Since its emergence in the 1950s, the field of community development has emphasized resident participation in decision-making and leadership. From a normative perspective, resident participation is an end in itself. From an instrumental standpoint, the knowledge, skills, and energy that resident participants bring to initiatives are seen as invaluable to the achievement of meaningful outcomes. Most rural communities in the United States do not have the chance to enjoy most of the recreational as well as employment opportunities that their counterparts (urban dwellers) enjoy. One of the factors that have led to this disparity is the lack of such facilities in the rural areas as well as the lack of finances. Rural areas fall increasingly behind in wealth, job opportunities, health care, transportation facilities, school adequacy, infrastructure and the overall well-being (Medoff 1994; Jay 2004). The believe that all individuals should be able to have access to not only a source of income but also other social amenities e.g. recreational facilities has been the drive for the people of York.
The Art based community development project in York
In 1981, two local artists held a craft conference in a barn on their property in York in which they invited community members to share and learn art. Tut A. Riddick, one of the natives of York with long family ties, to the area taught mask making at the event. The interest of many local citizens involved in art convinced him of the need for an art center in the region. His goal was to expose the people in the Black Belt to contemporary art, but she believed that an art center would benefit the York community in other ways as well. She sought to establish a place for the local artist as there were few recreational outlets in York Outside of hunting and football.
The money that the community contributed towards the project was used to secure a vacant building. Additionally, the city of York donated tax revenues to renovate it and employ part-time director. It is noteworthy that most of the families in York donated funds. The Coleman Centre began in 1985 and feature the Riddick art collection which motivated the local citizens to join artistry. It did not take long before the local artists expressed their interest in showing their own art. The Riddick collection was relocated to the Mobile Museum of Art with the intention of bringing it back to fill in when needed at the Coleman Center. Local art sustained the center for the next one and a half decades featuring the work of hundreds of local and regional artists. The center also sponsored book signings, speakers, workshops and a yearly festival called the Rooster day (Ibid). Overtime, the Centre helped to develop art sophistication among the local residents. Visitors to the gallery began critiquing what they saw, ad several citizens of York as well as its surrounding area who first encountered art at the Coleman Center later emerged as artists or art teachers. Additionally, the center strengthened the campaign against large hazardous waste landfill since the events held at the center acted as platform for educating the citizens about the phenomenon as well. Green and Goetting (2010) noted a comment made by one of the fundraiser’s for the project:
People from all over Sumter County stepped forward and made nice contributions because they were happy about the Coleman Center. It brought a sense of community throughout the county. The most amazing thing was how the Coleman Center brought people together I never thought would have come together for the purpose of supporting the arts, especially in an area of hunting and football. But even the hunters and football fans gave money and enjoyed the events (pp. 61).
The Success of the New Phase of Art in York
In its first fifteen years of operation, the Coleman Center employed a series of part-time directors and focused on regional crafts and artists. In 2000, the project took a new turn when two artists came to live and work in town. In December 2001, Marylyn Gordon came to York to direct Black Belt Designs, a sewing project intended to help the local women who had been recently laid off by closed textile mills to improve and market their sewing skills. Towards the end of the first quarter of 2002 Amos Kennedy, a well-known print artist, came to York as an artist in residence. His reputation in the South East as well as connections in the art world helped attract other artists in residence to York.
The presence of the artists played a pivotal role in the promotion of art in the region. The Coleman Center director at the time decided to raise funds to hire new full-time directors to make use of the newfound talent and attention. In August 2003, a new executive director began recruiting artists in residence to come to York and design a series of art projects.
The art-in-residence program was a major new edition to the art scene in York. Artists from outside of Alabama lived in York for a few weeks and others stayed for months and were provided with housing and stipends for materials and living expenses. The artists were required to develop projects that actively engaged citizens in the creation of art, beautified York and served a function in the project. Some of the projects included a bench at a youth bus stop, an audio collection of local music, a bicycle shade where youth could learn how to repair bikes and making of several sculptures based on York history.
The art-in-residence program boosted both outside interest in York and community momentum for the arts. One of the Coleman Centre artists believes that the new directors and artists in residence brought the center from being a local museum to a center doing things any one from the city would see as art (Green and Goetting, 2010, pp. 62). The new directors departed York in the summer of 2005 but were replaced by directors who have continued the center’s focus on recruitment of artists in residence and designing public art projects.
Another major event that boosted the York art project occurred in January 2004. Eight downtown buildings were auctioned to five local artists and two buyers who planned to open restaurants. The eighth building was sold to the city of York and the mayor give it up for be used in art related purposes. The burgeoning art community based project/movement encouraged the buyers to purchase the downtown buildings. The artists would not have bought the buildings without the Coleman Center as the driving force. The artist’s purchase of the downtown buildings boosted the York art scene. In addition to the five artists working at the Coleman Center every day, there were now four glass artists, a music teacher, a sculptor, and a basket maker working in downtown York. The downtown artists who had previously worked independently in their homes now worked side by side on the main street of town, which enhanced their cohesion as a group and increased community interest in their work. The downtown artists also worked with the Coleman Center to keep the arts growing in York by directing visitors to the Center and collaborating on several community art projects.
The effect of the project
The art based community project brought many changes to the York community. The changes showed citizens that change was possible, built momentum, and established the art movement as active and credible. One York resident who has lived in the region since the 1980s states that “York was nothing, it was a gas station, a stop on the way to Tuscaloosa. But now there is something going on, something York needed for a long time.”
The new energy in the region has inspired new projects, which include plans for a sports complex and the renovation of the local park. The York Beautification Board engaged the local artists in a contest for the best-looking lawn. The Coleman Center hired Auburn University’s Small Town Design Initiative to conduct a community-planning sessions to produce a plan for York’s revitalization.
Perhaps the greatest validation any community can receive is to be regarded as a prototype by surrounding communities, a status York has achieved. The Black Belt Action Commission touts York as a model for other small communities. A publication by the Economic and Community Development Institute at Auburn University cites the York art movement as a prime example of a “diverse and innovative economic development strategy” for Alabama, describing York as a community “open to any opportunities that align with community assets” (Sumners 2004, pp. 27-28).
The extent to which the six dimensions are integrated in the project
The York Art-based community project has enhanced the cohesion of the local citizens. Many York residents believe that racial segregation is maintained not out of hostility but out of habit and lack of opportunity for social exchange. Even youth of different races do not interact in York, as there is no forum to do so. To create such a forum, leaders in York’s art movement took deliberate steps to make the Coleman Center a neutral community space. Directors recognized the ability of Coleman Center to serve as a unifying force in the community and sought to establish the center as a place for welcoming all races.
Economically, the project created a source of income for most of the York Citizens. The Coleman Center provides a market for the products of the local artists. Additionally, it has played a pivotal role for not only the development of new skills but also the sharpening of the local skills, which is essential in creating demand for the artistry works. The employment that the Coleman Center offers to the executive directors also boosts the economy of York e.g. through taxation. The diversification of the art skills of the local citizens e.g. in sewing and music opened new avenues for income generation for the local citizens. After most of the women were laid off in the sewing company, the Coleman Center employed an in-residence sewer who helped the women to perfect their sewing skills. By so doing, the women continued to use their sewing skills for a source of their livelihood.
One of the important people in York who has played a fundamental role in the acquisition of the more space for displaying art is the Mayor. This is a clear indication that the project has impacted the political arena of the region positively to be able to garner the support of the mayor. Since most of the citizens in the region are artists, it serves to strengthen the promotion of democracy and politics in the region.
The artwork helps to promote the culture of the York citizens. For instance, they are able to display their products, which in most cases are a symbol of the cultural aspects of the community. As aforementioned, when Riddick established the Coleman Center it drew the attention of the local artists who came to display their works in the center. This represented the indigenous types of art that were practiced in the region. Additionally, some of the events that are organized under the Coleman Center e.g. celebrations help in the maintenance of the culture. Another aspect that drives the culture of people is music. The Coleman Center has been a platform for the development of local music by local artists.
As aforementioned, land pollution was a major environmental concern in the region due to the release of chemicals from the nearby industrial plants. A large proportion of the individuals in the project in question were members of the group that sought to curb the problem in the region. Their efforts were strengthened by the formation of the Coleman Center which brought large audiences together especially during events. They were able to educate people on the importance of conserving the environment. Additionally, together with other groups in the region, the local artists under the Coleman Center were involved in several activities to ensure that the environment was clean e.g. the cleaning and beautification of their land as well as the local parks.
The project benefitted many of the participants-on the personal level. It provided them with a busy schedule that prevented them in engaging in life-threatening behaviors such as drug abuse. This is essential for the well-being of individuals in any given society. The lack of engagement in bad habits also promotes that security of a given neighborhood an aspect that the residents of York enjoyed (Shuman 1998; Jim 2001). The development of one’s skills as well as a career in their preferred field is also an additional attribute to the personal life of the individuals who participated in the art-based York project.
The degree to which the project is assets-based
The project encouraged the local citizens in York to not only recognize but also reinforce their assets within the community instead of relying on the sole on recruiting outside industries. The development of the Coleman Center shows the asset-based orientation of the project. It serves as a market for the art products. The acceptance of the eighth building in downtown is also essential for the project.
York residents have continued to achieve their goals by continuing to build on assets including York’s location, small-town feel, energy and momentum, art and artists. Residents believe York needs to offer a tourism package with the whole town made attractive and convenient to tourism. To achieve this the project has focused on not only improving and preserving local art but also improving the town aesthetically and beautifying the main street. Additionally, they offer lodging downtown and have increased the number of restaurants in the region. Other aspects that the Coleman Center has been involved involve marketing, creating partnerships with other organizations and increasing their publicity.
The improvements that could have been changed
As detailed in the history and the success of the project, the project would not have required better improvements as far as community development is concerned. From the beginning, the participants embraced the communal aspect not only in funding the project but also in availing their skills to enhance the success of the project. Additionally, the management and the local artists have maintained an open-mind approach. They are willing to welcome new and viable ideas that they have effected for the well-being of the project. Additionally, they acquire the necessary experts in a certain field of interest to help in sharpening the skills of the local artists. The Coleman center has offered support for the local artists to the extent that some of them have become experts and able to pass their skills to young artists.
The only change that the management would have considered to better the results of the project is to sponsor the local artists to tour art galleries in different regions in the world. Such a move would enable the artists to come up with new ideas, which they could apply to better not only their career but also the overall development of the project (Chasca 2000). Additionally, it would also help them to discover new markets for their products.
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Sumners, J. 2005. Building Community: The Uniontown Story. Auburn, AL: Economic Developmental Institute.