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Learner Builds Community through the Arts

Apr 30, 2021
A woman and man painting a globe.

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 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!



Virginia (Gina) Hoefler

I taught art in non-traditional formats in two types of situations: art activities for adults & families through community centers, and art for high school students in a progressive—project based learning—high school. In the community center, an environment was provided where anyone could enjoy making art and find satisfaction from doing some simple activity in a limited time, with easy-to-find materials. When I started at the high school, I attempted to follow a sort of curriculum including skill building, cultural awareness and art history. Soon, it was clear that students weren’t excited about these plans! Gradually, I adjusted things to meet their specific needs, and then, (‘eureka!’) I found The Open Art Room—Purtee, Sands), and a method for facilitating individual progress in the arts. More research led me to “the artistic behaviors” (Studio Thinking—Hogan, Hetland, Jaquith, Winner), which highlights attitudes to art, and life, that fit nicely with the ‘habits of mind’ promoted at our school. I continue to make art, enjoy crafts, and share art with family, friends and neighbors. I also promote the arts for myself and others to enhance their experiences with the Ruhi Institute courses and other Bahá’í activities.

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