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On Friday, September 8, ArtsFund held a workshop led by one of the country’s leading advocates for the arts and community engagement, Doug Borwick. Over 60 arts and cultural professionals participated in the two-hour workshop, generously hosted by the Seattle Foundation. Over the course of the morning, Mr. Borwick encouraged attendees to think of their organizations as a community resource and form deeper, lasting partnerships with new and existing stakeholders—if they haven’t already.

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Borwick began by discussing how arts and cultural organizations can become truly indispensable to their communities. The way to start on this work, he said, is by developing deeper relationships not only with existing audiences, but with other community members and organizations. “Community engagement is not something arts and cultural organizations can do by themselves,” he said, it has to be done with others and it must be mutually beneficial. He warned against putting on one-off events in pursuit of this goal, noting that event partners should be kept engaged after such events.

Borwick also reviewed reasons why some community members may be leery of engagement efforts. There is often a long history organizations need to navigate, he said, as many communities have been let down or mistreated by past relationships, and these relationships may require time, energy, and commitment to restore. He observed that for many people, the arts represent the “one percent”—institutions by and for the elite and privileged.

Following breakout sessions where attendees discussed their organizations’ efforts and practices in community engagement in small groups, Borwick shared his model for the “The Engagement Process” (see below): Preparing, Planning, Partnering. He suggests focusing first on current stakeholders, and then expanding by meeting, talking, and working with new communities. Marketing and development staff—who comprised the majority of the workshop’s attendees—are relationship-builders, and  should be the experts of community engagement. He acknowledged arts and cultural organizations often do not have the resources to add more to their plates, and suggested organizations should plan to re-orient their current duties around community engagement. Following his presentation, Borwick closed with questions and discussion.

A copy of the handout distributed at the workshop—which Borwick’s Engagement Process, readings, and further resources—can be found here.

A copy of the agenda for the workshop can be found here.

ArtsFund’s convenings series is sponsored by The Boeing Company.

A special thanks to the Seattle Foundation for hosting this event.