Community Engagement

What we mean by "Community Engagement"

Community describes a collection of people, places and organizations that are connected through some external factor, such as geographic location or cultural affinity. Engagement describes an active, two-way and long-term relationship in which one party motivates another to get involved or take action—and both parties experience change. Mutual activity and involvement are the keys to community engagement.

Community Engagement promotes consistent community relationships that are a step beyond conventional programmatic partnerships. Consistent community engagement is an integral and multilayered part of the work culture of the arts provider; it is not activity-based, such as in collaboration or marketing to diverse audiences, nor is it solely program-based. (Definition liberally adapted from National Guild for Community Arts Education.)

  • Involvement by citizens in the improvement of communities and other common work that benefits everyone; purpose is to address specific community social or civic needs; at its core, the idea of community engagement breaks down the misconception that arts and culture are simply entertainment vehicles to be patronized only by who are specifically interested in them (Ellen Rosewall, Arts Management: Connecting Arts and Audiences in the 21st Century).
  • These are long-term projects (programs) and not short-term solutions (Diane Grams and Betty Farrell, Entering Cultural Communities).
  • A process whereby institutions enter into mutually beneficial relationships with other organizations, informal community groups, or individuals (Doug Borwick, Building Communities, Not Audiences). 

There is no magic formula for community engagement. Since every community has unique needs and opportunities, each organization participating in community engagement will be very different.

It’s important to remember that audience development is different than community engagement. Community engagement…

  • Aims to build a better community, not just a better organization.
  • Requires long term commitment.
  • Builds relationships outside the organization that benefit both parties.
  • Seeks to know what the community cares about.
  • Shares control with community groups.
  • Results in things that are meaningful to the community.
  • Involves risk and results in change in the organization and in the community.

For Artists

For Organizations

Check out the IAC Community Engagement Ladder and more helpful information under resources below. 



Food for thought

Thought leaders