What were the specific goals of this creative economy project? Describe the community development challenge or opportunity that your project was designed to address:
We had a few goals in mind for presenting City Council Meeting: Performed Participatory Democracy in Keene, NH. As a unique theatre piece we were interested in experimentation with form, brining a piece of work that would stretch the parameters of what many people know as theatre. The intent of CCM itself is to create a public arena where community members, city officials and leaders, secondary schools secondary school and college students can actively participate as co-creators and audience members, in a piece that is created fresh in each city where it is performed and is reflective of that place. As Keene is a community that is civically active, we wanted to marry this interest with a participatory art work that could engage numerous community members at various points of contact and through a variety of engagement activities planned during the three-week residency with the artists- artist talks, book discussions, a Student Debate Club panel, open rehearsals, a Long Table, public displays, a public debriefing following the performance. The goal of all these activities was also to link the arts and civic engagement and to explore the ideas of City Council Meeting through various platforms. Our goal was for these activities to open up space for dialogue about why people participate in their communities or not.
We also wanted to work with artists in a deeper way, over a longer period of time and through repeated site visits, and to harness the artists' interest in socially engaged practice to deepen our relationships with audience members, project partners, organizations and local officials.
We hoped our embarking on a project of this size and nature would stretch our own capacity as an arts organization to explore new ways of making art and engaging with communities. We wanted to be ambitious and we wanted this project to stand out in peoples' minds over time.
A goal of ours was to present a theatre piece that could form a bridge between the campus of Keene State College and the local community- this was both a challenge and an opportunity. Our goals was for this bridge to be conceptual and literal- for CCM to have relevance to a number of constituents and for activities to take place on campus and off. We programmed activities at the library downtown and on campus and presented the final performance at a Hall operated by the library.
The challenges to this project were that while some community members are actively involved in their community life, a large portion of students were unfamiliar with the concepts of civic participation, or were not used to equating things like community service (which KSC has a strong culture of) with being a civically involved community member.
If the goals change over time, please describe how:
Our goals did stay fairly consistent throughout the project and we were flexible about our projected outcomes of this project. Because we ultimately did not know how the performance itself would be received or whether the impact would be subtle, abstract or very resonant, our evolving goal with this project and working with these artists was simple to learn more throughout the process- to see what opportunities and relationships were sparked, to see what outcomes were short-lived or lasting. Halfway into the artist residency, much of the focus in our city turned to the aftermath of Pumpkinfest and to the upcoming elections. For some partners and audience members, there was a new resonance and potential for CCM to bring community and campus together for a shared experience in one space. Our goal did not so much change to think that the performance would mend relationships or fallout in our community, but there was a different tone and value to a post- Pumpkinfest, pre-Election Day CCM that we did not anticipate ahead of time
Who was involved in this project and what did they do? (be sure to include the partners from outside of the creative sector and how local voices were included):
The strongest partnership of this project was the one formed between the Redfern and the Keene Public Library. While the Redfern had an existing relationship with the library, CCM became a strong link between our organizations, offering us the opportunity to strengthen our relationship and collaborate on joint programming. We collaborated with them on the performance of City Council Meeting and many of the engagement activities.
We partnered with local high school students from the Monadnock Waldorf School, KSC college students, a Keene City Planner, and KSC staff as "staffers" for the piece- this group was made up of six participants who acted as aides during the performance and helped run the meeting. They attended all the CCM rehearsals, became intimately involved with the making of CCM in our community and in a sense have become a coalition of intergenerational community members who have become our stakeholders through their participation in this unique project.
We partnered with KSC Communications faculty member Dr. Brian Kanouse. He facilitated the planning of the Student Debate Club event, offered context for City Council Meeting and assured student attendance at various events through his involvement in related programming like The Long Table. He incorporated these activities into his syllabi as required and/ or extra credit offerings and thus built a broader frame of reference for students and assignments that prompted reflection on their part. He helped us identify and share the inherent questions of the piece and became an important advocate for it, especially as we were making our way through the residency. He set a precedent for what a faculty partner can look like for interdisciplinary programming, and we are eager to work together again in the future.
CCM itself involved the participation of a few local council members, and while they were not our partners on the project they became important resources on Keene for our artists working in this community and also became strong allies and advocates for the piece with their colleagues and respective communities. Because of this project we were able to nurture a growing network of stakeholders, among them our local city officials.
How does this project relate to a larger community development strategy?
This project in its essence is about community engagement and development. There is an ongoing effort to improve existing relationships between the city and college. While many existing connections between the college and city are positive, there are tensions relating to the growth of the college, and the challenges that come with the transient student population, primarily their sense of responsibility for their surrounding community. City Council Meeting offered up a model of how art can raise pertinent questions about community, civil and social responsibility, and literally bring various communities/ adversaries together in one space. CCM embodied civic engagement in surprising ways, catalyzing people to consider or reconsider their perceptions of civic participation in the democratic process, and their sense of agency in issues that have meaning for them. CCM was an event that constructed space for social and self-analysis. It engaged a variety of disciplines in the humanities and social sciences, and there was a strong emphasis on student involvement with this piece. Our belief is that this project was a step towards a greater understanding of how the arts can reinforce, inform and impact civic activity.