For the final case study of this course I have been researching Artfully AWARE, a non-profit organization in New Orleans that has been using art to empower people in marginalized communities for about one year now. Their mission is to “strengthen sustainable futures in both developed and developing societies by using the arts to enrich, educate and empower individuals and communities.” They provide different programs centered around art, drama, dance, music, and different media. Educational classes in each medium are a collaborative effort between Artfully AWARE staff and facilities of the Mahalia Jackson Center in Central City New Orleans. The organization gives a voice to kids in vulnerable communities, such as Central City, by promoting “self-expression and psycho-social healing.” In this sense, it uses the education of different media technologies as a means of art therapy to foster community capacity building.
For the purpose of this project, I will be focusing on a one of Artfully AWARE’s visual arts programs, the Virtual Communications Gallery and Awareness Project, that gives children the chance to “produce audio and visual manifestations of the issues [their] communities are dealing with.” It does this through participatory media workshops with film and photography that empower children to “tell their stories and overcome difficulties” as they create a virtual representation of their environment through artwork, photos, videos, and mapping of local risks and resources. The project can successfully “enhance communications messaging” as the projects are posted on the web and different communities begin their cultural exchange. This is beneficial because it creates a network where “participants, themselves, are answering to perceptions, questions, ideas, and thoughts that others have about their homes.”
It is also beneficial because the program effectively utilizes e-Learning as students are taught the process of filming, editing, production, and internet technologies, and thus puts the power in the hands of the community to break the digital divide. For the marginalized community, where previous barriers to technological access existed, this program uses a multidisciplinary approach to art and communication that strengthens human-centered design and promotes expressive empowerment. It provides the children the tools they need to succeed in vulnerable communities. While there are multiple beneficial implications of the Visual Communications Gallery and Awareness Project, there exist some difficulties for practical implementation of the project. Unfortunately, due to the expensive and fragile nature of information and communication technologies such as film and photography equipment, there are budgetary and practical limitations for how many children this type of project can effectively impact. Further, since Artfully AWARE is a non-profit, and the needed technologies are subject to become outdated, sustainability it is a constant concern that the organization has to overcome. Further, since the New Orleans chapter of Artfully AWARE has not been in existence long, there is little information about feedback and monitoring of the education media programs that is vital to understanding the successes and downfalls of this project.
This unique project that uses art as a means of empowerment is a refreshing take on how to develop communities both locally and abroad. It puts the power to decide about creative expression in the hands of the children in vulnerable communities which sustainably “promotes empowerment, cultural understanding and enables individual and community development.”