secret formula, but it's an essential ingredient in a democratic society. Annual or seasonal events such as festivals or farmers markets can be especially effective in communities with great social, ethnic, and economic diversity. The processes used to plan and carry out these events are at least as important as the events themselves.


Including young people as meaningful contributors in the social and economic aspects of community building must not be overlooked and cannot be left to schools and parents alone.

Engaging youth has a dual benefit: it brings more adults into the picture. Research in civic engagement by the League of Women Voters indicates that the factor most likely to get people more involved in community affairs is helping to improve conditions for youth. "Issues related to children, including mentoring and coaching, and education are those most likely to mobilize the untapped reservoir of volunteers."


When people become involved in the design, creation, and upkeep of places, they develop a vested interest in using and maintaining these spaces. When they have a true sense of "ownership" or connection to the places they frequent, the community becomes a better place to live, work, and visit. The residents' feelings of respect and responsibility for the place bonds them to that place and to each other. No architect or town planner can design or build a place that does that.

"The sooner the community becomes involved in the planning process the better--ideally before any planning has been done," write Kathy Madden and Fred Kent of Project for Public Spaces in the book How to Turn A Place Around. "And people should be encouraged to stay involved throughout the improvement effort so that they become owners or stewards of the place as it evolves."

Citizen involvement in public decision making is too often reactive and negative in character. People are inclined to involve themselves when the status quo is threatened. But citizen involvement is best when community members and grassroots organizations take the lead.


Some people have argued that social capital--the volunteer organizations and efforts that provide the glue in any community--has eroded steadily over the past two generations, as seen by the drops in participation in social and civic groups. This crisis may really be one in which the old tools for involving people in civic issues are no longer sufficient to meet new challenges. The tools may have lost effectiveness as the population diversifies.

At the same time, many social, civic, and cultural functions have been "professionalized" in ways that exclude participation of ordinary citizens. From community to community across the United States, professional arts organizations have grown up where voluntary groups once stood. This trend has severed the practice and experience of the arts from day-to-day life. Participation in cultural activities (as opposed to spectatorship) connects people to each other and to their community institutions, providing pathways to other forms of participation. Thus, arts and culture can create opportunities for political expression, community dialogue, shared cultural experiences, and civic work.

Within the arts, there is a vital yet lesser-known field of practice that strives to develop cultural understanding and civic engagement. Community-based arts practitioners bring members of a community together to solve problems, build relationships, and get involved in ways that rebuild social capital. Read the full article here:

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