Planning & Designing Arts-Based
Civic Engagement Projects
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1. IMAGINE WHAT IT COULD BE!
Where are you star ting from? What do you
need to know? What difference do you think
you can make?
2. DEFINE WHAT IT WILL BE!
What have you determined are the ar tistic
component(s) and the civic or social concern
at the center of the project? What are the
desired outcomes?
3. DESIGN FOR SUCCESS!
How will art and engagement activities be linked
or integrated? How will you tap the power of
the art to foster engagement or dialogue? What
settings will best support dialogue or engage-
ment? How will you attract targeted participants
to project activities? Who is best equipped to
facilitate engagement or dialogue activities? How
will you assess your impact?
ImagIne, DefIne, DesIgn
, , :
Planning & Designing Arts-Based
Civic Engagement Projects
This tool is designed to help both arts and community organizers and artists think and work through a plan for effective and
meaningful arts-based civic engagement or dialogue projects. Referenced within are other tools and items in the workbook that
offer further detail. Although this work doesn’t always happen in a neat and linear way, arts-based civic engagement projects
typically are developed in three phases:
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WHERE ARE YOU STARTING FROM?
Your impetus may be art or it may be a social concern. As you begin thinking about the possibilities with others in your organization, with artists, or
perhaps a project steering committee, use the worksheets in this section to ask yourself:
What do we know?•
What do we need to learn to move forward? •
What difference do we want to make? •
What might be the opportunities for linking arts and civic engagement?•
Answering these questions will help you connect with potential constituents and partners to test ideas, ask good questions, and be open to creative
engagement possibilities. To help you IMAGINE the possibilities, the Spectrum of Arts-Based Engagement diagram may spark some ideas!
 : i m a g i n e what the project could be!
Phase 1: ImagIne
Here are some ways to be mindful of
ripe opportunities or critical moments for
civic engagement.
Start with the ART!
What civic or social issue is inherent in or •
suggested by artwork you will be presenting?
What issues are certain artists taking up through •
their work?
Consider the HEADLINES.
Is there a pressing issue that is commanding •
people’s attention and engagement?
Is there an issue being deliberated that will result •
in policy or other decision-making?
Confer with COMMUNITY AGENCIES
and ACTIVISTS.
What issues are social service, justice, education, •
health, environment, or civic agencies in your
community focusing on?
Where might your artistic work align with action-•
oriented or activist efforts?
Are there dialogue initiatives or ongoing •
dialogue groups whose efforts could be
enhanced through art?
Are there youth engagement initiatives that may •
be enhanced through art?
Listen to PEOPLE.
Is there a nascent issue that people are talking •
about that would benefit from more focused
attention?
Is there a simmering issue that people are not •
yet willing or able to talk about or engage in that
needs to be surfaced and awareness increased?
What issues are neighborhood associations or •
other grassroots groups concerned about?
Link with CIVIC PLANNING PROCESSES.
Is your community embarking on a planning •
process that will engage residents in visioning
the future, articulating values, and identifying
issues?
Are there particular initiatives related to •
transportation, development, or land reclamation
that will require public process?
Are there plans for memorials, commemorative •
events, historic preservation, or heritage tourism
that will seek public input?
Is the community undergoing a cultural plan?•
IDENTIFYING ISSUES
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Phase 1: ImagIne
If ART is the impetus for a project, ask:
Thoughts/Ideas
What is the art, art/cultural event, program, or occasion that we have to work with?
To what civic or social concern does the creative work or content relate? Is this or a related
issue present in our local community?
What opportunities for engagement does the art, art/cultural event, program, or occasion
present? (See the tool, Think PROJECT: Points & Opportunities for Engagement)
ART EVENT OR PRESENTATION.• For example: A touring art exhibition featuring artists’
responses to global warming is an opportunity to partner with a local environmental
organization. Public forums could be held in the museum that use the artistic work as a
catalyst for dialogue about responsibility and actions the community can take.
PLANNING OR RESEARCH ACTIVITIES.• For example: A theater company’s research about
post-traumatic stress disorder for a new play about one veteran’s journey home, might offer
local veterans a way to contribute their insights and stories for the play.
THE CREATIVE PROCESS.• For example: Involving people in the conceptualizing and painting
of a mural to raise awareness and commemorate the community’s people of color past and
present could provide a spark to systematically look at and redress untold stories related to
the community’s heritage sites.
FOLLOW-UP ACTIVITIES TO THE ART PRESENTATION.• For example: A city-wide poetry
competition in the schools revealed issues of concern for youth in the community. A plan to
inform youth of local agencies working on those issues would give avenues for young people
to volunteer.
Where are we starting from?
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Phase 1: ImagIne
If a CIVIC ISSUE / OPPORTUNITY is the impetus for a project, ask:
Thoughts/Ideas
What is the civic or social issue, concern, or opportunity demanding greater civic engagement?
To what civic or social concern does the creative work or content relate? Is this or a related issue
present in our local community?
How might art engage people in this issue? Here are some ideas and examples:
MAKE AN INVITATION• . For example: An oral history project could provide a welcoming invitation
to elders to more readily engage in redevelopment plans for their neighborhood.
CREATE A SPACE• . For example: An artist residency at a social service agency could create a
safe environment for new immigrants to express their concerns about immigration issues. The art
created could be exhibited and used as a space for public conversation.
BE A SPARK!• For example: A community-wide read of the right book, might reinvigorate attention
around issues of race that have been simmering below the surface in a community.
OFFER AN ALTERNATIVE FORM.• For example: A Photovoice project that gives students cameras
to visually convey what they see as the implications of school system budget cuts can offer their
perspectives into public forums.
Where are we starting from?
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Phase 1: ImagIne
Arts organizers ask:
What we know
What we need to
learn more about
How to learn more
Who do we need to involve? Who has a stake in the
issue? Who is affected by it?
Who believes they “own” the issue or has the right to
represent it because of histories, experience, or long-term
commitment to addressing the issue?
What is the history of engagement around the issue in
the community? Who is already engaged? Whose voices
are not being included or heard?
Whose perspectives need to be represented in planning the
project and the engagement activities and/or dialogue? How
should they be involved?
What do we need to learn to move forward?
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Arts organizers ask:
What we know
What we need to
learn more about
How to learn more
What organizations may be important partners in
order to be credible and effective? (See the tools, Local
Resources for Civic Engagement Projects)
As an artist or an organization, what’s my/our
relationship to the issue?
What, if any, direct experience or knowledge can I/we
draw upon? What do I/we need to learn to be effective and
credible?
Do I/we have a position on the issue? How might this affect
my/our capacity to organize or lead the project toward the
desired goals?
Is this an issue or concern in which I/we will want to stay
engaged?
What do responses to these questions suggest in terms
of the contribution I/we can make? Am I or are we better
positioned as a lead or supporting partner?
Phase 1: ImagIne
What do we need to learn to move forward?
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Phase 1: ImagIne
What do we need to learn to move forward?
Community organizers ask:
What we know
What we need to
learn more about
How to learn more
What has been our experience with arts and culture
that might inform this project? For example: What art
or cultural form(s) have desired participants previously
responded to? (e.g., music, videomaking, or hip hop with
youth; quilting, literature, or theater with elders; photography
or traditional dance with a newcomer population)?
What do we want to know more about in order to
incorporate the arts in our civic engagement efforts?
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Community organizers ask:
What we know
What we need to
learn more about
How to learn more
What specific artists or arts organizations do we
know that have relevant experience because their
creative work:
offers an upcoming opportunity?•
addresses current issues?•
involves community process?•
has generated public response?•
relates to our intended participants?•
has intentionally been used for dialogue or engagement?•
What artists or arts organizations can we engage early on
to help us explore and develop ideas? (See also Ways to
Involve Artists)
(If you aren’t familiar with artists or arts organizations, who
can help identify artists or advise on how to develop arts
dimensions to our efforts, see the workbook tool, Local
Resources for Civic Engagement Projects.)
Phase 1: ImagIne
What do we need to learn to move forward?
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Phase 1: ImagIne
Arts and community organizers ask:
Thoughts/Ideas
What would we see as meaningful outcomes of the arts-based civic
engagement project?
What would each stakeholder group see as meaningful outcomes of
the project?
What difference do we want to make?
(See examples of civic or social outcomes on the next page.)
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Phase 1: ImagIne
Social bonding occurs within a targeted group.•
Social bridging occurs across groups.•
There is more diverse participation in a •
community planning process or public dialogue.
People claim rights to public space who have •
felt unwelcome or unsafe.
Contributions and value of a group are publicly •
celebrated and honored.
Public awareness of an issue is heightened.•
People have a deeper understanding of the •
complex dimensions of an issue.
There is greater respect among people who hold •
different beliefs or values.
People recognize their own role in and •
responsibility for community norms and values.
Civic leaders hear a broader range of citizen •
perspectives.
People are moved to get involved.•
People challenge unjust systems.•
A conflict is resolved or averted.•
A solution is found to a community concern •
or problem.
An increased number of people vote.•
A policy is enacted or changed.•
Others?•
(See Areas of Impact and Logic Models for further
help articulating outcomes.)
EXAMPLES OF CIVIC OR SOCIAL OUTCOMES
Arts and community organizers ask:
Thoughts/Ideas
Draft what would be reasonable and meaningful civic or social outcomes
for this project considering stakeholders’ as well as our own perspectives.
What difference do we want to make?
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After exploring the questions in the IMAGINE stage, you should have enough information to commit to certain basic things:
What is/are the art, cultural form, or activities at the core of the project? •
What is the social or civic concern or opportunity around which engagement will be focused?•
What are the desired outcomes?•
Use the worksheet below to articulate these basics. This can serve as a basis for writing up your concept to share with others as
you move ahead!
 : d e f i n e what the project will be.
Phase 2: DefIne
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What is the core project?
Phase 2: DefIne
Arts and community organizers determine:
Thoughts/Ideas
What is the event, program, art, or cultural experience? Who are the
artist(s) involved?
What is the civic/social concern, issue, or opportunity?
Who are the intended participants or publics?
What are the goals and outcomes agreed upon by arts and community
partners?
What are compelling questions around this concern or issue that we will
explore through the project?
What are the opportunities for civic engagement?
What role(s) will the art, art activities, artist, and/or art experience play?
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With a common grounding, partners and players can move on to design the specific elements of the project, event, or program.
This section will help you design experiences that can meet their civic engagement intents through the unique capacity of art.
Use the worksheets to answer:
How will art and engagement activities be linked or integrated?•
How will you tap the power of the art to foster engagement or dialogue? •
What settings will best support dialogue or engagement? •
How will you attract desired participants or publics to engage in project activities? •
Who is best equipped to facilitate engagement or dialogue activities? •
 : d e s i g n the project for success!
Phase 3: DesIgn
Here are some other factors to consider when
designing arts-based civic engagement experi-
ences or projects:
Number of engagements: Are you offering a
one-time engagement, multiple engagements with
the same group, or multiple opportunities for en-
gagement for different groups or publics? Multiple
opportunities with the same group allow you to go
deeper and to build on previous engagements. To
reach a range of publics or audiences, multiple
opportunities over a period of time provide many
occasions for people to participate. To make the
most of one-time engagements such as a dialogue
linked to a performance, see Creating Meaningful
Dialogue at Arts Events for pointers.
Sequence: Consider how activities can be
sequenced and designed to move participants
from personal reflection to consideration of
ideas and issues in a broader public context.
For example to:
prompt personal reflection,• Why do I think
the way I do?”, a creative process like story
circles can tap personal stories prompted by the
art and related to the issue being explored.
explore a larger reality, • a full-group dialogue
might be focused on the causes and effects
related to the issue.
encourage people to get involved, take •
action, information about local organizations
working on the issue may be shared or visits
made to these organizations.
Length: Consider the minimum or maximum
length of a session or activity to foster meaningful
engagement or dialogue.
Size: Consider how the size of the group will
affect the quality of engagement. Small groups
encourage participation and often enable a deeper
engagement. Engaging with or as a larger group
helps people experience a wider range of people,
hear more perspectives in a dialogue, and can
foster a sense of being part of a community. Some
combination of small and large group engagement
or dialogue, even within one event, can be
very effective.
STRUCTURING ARTS-BASED ENGAGEMENT EXPERIENCES
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How will art and engagement be linked or integrated?
Phase 3: DesIgn
Thoughts/Ideas
Art and engagement may be an integrated experience. For example, people
are engaged:
In making art:• By painting a mural featuring the community’s historic Latino
figures, led by a local Latino artist, members of that community come together,
learn about their history, and publicly reclaim their cultural heritage.
Through the selection or development of art works:• Community members
have a role in selecting artists and themes for public art projects that are part
of a waterfront clean-up effort. The public art process is empowering, builds
ownership of the artwork and the waterfront, and builds a volunteer corps for
ongoing maintenance.
Within the actual art or humanities presentation or experience:•
ESL students participate in the history museum’s living history programs.
Through interaction with living history players, they practice English and
compare past immigration experiences with their own and learn about
community resources.
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Thoughts/Ideas
Engagement activities may be linked to the art experience. For example,
people are engaged:
In dialogue through viewing art:• Gallery tours for the “Artists on
Environmentexhibit are designed to be interactive and focused on
environmental issues through docents’ use of a series of generative questions.
Through pre- and postperformance interaction:• In the lobby, audience
members take a short survey about perceptions of immigration issues prior to
a concert of music by immigrant composers. Responses are compiled during
the performance and used to prompt a post-concert discussion facilitated by
the symphony’s dialogue partner.
(See artist Laurie Brooks’ “The After-Play Interactive Forum: A New Model for
Talkbacks” for creative strategies to creatively extend theater postperformance
discussions into more meaningful audience dialogue.)
To become more informed through associated activities:• In conjunction
with a student production of the play, Dead Man Walking, a university mounts a
public symposium that brings together community and church leaders, justice
workers, and community activists. In a facilitated dialogue, the public explores
the death penalty in the context of upcoming state legislation.
Phase 3: DesIgn
How will art and engagement be linked or integrated?
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Thoughts/Ideas
Art may be linked to the engagement experience. For example, people may
be engaged in:
A creative process in an ongoing dialogue group:• Members of a veterans
support group tell their stories of coming home in story circles led by our
theater company. When the stories become part of our play, veterans feel
recognized and validated as their hopes and fears are shared publicly.
Art that enhances public planning processes: • Community members and
artists pair up to create works of art that reflect common ground or differences
around development issues. These are then presented in public planning
discussions to launch a values clarification process.
Art that helps to mobilize action:• Hip hop artists produce a show with our
anti-violence coalition in order to get young people to focus on the issue and
identify ways they can collectively help stop the violence.
Phase 3: DesIgn
How will art and engagement be linked or integrated?
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How will we tap the power of the art to foster engagement or dialogue?
Phase 3: DesIgn
Thoughts/Ideas
Many elements of artistic work have a unique capacity to engage people in
thinking and talking about civic or social concerns or simply with each other
to build trust or find common ground. Consider how artistic elements in the
creative work such as the following can foster engagement:
STORY• within the art can bring forward the human implications of issues,
connect lived experience to issues, foster empathy, and build trust and bonds.
METAPHOR• can create fresh associations and expand the form and
vocabulary of the dialogue.
HUMOR• in the art can break down barriers and establish common ground.
ABSTRACTION• can open space for multiple interpretations and perspectives.
PROVOCATION• can help challenge assumptions, unlock stuck conversations,
reveal emotions underlying difficult issues.
AMBIGUITY• in the art can underscore the complexity of the issue and gives
permission not to jump to answers.
EMOTION• evoked by the art can validate emotional dimensions of issues to
be explored.
JUXTAPOSITION• within art forces new or unlikely relationships or
connections that can open up thinking and dialogue.
HISTORY• embedded in art, objects, historic sites, anniversaries, etc. can offer
touchstones for understanding and engaging in contemporary concerns.
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Setting/location (fill in) Setting/location (fill in) Setting/location (fill in)
Is the setting familiar and welcoming to desired
participants?
Are desired participants used to going there?•
Do participants have equal access (geography, cost)? •
Do participants perceive the setting to be neutral •
ground that welcomes all perspectives. Is it free
of power associations that might discourage
participation?
Do participants view the setting as safe? •
Will participants have access to child care? •
Is the space physically conducive to support
interaction, dialogue, engagement? For example:
comfortable•
hospitable; food can be served•
space for creative activity•
movable chairs for dialogue in circles •
free of distractions•
can be open at times when desired participants can •
attend (e.g., nights, weekends)
What settings will best support dialogue or engagement?
Phase 3: DesIgn
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Consider:
Participant group (fill in) Participant group (fill in) Participant group (fill in)
What are motivations and obstacles to
participation?
How can wename and framethe civic concern
or opportunity so that it will interest and be
relevant?
What needs to be communicated about the intent
and format of the activity to help people know
what to expect?
What recruitment approaches might help ensure
participation?
How will we attract desired participants or publics
to engage in project activities?
Phase 3: DesIgn
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Who is best suited to facilitate the engagement or dialogue activities?
What roles will artists, arts organization representatives, community partners, dialogue facilitators,
or trained “nonexperts” play in facilitating the engagement activities?
Phase 3: Design
Consider:
Thoughts/Ideas
Skill, experience•
Experience with or knowledge of the issue•
Ability to tap the power of the art •
Trust and respect of the participants•
Perceived as and able to be neutral or multipartial in facilitating•
For more on dialogue facilitation, see the Basics of Arts-Based Civic Dialogue section.
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How will we assess our impact?
Phase 3: DesIgn
Based on the goals you set, what methods can you employ to observe and document the community/civic
effects of your arts-based civic engagement project?
Thoughts/Ideas
Change in participation (e.g., numbers, new voices, less likely participants •
engaged)
Change in public awareness or understanding of a civic issue •
Changed relationships between people in a community •
Shifts in thinking and attitudes about an issue•
Movement toward action or change on the issue or policy•
Change among participants in a sense of self-efficacy or collective efficacy to •
take action
Change in quality of or capacity for civic dialogue •
Change in the way civic leaders engaged with citizens and stakeholders•
Change in media coverage or representation of the issue •
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Understand context• Understand the context for the social or civic
concern, current other engagement efforts, who has taken leadership,
etc. to ensure the integrity of goals, relationships, and the credibility
of the project.
Tap the power of creativity• —Fully tap the unique qualities of the
art, artistic process, and creativity for ways to encourage meaningful
engagement. The quality of engagement often goes deeper faster when
people are involved in making art together.
Facilitating with skill• —In dialogue experiences, those that are most
substantive and transformative have deft guides who are able to create
a sense of trust, respect, safety, and make perceptive connections
between the art and the issue.
Providing a range of opportunities• —Think PROJECT! Look for
multiple and varied opportunities for engagement in the trajectory of
planning and implementing a whole project as well as what might happen
after its conclusion. Frequent and varied sustained opportunities for
engagement allow different stakeholders and publics to more readily
participate, involve people in various ways to accommodate differences,
and can provide important sustained attention to a social concern for
greater impact.
Common Factors in Effective Arts-Based Civic Engagement
Phase 3: DesIgn
Here are some of the most common factors that characterize successful arts and civic engagement activities. Keep them
in mind as you IMAGINE, DEFINE, and DESIGN!
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