...the project's intentions were considerably more complicated, more difficult and more ambitious.
This report chronicles "Weaving the Web of Community," a demonstration community-building project conducted in New Orleans from January to June 2003. The project began as a collaboration between 5 arts organizations and evolved into part of a new community coalition of twenty cultural, educational and political organizations. The National Performance Network (NPN) applied for a grant through the National Endowment for the Arts (www.nea.gov) Access Initiative and acted as fiscal agent during implementation, but once activities began, NPN and its staff operated as collaborators in, rather than as directors of the project.
The main objective of Weaving the Web was to demonstrate alternative, effective, grassroots approaches to what is known in the performing arts field as "audience development." As it is typically conceived, audience development is a collection of promotional strategies used by arts organizations to "outreach" to various (often underprivileged) communities as potential arts consumers.
Instead, the Weaving the Web collaborators sought to develop audiences using a more holistic, participatory approach rooted in (1) the values and practices of "bottom-up" community organizing and (2) collaboration between artists and arts organizations, educators, students, residents and activists for social change. Rather than arts organizations reaching "out" to potential audiences, Weaving the Web experimented with ways to support audiences reaching "in" to arts organizations and participating in the planning and development of their own community's cultural life.
It is a measure of the project's success that "Weaving the Web" as such no longer exists; it has evolved beyond the initiating grant in terms of vision, goals and ownership. It has embodied its name so well, in fact, that the project has become woven completely into the fabric of the community.
This report is divided into 3 sections, as follows:
Section 1 is a PROJECT OVERVIEW and covers Background, Evolution and Key Insights of the 6-month pilot. This includes the development of a new coalition that became central to the success of the project and its future.
Significant effort was made by the authors of this report to listen to and incorporate the perspectives of the more than 70 people (adults, teens and children) who participated. Notes from meetings, recorded interviews and discussions, and feedback on initial drafts were used to develop and verify each element of the report.
This concern for bottom-up participation is why, in addition to the text, numerous short video clips are included in the report (QuickTime required). These clips help provide a fairer, more comprehensive and more accurate perspective on this ambitious project.
"...arts, education, and organizing make sense together."