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Preparing for Change

During a recent trip to New Orleans, I reconnected with an urban planning friend, now a professor at University of New Orleans. We exchanged many stories about our respective studies and project work. Since then, I’ve been mulling over the effects of severe population loss in cities – one of her research topics inspired in part by Hurricane Katrina’s effect on the city. Katrina forced New Orleans to undergo dramatic changes in a short period of time, thereby demanding the development of community revitalization strategies. Most of us are familiar with arguments and examples of arts as a means of community development, a driver of urban revitalization, beautification and business development.

A recent Mission Models Money (MMM) paper, titled “Sustainable Ability,” argues that we should now focus on art’s ability to elevate the importance of intrinsic values in order to adapt to changing conditions, and hopefully resolve or mitigate larger problems such as climate change. In this argument, intrinsic values refer to “what matters on the inside…aspects of ourselves that value community, family, connection to others” that often act as a greater motivator for change than scientific evidence. MMM and others (e.g., The Canadian Geographer’s 2004 article “Reimagining Sustainable Cultures: Constitutions, Land and Art” by Nancy Doubleday, et. al.) assert that the arts act as a galvanizing force to strengthen and heal communities. The arts are a vehicle for solving complex issues through re-imagining the future and highlighting different perspectives, and an agent for changing ingrained and destructive behaviors. In other words, community and cultural resilience is a byproduct of a thriving creative sector. A recent Arts Council England paper – Making Adaptive Resiliency Real- explains the importance of arts organizations in the local sphere, why it is important to understand what is happening in the external environment, and how one’s work is interrelated to community health and vibrancy.

New Orleans changed overnight, without much warning. Most communities have experienced similarly quick shifts and are anticipating others that will manifest on a much slower trajectory. How can we harness our collective creative voice to anticipate and adapt to change, as we experience it, or better yet, before it occurs?


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