Arts in Restorative Transformation

Arts in Restorative Transformation (ART)

BuildaBridge Core Philosophy and Practice

All organizations and artists operate on some set of basic beliefs, principles and philosophical understandings, even if they don’t or can’t articulate them. BuildaBridge, since it’s founding in 1997, has intentionally developed a personal and social change model that we implement in all our activities and programs. This brief article will provide you with an outline of basic principles for your work with BuildaBridge. Our motto for working with kids is: Speaking a Blessing into the Life of Every Child Everyday through the Arts. We define a blessing (a universal principle of good will) as speaking and teaching hope (ii) and healing into a child’s future through words of truth & encouragement as well as appropriate touch and commitment to the relationship. This is most effectively
accomplished when the art-making provides a metaphor for a life lesson. Art as metaphor happens through mature and mentoring relationships between an artist and a child.

Our work is child-focused and arts-integrated. We believe all children have the right to and a need for at least five basic rights: 1) a trusting relationship, 2) love through a compassionate exchange, 3) truth regarding life and the consequences of actions, 4) clear boundaries of behavior; and 5) a safe place for creative play and self-discovery. The arts provide a method, mode, and vehicle for providing children these “rights”.

Our two primary goals of engaging children through art-making are teaching (teaching subjects by integrating the arts) and healing (healing the spirit through the therapeutic power of the arts).

Our work is relational and child centered. The power of art-making with children is in the relationship between the artist and the child in community.

Art created in relationship with others bridges barriers, provides an open and trusting environment for expression, and potentially builds a spirit of community. Your work is to be centered on the needs of the child and not those of your artistic ideals.

Our work is holistic and collaborative. We focus on four basic blessings (objectives) in our work with children: artistic excellence, academic improvement, social development, and character/spiritual maturity. We seek, where possible, to involve parents and caregivers in art-making with their children. Recognizing the needs of caregivers, we extend our work to assist them in their personal development, relationship and nurturing of their children. We develop strong collaborative relationships with individuals and organizations, recognizing that we do not work alone and are part of larger movement in restorative transformation for the benefit of children and families. We expect you to represent BuildaBridge in maintaining strong bonds of collaboration with our partners.

Our work is purposeful and intentional. We recognize that there are latent benefits of most any arts-focused project or performance. However, employing the arts in an intentional and planned way, we design specific outcomes that lead to the restoration of broken and impoverished individuals and communities. For this reason we expect all artists working with BuildaBridge to thoughtfully write outcomes-focused curricula and projects and to assess their work.

We engage the arts for restorative purposes. What makes art restorative? Restorative art will always point people in a direction that:

  • brings an external expression of an inner reality, creating a critical awareness that assists their understanding of their place in the world;
  • raises one out of, or improves, a situation in which people find themselves to a better way of thinking, believing, feeling, and ultimately living;
  • provides an opportunity to experience a new way of life, to try it on as a rehearsal for change;
  • confronts both the evil in society and the consequences of personal actions;
  • instills a sense of awe and wonder of the Creator; and, ultimately
  • leads to an understanding of one’s purpose in the world, most often expressed in acts of faith and service to others with the goal of creating a better world.

Our work is contextual. The arts are most effective when the context is considered and the constituency is involved in their (the arts) creation. For art-making to have the greatest impact, there is a learning process regarding the “vocabulary” and “rules” –the language- of the art form before there can be a common understanding. While artistic expression both reflects culture and informs experience, it constructs reality in concrete forms.

Art is created from beliefs and motivational goals of the artist(s). This construction of reality opens up imaginative possibilities for participants who may not have “seen” their reality previously, and provides a “vision” for the future.(de Gruchy)

Our work is focused on holistic restorative transformation. The goal of transformation is to attain new vision, peace, justice, well-being, and restoration–holistically (in the spiritual, social, economic, emotional, physical, and political lives of people, communities and societies). The following graph illustrates the holistic goal of transformation. Look at the list in the left hand column. These are states of suffering. The column on the right is a corresponding list of restored life. The center column provides a list of holistic areas that may be required for healing and restoration. Alienation, for example is more than an emotional problem of feeling alienated.Alienation involves the whole person and community in changing emotional attitudes, psychological beliefs, relational behaviors, and spiritual conditions of all concerned to create belonging. It also involves broader economic, cultural, political and environmental concerns.

Our work is part of a process for change in which the artist and the arts are engaged with children, leading to transformation through holistic art-making.

As an artist working with BuildaBridge, we recognize your unique and special gifting that goes beyond your artistic work, to include your role in transforming the lives of children. We have developed a typology for artists involved in restorative transformation. Artists should engage all four “types” in their work, but will generally (and naturally) have a preference toward one, more than others, in their creative endeavors.

Artist Activists/Prophets are often confronting people, institutions and society about wrongdoing and injustice as they bring people to a critical awareness of the need for change. They proclaim justice. The art of the prophet is a communicative tool with a specific message of liberation, advocacy and justice. These artists help to awaken people to the reality of a situation and lead them to a commitment for change.

Compassionate Reformers (compassionate artists) are compassionate people who use their arts in the dialogue and in the working out of personal and social problems that leads to renewal. They work out solutions with children through art-making and mentoring relationships. The art of the compassionate artist is developed in relationship to the needs of others where the relationship or outcome is often more important than the art.

Culture-Formers (celebrative artists) play an important role in leading the community in celebrating renewal. They celebrate accomplishments with and for people. The celebrative artist or culture-former often strives for an excellence in art that most typifies the standards of the community, considers artistic tradition, and represents the core values of the community.

Arts Architects are artists or those who understand the power of the arts and who have a strong sense of vision and the leadership and management skills to plan, organize, implement and evaluate an arts activity, program, or organization.

Arts in Restorative Transformation.

You, in your transformative roles described above, will enter into a process of change with your students. We have provided a diagram (for the visual learner) to show this dynamic process. In the narrative below we have applied this to what you might experience in working with vulnerable children and youth. We have also explained how we incorporate this model in our training and assessment of our work. You should be aware of three distinct
stages in this cycle and your role in restorative transformation:

1. Critical Awareness (and your prophetic role);
2. Working Out (and your compassionate reformer role) and
3. Celebration (in your culture-former role).

Stage One: Critical Awareness.

Step 1. Current State. This is the place, time, context and circumstances in which you and the children you teach find yourselves. While you may not know the reasons for a child’s circumstances or understand how to change them, you and they will feel the emotions of both the joy and pain of their present life. Your first task in creating change is to understand the context.

For this reason BuildaBridge provides orientation and training for your work prior to becoming involved with vulnerable children. You first task in a new situation is to listen and ask questions. Seek to know before offering advice.

We ask teachers to do a pre-assessment at the beginning of their classes to understand the level of knowledge, skills and abilities about the art form and/or subject being taught through art. While it may not become evident until later, and based on the restorative diagram above, you will begin to recognize the much deeper needs of the children and their families.

Step 2. Critical Awareness. Critical awareness means becoming aware of one’s circumstances, how they came about and what role the child (and you) can play in changing them. The prophetic artist personality is important in this stage. Aspects of your relational art-making will provide an opportunity for children to externalize their inner realities of pain, suffering, fear, and alienation. One of your most difficult tasks will be motivating and leading children to greater self-awareness, including consequences of behavior. Children face internal barriers of poor self-concept, trauma, and resulting anger and acting out. These can present frustrating times for the relational artist. It will take patience, persistence and commitment to the child and speaking blessings of hope into their futures, even when the child and the situation do not seem so hopeful.

Step 3. Commitment
Once one has a new awareness, perspective and capacity to change, he or she must make a personal decision to enter into a new allegiance or commitment. A barrier to change is the “will” to change, including admitting the need and desire for change. You will have some children who will make this commitment and enthusiastically enter into your classes. Others, unfortunately, will be less able to do this.

Stage Two: Working Out

Step 4. Deliberation or Working Out. In step four, you and the children enter into a stage of working out their (and your) transformation. Commitment and deliberation are a continual and interrelated process until action begins and a solution has been reached. The working out requires a process of dialogue, planning, goal setting, strategizing, collaboration, organizing, implementing and evaluating in order to reach a goal or solution.

Art therapists will often design a clinical plan with a client. Community organizations will write strategic plans. As a teaching artist, we ask you to write curriculum with clear outcomes, engaging the arts in reaching these learning outcomes.

Step 5. Completion
The connector between working out and celebration is goal-reaching or completion. In working out transformation, reaching small goals is important. Therapists assist the client in setting and reaching many small goals toward a larger life goal. Long-term community projects plan for stages of completion. As you work throughout the term with your students, you will have both short-term and long-term teaching objectives and measurable outcomes to guide your process. These objectives provide encouragement as they see progress toward their larger goal of transformation.

Stage Three: Celebration

Step 6. Celebration. Let’s party. Hey, who doesn’t want to celebrate!Once a person or community has worked out its solution they reach a new and different level of success. Celebration recognizes the success, acknowledges the heroes of the project, and provides an event for joy. This is often done through special events where the positive changes of transformation are incorporated into the “official” life of the community.

Through artistic expression, we are able to play and celebrate with the highest of our creativity and emotions. We assist every class to have a celebration of the students’ (and families’) work through a Celebration Event that includes BuildaBridge staff, the host institution, friends, family and where possible, the community.

Step 7. Assessment and New Awareness. In a well-designed development or strategic plan for community development, arts therapy clinical plan or education curriculum, specific and measurable “outcomes” (and their indicators) are articulated. They are the visible changes to be accomplished from the broader goals of the transformation desired. These indicators and outcomes provide the person or community with concrete evidence with which to assess and view their progress and to begin another transforming journey.

Step 8. New Current State (Renewal). At this stage the person or community finds itself in a new current state. They have reached a new level in the never-ending journey of transformation. The New Current State of Renewal corresponds in the cycle with Stage One in that there is now an opportunity for further renewal. It is now time to plan for the next term of classes based on the assessment of the last class and the new need for critical awareness.

There is a catalytic power in the arts and through the artist’s work. People are gifted with the power of agency to express inner thoughts, interpretations, feelings and emotions in the form of concrete external behaviors through visual arts, music, drama, and a variety of artistic expressions. Artistic expressions and the artists who “create” them are catalystic, agents that “provoke or speed significant expression, change or action”. It is this catalytic power of agency that provides an opportunity and tool for you to contribute to the transformation of persons, communities, society and yourself. Based upon our and others’ recent research, we now list ways in which the arts have been found to impact the transformation of people and communities within different disciplines.

In community development artistic expression can:

  • Provide neighborhoods with hope, a sense of place, and identity in what is called social capital
  • Beautify public places
  • Rekindle the spirit and connect us to the power of God and to one another

In education artistic expression:

  • Offers an experiential approach that incorporates and accommodates a diversity of learning needs and styles
  • Engages people and can assist people to make sense of difficult,
  • complex, vital and universally human experiences
  • Plays a role in the development of higher-order thinking skills, problem solving ability, and motivation to learn
  • Assists the development of metaphoric language, vocabulary,
  • observation and critical thinking
  • Clarifies the idea of process (movement)
  • Improves academic performance and standardized test scores
  • Increases attendance at school and decreases dropout rates
  • Deepens development of creativity and imagination
  • Adds memory for facts and concepts (especially songs & poetry)
  • Teaches about other cultures and world views
  • Improves attitudes for school and community
  • Re-ignites the will of teachers to teach

In personal development artistic expression:

  • Encourages people to make choices, decisions and personal
  • statements
  • Opens individuals to be able to assimilate influences, have enthusiasm, take risks and take responsibility
  • Allows the emergence of new values
  • Improves social skills
  • Improves dexterity and fine-motor coordination (drawing)
  • Provides an expressive outlet and vehicle of cohesion for teens
  • struggling with issues of identity, body image, role experimentation
  • Stimulates dreams and options for a future
  • Assists with coming to grips with personal problems and habits
  • Teaches discipline and teamwork
  • Decreases the likelihood of anti-social behaviors
  • Provides public affirmation

In economic development artistic expression:

  • Enhances the economic status of individuals and communities
  • Increases the individual capacity of individuals to acquire employment
  • Creates an environment for economic growth

In character and spiritual development artistic expression:

  • Rekindles the human spirit that embodies the spirit of the Creator
  • Increases an awareness of the holy
  • Strengthens ties to family and community
  • Teaches values and self-knowledge
  • Provides opportunities for leadership and self-actualization
  • Encourages forgiveness and service to others

i The Restorative arts inventory and model is adapted from the book Taking it to the Streets: Using the Arts to Transform Your Community (Baker 2002) to J. Nathan Corbitt and Vivian Nix-Early. Please do not distribute without permission.

ii Hope: We define hope as having: 1. a vision for the future, 2. the agency to act toward the vision, and; 3. the skills to reach a long-term vision. Hope requires both personal capital (skills) and social capital (access to resources outside of one’s social class or situation) in order to reach a goal. The arts are particularly suited in helping people imagine a vision or picture for their life and community. Artsintegrated
teaching includes teaching life, social, academic and character skills for developing personal capital. Interaction across class and cultural barriers develops social capital through meaningful

iii See discussion in “The Arts as a Catalyst for Community Development” by Kathleen Hiyake Chuman.
Student paper at the University of California, Los Angeles, June 1998.

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