For the last few months, I’ve been looking for a short-hand definition of engagement—one I could hold in my hand. A beautiful and thought-provoking array of engagement models and reflections have been shared in the recent NAMAC blog salon, on the ArtsEngage tumblr and on this blog Musings. However, I finally found what I’ve been hunting for in the words of filmmaker and ArtsEngage blogger Eliaichi Kimaro. She writes that the gift of her ALLY project is its power to “ignite dialogue and inspire deep introspection.”
That handful of words is so simple, yet the impact of such engagement in the lives of individuals and our community can be profound. If we use those words as a guide, we can break the process of engagement down into these four actions:
pausing—catching the flow of a moment in time
listening—seeing, hearing and inquiring of each other, perhaps for the first time
sharing—telling new and old stories to strangers, friends, enemies; contributing to a corporate collection of ideas
reflecting—(re)considering previously unknown or all-too-familiar ideas in light of new perspectives and perceptions; imagining ways this new vision or awareness might change one’s course
We know that the arts are key to this process of engagement and unique in the way they bring about change. Whatever the form, art can reveal who we are, what we fear, or what we hope to become. Art tells or begs a story. To be engaged is to want to respond. What that reaction looks like takes many forms—from silent musings to passing on a good idea to active dialogue to creative product to deep relationships.
Suran Song tells us, “I have learned that to engage your community in public art, you have to be willing to manifest your idea into a middle ground, and then let it go.” Where and how far the circles of impact go is unpredictable and often immeasurable. Don’t worry. Change will happen. How could it not?
This exercise of reflecting on engagement became a model of engagement itself—the blog salon, Tumblr, Twitter conversations, NAEA conference sessions, and silent musings opened a cycle of dialogue and reflection on a topic that is part of our everyday story. Thanks to all the contributors who paused, listened, shared and reflected. May we see and feel the ripples of this dialogue in the most unexpected places.