Course: The Arts and Community Building (2021)
Faculty Mentor: Jenina Lepard
When I enrolled in the Arts and Community Building course, I set several goals for myself:
Goal #1 — Learn more about what the Bahá’í Writings have to say about all the art forms
Goal #2 — Learn practical means to use the arts in community building activities
Goal #3 — Learn and share ideas and tips about activities that have worked for others
Goal #4 — Find ways to have more arts-related activities included as a regular part of our community life, especially to encourage more people to feel comfortable with “the arts,” not only as spectators, but as participants
Goal #5 — Create art activities for our current study circles, Feasts or Holy Days, and summer (outside) children’s classes
In taking the course, I learned what the Writings say about the arts and how other people are using the arts in their community activities. I had time to think about diverse ways I could use the arts. It was very nice to be sharing ideas with so many talented people! I’m encouraged about the many ways that the arts have been used, and I now see more options for including the arts in my community. We discussed issues around sharing the arts in most communities and learned ways to talk about the benefits and the challenges of having an “arts component” in the community’s plans.
I will be developing some new art activities for study circles over the next few weeks in two current study circles. I also want to create an art club with a few friends to explore various arts through simple but satisfying art activities and to work on connecting art to spiritual ideas and teaching. .
During the course, I learned that art activities in the community don’t have to be complicated or “professional.” Many people can benefit from doing something artistic that lets them build their own skill and express their own ideas. While exceptional accomplishment is great and can be properly appreciated, individuals can also be encouraged to enjoy developing new skills in one or more art forms.
A huge diversity of types of artistic expression was demonstrated by the members of this class. Resources from the class—the book The Fashioner: Reflections on the Role of Music and the Arts in Building a Global Community, by Jenina Lepard, as well as BahaiBlog.net and other articles—showed more ways in which the arts are used to teach the Faith and enrich our community life. People of all ages and backgrounds are stepping out and creating arts in their communities and for the general public. More people are being encouraged to develop the skills and the courage to engage in artistic activities.
We discussed the idea that there are multiple levels of artistic communication. One is promoting the Faith (its history and purpose), which several people in our class have been doing well for a long time. Many artists, writers, and musicians are using the arts to highlight social justice concerns—making issues more widely known and promoting solutions. Other artists use painting and other art forms to express spiritual feelings and share these ideas with others.
The course materials reinforced that the arts awaken sensitivity in ways that “cold rationalizing” cannot and are important in developing the whole person.
In his essay Advice From a Poet – “Bring Chocolate” Roger White says that, in communities that are having trouble incorporating arts into their regular activities, artists can help the community understand and appreciate the arts. As someone who appreciates and practices some forms of art, I probably could do more to explain the arts and encourage participation in arts activities for different people with varying interests and skill levels. I have a deeper understanding of the concept of “community building” after considering how using the arts engages and unites people. I feel more committed to encouraging artistic thinking in others.
Going forward, I will continue to find ways to encourage study circle participants to discover their own artistic hearts and to use the arts in creative ways that suit them. Expect diversity!