Jobs then Art; Art then Jobs

In a town where families are broken, gangs are ever present, young children are forced to grow up too quickly, and food, cleanliness, and joy are always in short supply, one organization thought that the solution was simple: GoPro’s.

The organization was Art Connect, based in the Laventille neighborhood of Trinidad and Tobago.  

Art Connect brought together practicing artists to work with a set of kids in the local school.  The artists were either painters, singer/songwriters, or dancers, and rotated through various projects with the kids throughout the school year.  Why artists?  What was the argument for bringing in this resource to a depressed area?  Poor area need jobs first and foremost, right?  The arts comes later.  Well, yes and no.  Jobs are good because they give people purpose, and money to save and spend.  Jobs give people mobility in the world to build a life for themselves that they have some control over.  Arts teaches ways of being.  Arts teaches ways of thinking.  Arts gives one the personal skills, mentality and attitude to work with what they have got within themselves to take control of their own life.  In a sense, jobs look to fix an external situation, arts look to fix an internal one.  So, which should have the priority in poor urban areas?  In case you couldn’t have guessed, my vote is arts first, jobs second.  Lets take a look at a *very* simplified potential chain of events for an urban poor area.  Poverty→ lack of jobs→ external development comes in after deciding the area has potential value; they may or may not be properly advised in which case the development could be one dimensional without engaging the community in discussions about shaping the future of the area→ new housing and other facilities are built→ a few cultural sites and activities are then built in to attract more external wealth→ the area slowly becomes more trendy and attractive until it is thoroughly economically viable and wealthy→ new residents come in, old residents go out due to increased rent, the area is better off but the original residents are not.  This process, again, focuses on an external situation.  What if we looked at the chain of events but with the mentality of ArtsConnect.  Poverty→ lack of jobs→ non profit focused organization come in to engage individual change makers→ these individuals are usually young people in touch with the future generations of the community with the capacity to learn new approaches to living, working, and seeing their surroundings→ small organizations pop up that offer spaces for like minded people to the change makers to safely get together→ the now aging “younger generation” believe they can create different and better things because they are accessing parts of themselves they didn’t know they had through arts programming→ the community members begin to self change→ the neighborhood may not have large attractions, or large companies, but the health, safety and involvement of the residents has increased.  

The first situation relies on external wealth, which sometimes is more reliable, and efficient in causing growth.  However, is it the right kind of growth?  The second situation relies on human resources.  The kind of change that can happen in the best outcome of the second situation has to be carried out by people who want to get the people in their communities to switch mentalities, who want to get people to self organize in different ways.  This is a “soft” process, one that does not necessarily have immediately perceivable bottom lines and metrics.  It is tough to gauge progress in this approach.  But, if it can be pulled off correctly, it will create self made change, which is the best kind of change as it allows everyone to feel a sense of positive ownership, and responsibility.     

The global, interconnected, and quite frankly complicated world needs to facilitate interactions between people, and among communities, that allow for the unlocking of individual creactivity.  Communities that help others grow into themselves create the perfect cocktail to confront today’s challenges which demand both personal strength and comfortability with difference.  



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