News > State-of-the-Art Community Engagement

State-of-the-Art Community Engagement

January 10, 2017 – By Julie Lebel – The 2017 CAPACOA Conference provided many opportunities to explore the theme The Culture of Community, including a professional development session with four practitioners from the field. Here’s a recap.

Sample practices shared during the sessionHand in Hand: Community Engagement and Community-Engaged Arts Practices was co-designed by Karine Lavoie (Cirque Hors Piste), Annalee Adair (Community Engagement Consultant), Seanna Connell (ArtBriges/Toile des Arts), and I (Julie Lebel, Made in BC, Dance on Tour and Foolish Operations) with the support of Frédéric Julien (CAPACOA).

Our intention was to engage in a conversation on the continuum of community engagement with a range of successful engagement stories and models through formal presentations, discussions and experiential learning.

Karine opened with a short embodiment exercise to model how we can move attitudes and behaviors from I-to-You to We-to-Us through participation in dance. This concept was formulated by incredible dance educators and field leaders of the Luna Dance Institute and their MPACT (Moving Parents and Children Together) program.

Seanna gave an overview of the ArtBridges project, a great resource to explore various initiatives all across Canada, including profiles on Full Circle: First Nations Performance, Red Sky Performance, and the Alianait Arts Festival.

Annalee shared her expertise in Community Engagement 3.0, an engagement scale that moves the dial from awareness, to participation, to engagement/empowerment. Annalee provoked thoughts around the definition of excellence when used in the arts and community engagement field. It was a call to explore how technical and expressive excellence (in one very specific cultural tradition) can often stop the conversation about connecting with communities. For thorough discussions on this topic, please refer to this article by Doug Borwick or this interesting post by Nina Simon, Executive Director of the Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History and author of The Participatory Museum and The Art of Relevance.

This video on The Theatre Centre shows how an arts incubator can also be a community hub.
Video from Ontario Presents as part of the ArtsEngage Canada initiative.

Annalee Adaair, Seanna Connell, Karine Lavoie, and Julie Lebel, leading the “hand dance”.
Workshop participants moving together with their arms wide open.

Karine and I led two exercises to conciliate body and brain, creativity and community. I chose to share an exercise from my mentor, Karen Jamieson. The “hand dance” stems from her Energy Body practice developed at the Carnegie Community Centre in Vancouver Downtown East Side. Karine introduced the collective dance with sticks, that challenges participants with their coordination and cooperation skills.

Back to formal presentations and discussions, I first shared Made in BC’s Community Engagement Facilitators model inspired by La danse sur les routes du Québec and their program of cultural development agents. Made in BC’s model is about engaging local artists deeply connected to their communities to create programming that is relevant to their community.

Karine introduced the social circus movement, which uses circus arts foster social inclusion among marginalized individuals. She also shared four lessons learnt from Cirque Hors Piste:

  • Don’t reinvent the wheel. Partner with practitioners or organizations who are already experts (social experts) within a community.
  • Change takes time. Commit to a long duration.
  • Plan and adapt the approach with the participants: making their own
  • Have different project formats for different goals: outreach, structured workshop, one month long engagements.

This was followed by Annalee’s overview of the ArtsEngage Canada website, an important new resource to discover projects, state of the art practices and tools.

Finally, I was privileged to close with an invitation to observe a new trend in community engagement: the outsourcing model… As artists develop excellence in their engaged practice, some now offer “tour-ready” projects that can visit other communities for a couple days, a week or more. Although this model has its limits on the long term, it can create dynamism in a community on a particular practice, subject or issue and inspire future local contributions. It was a call to presenters to be on the lookout for engagement projects in the same way that they are on the lookout for performances.

It was a pleasure to collaborate on this session and to share our practices with a very full room of participants. We hope that delegates were inspired and had ideas on which community engagement opportunities are best suited to their particular context.


Julie Lebel
Manager, community-engaged dance programs
Made in BC – Dance-on-Tour



Proceedings from the CAPACOA Conference, including presentations from this session

ArtBridges’ Map of Community-Engaged Arts

ArtsEngage Canada website


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