When we look at the social change sector as a whole, there is a growing awareness of the importance of art in engaging the hands, the heads and the hearts of the people who are looking to make positive transformations in their communities. Yet, some people still see the inclusion of art in these spaces as a creative activity, an add-on or a way to ‘inspire’ people before getting down to doing the ‘real work.’ But what if I told you that art has more power than we’ve been giving it credit for? What if art isn’t a ‘nice-to-have’ but a ‘must-have’ when it comes to making an impact on the challenges we face today?
When we work on complex issues it is often not the activities or tasks that keep us from our progress. But rather, the deeper more relational aspects of working together as humans that challenge us. We struggle to build trust across a diverse group of people gathered together to make change. We struggle to understand the complexity and nuanced experiences around an issue so that we focus on what matters most. We struggle to find effective ways to meaningfully engage a group of people – all with different agendas and backgrounds – to feel heard and inspired to participate in creating a better path forward together. We struggle to elevate the wisdom of those living the issues being explored and to tailor our strategies based on real life experiences.
That’s where art comes in.
After years of coming across these struggles in the social change field, I created Theatre for Good. Theatre for Good focuses specifically on using theatre-based exercises (drawn from Theatre of the Oppressed and Theatre for Living) to break down the barriers between us and explore an issue through the diverse real life experiences of the people in the room. We spend time using our voices and bodies to play, to create images, to reflect and to tell stories that illuminate the complexity of the issue we’re exploring. Through this, trust and connections form. Assumptions get challenged. We start to see transformation.
If we are to make real headway on the challenges we face today – poverty, racism, climate change, reconciliation to name a few – we must open ourselves up to different ways of connecting and understanding each other and the world we share. We must tap into our inner wisdom and open ourselves up to others’. If you’re working with a group to create social change, I invite you to consider putting art at the center of your next community project.
Here’s a few ways to get started:
- Pick up a copy of David Diamond’s book – Theatre for Living: The Art and Science of Community-Based Dialogue. Diamond offers incredible background to this work and walks you through the workshop exercises he has used over his long career in this space
- Review the tool - A Challenge in Hypnosis - The Power of the Give and Take – as an example of one of the workshop exercises you might choose to draw on in your work
- Visit the Theatre for Good website to learn about bringing Theatre for Good to your community
- Listen to the Theatre for Good Podcast to hear examples of theatre making an impact in communities across the world
- Keep an eye out for the upcoming virtual workshop “Introduction to Theatre for Social Change” a partnership between Tamarack and Theatre for Good coming this November
- Watch: Making the Case for Arts-Based Engagement