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Neighborhood Movement

Guest Blogger: An Ideal Theater: My Dear Miss Addams

The following post was written by Faye Price, co-Artistic Director of Pillsbury House + Theatre, one of 5 neighborhood centers of Alliance member organization Pillsbury United Communities, a 21st century successor to the vision of Hull House founder Jane Addams. The publisher of an Ideal Theater: Founding Visions for New American Art by Todd London solicited this article as a contemporary response to an excerpt from Ms. Addams’ Twenty Years of Hull-House, specifically about the Hull House Players. This artistic activity is often credited by London and others with inspiring not only the neighborhood but the entire American Little Theatre movement.
 
My Dear Miss Addams,
 
Thank you for your enormous vision. Your humanitarian instincts and thoughtful determination are responsible for a not-so-minor revolution in the American theatre. I know your work was meant to help new immigrants make their way in this country, to fight inequality and end the deplorable living conditions of the poor, but thank you for recognizing that theater could be a powerful tool in your fight for social justice. You systematically insured that theatrical performance was not only available but also accessible and participatory for a population that was new to this country and struggling to thrive amid vast inequities. As a result of your work at Hull-House and the establishment of the Hull-House Players, hundreds of settlement houses across the country incorporated the arts into their programming by 1914. You were also a vocal pacifist, impassioned labor reformer, and crusading suffragette. It’s no wonder J Edgar Hoover called you “The most dangerous woman in America.”
 
There are still a few of us following your vision today, Miss Addams. In New York both Henry Street Settlement and University Settlement have vibrant stages that present and produce community-based art programming. Karamu House in Cleveland continues its long-standing production of African American Theatre. And in Minneapolis, Pillsbury House, a settlement that was established in 1905, continues the tradition of using the arts to improve the lives of individuals and strengthen the health of our communities. The tenements may look a little different these days. The languages have also changed; we are hearing more Spanish, Hmong and Somali languages here in Minnesota as opposed to the Polish, Italian and Greek parlance of Chicago in the early 20th century. And our traditional Settlement services have been updated to provide more culturally specific services to new Americans. But settlement houses are indeed alive, slightly reconfigured and unfortunately still necessary in this country as the economic, educational and racial disparities in this country grow wider each day.
 
Here in Minneapolis at Pillsbury House +Theatre, we see every day the profound effect that art has not only on individuals but on our surrounding community as well. It’s not unusual for a young adult in college to return to the center, for example, expressing great gratitude for the confidence and leadership skills that our youth theatre mentoring program, the Chicago Avenue Project, instilled in them.
 
Pillsbury House Theatre was established in 1992 as a professional theatre housed in a community center (Pillsbury House Neighborhood Center), committed to the Settlement House tradition of creating art in collaboration with community. In 2009, the community center and the theatre made a bold move to integrate their programs and operations under the theatre’s artistic leadership to create Pillsbury House + Theatre, an ideal living 21st century example of the principles that animated you.
 
Our vision is of a new kind of arts organization, a center for creativity and community that is both professional and community-driven, that is known for artistic excellence and broad accessibility, and that engages a diverse constituency which benefits individually and collectively from participation. We are integrating arts content throughout our human services programming like HIV outreach and truancy prevention, animating programs like day care and after school activities through arts learning, experience and practice. We have four Resident Teaching Artists that work alongside human service staff to develop and implement curricula that use arts activities as a core part of their programs. Days here are infused with theatre, dance, puppetry, music, painting, collage, and other art forms. Art is used not merely to complement other programming, but to support and enhance program outcomes. You probably won’t be surprised to hear that this approach makes outcomes easier to achieve. People are more excited to participate and, through the practice of creativity, they grow their own capacity to succeed.
 
One of the other elements that make PHT particular in the world of the Settlement House arts tradition is that we are an award-winning professional theatre using Equity actors, housed in a neighborhood center, located in an urban neighborhood that intimidates some. We do community-driven work, but we also produce and commission provocative new work by some of the American Theater’s brightest playwrights. For the past 10 years, PHT has had at least one production mentioned in the “Best of the Year” lists in the local theatre media. Our work is rooted in the belief that the highest quality art is an essential part of every community.
 
Yet because we are situated in a neighborhood that has a bad reputation, we battle the notion that we produce amateur, lesser-quality theatre—as if choosing to be in a community equates to lower standards. Or that the privilege of paying to park your car means that your arts experience will be of the highest caliber. Or if you don’t own a car, you certainly can’t appreciate great art. We have been referred to as Pillsbury Playhouse or Pillsbury Puppet Theater by perfectly well meaning folks whose words are still condescending and diminishing.
 
So while your work has had massive repercussions, some things have not changed, Miss Addams. The arts are still often presented as an experience to be consumed by those with cultivated taste. While the regional theater movement that came later in the century decentralized theatre away from New York and provided training and employment to local residents, I’m afraid there was a loss of your original ideas about the value of art in the local community. This regional push for professionalism helped to stimulate the economy but also somehow has made it more difficult to see your children or your neighbors onstage in your own community. Indigenous stories once performed so proudly by the newly arrived immigrants at Hull-House have been co-opted by the non-profit American theatre and produced in a building far, far from home.
 
At PH+T, we are going to continue to push your ideas forward, Miss Addams, testing how much a Settlement House animated by creativity can democratize the arts and strengthen an underserved community.  Inside of our theatre, the demographics of our audience certainly show that people diverse in age, income level and ethnicity can share arts experiences. We see women from shelters sitting beside well-to-do lawyers from the suburbs and Somali teenagers sitting next to Caucasian senior citizens. As we look outward, we are beginning to work with a consortium of community partners on a shared Creative Community Development plan for our community, to develop the creative assets of the four neighborhoods surrounding the theatre and increase attachment, access, engagement and upward mobility among residents. I’d like to think that we are doing you proud, investing in people, investing in neighborhoods, by restoring theatre “to its rightful place in the community”.
 
Read the original.
 

The Pay-Offs of Social Capital

A recent event hosted by the National Human Services Assembly focused on the value of effective civic engagement and mobilization for non-profits. The event, “Authentic Engagement: Policy, Advocacy, & Community Mobilizing from Main Street to Capitol Hill,” featured panelists and presenters working on mobilization, activism, and civic engagement in a variety of forms: from online petitions to rallies at the Supreme Court.
 
For organizations with tightly restricted resources, as many non-profits often are, the return on investment for civic engagement activities can seem vague at best. Encouraging people in your community to be engaged, empowered, and passionate may intuitively feel like a good thing to do; but is it worth redirecting scarce resources toward civic engagement and mobilization activities when they could go to important direct services like housing, job skills training, food, child care, and so on?
 
We believe that the answer is ‘yes.’ Authentic engagement of community residents can have transformative impact on neighborhoods and cities. This is especially true in under-resourced or disadvantaged communities (read: “Measuring the Impacts of Civic Engagement”). Becoming civically engaged increases someone’s social capital and connectedness to his or her community. This in turn makes engaged residents more resilient, better-resourced, and more participatory in community change.
 
Service providers need a shift in thinking from one-off transactions to whole-person and whole-community impacts. Being civically engaged is not something that people do just because they think it’s a good idea. There are multiplier effects for increasing residents’ social capital. Linda Nguyen, Director of Civic Engagement at the Alliance for Children and Families and a panelist at the event, said, “Organizations can and need to shift their thinking from viewing people they serve as ‘clients’ to ‘community leaders.’  Only then can we even begin to think about truly achieving mission. Service providers are often trusted places of mutual benefit and community. We should harness that trust to collectively address the root causes of social ills and injustice.”
 
In cities and neighborhoods all over the country, there are places where someone can go if they have trouble with food security, or education needs, or housing, etc. But there’s no brick-and-mortar place where someone can go to increase their social capital. Authentic engagement achieves this, and all of the other incipient benefits that come to an individual, a family, a community, and (ultimately) a democracy.

Registration for 2014 Neighborhood Revitalization Conference is OPEN!

We are pleased to announce that registration for the 2014 Neighborhood Revitalization Conference is officially open online. The Conference, co-sponsored this year by the Center for Engagement and Neighborhood Building at the Alliance for Children and Families and the Center for the Study of Social Policy, will be held July 24-25 in Washington, DC.
 
This year’s conference promises to share the latest developments in policy, research, program design, and innovation in the fields of neighborhood building and community development. We are excited to welcome an array of practitioners, thought leaders, policymakers, philanthropists, academics, and more to the 2014 Neighborhood Revitalization Conference.
 
Please visit the conference webpage for more information on the conference and to register. Early bird rates are available, so register soon! The webpage will be updated frequently as we plan the details of the conference. You can also follow news and updates on the conference on Twitter using #NRC14. We hope to see you there!

What Early Childhood Development Means for Strong Neighborhoods

The strength of a community depends on the health and wellbeing of its residents. New scientific research also suggests that the wellbeing of an individual may have a lot to do with his or her community. The latest developments in understanding brain science suggest that 90% of brain growth occurs in the first five years of life, so growing up in a stimulating, supportive, and healthy environment is integral to a child’s success.
 
A recent op-ed from Susan Dreyfus, President and CEO of the Alliance for Children and Families, cites the latest brain science as further evidence of the need for comprehensive early childhood education, such as the universal pre-K proposed by the President. Truly high-quality early education would reach outside of the classroom, to include family-engagement and home visiting. Ms. Dreyfus says, “Without the support of quality early childhood development programs, these children face lifetime deficits in skills and abilities that can have a long-term impact on our communities and our nation's productivity.”
 
Policies that help children today will help build the neighborhoods of tomorrow. Myriad research suggest the positive impacts that quality early care has on an individual’s educational attainment, lifetime earnings, overall health, involvement with crime, and general livelihood and stability. The data are there that an investment in children now is an investment in our communities for the future.
 
Just as a child grows up to impact his or her community, fostering a supportive and stable neighborhood environment has a huge impact on a developing child. To further explore the latest science on the interplay of individual development and community development, we are pleased to announce that Dr. Jack Shonkoff will be one of our featured plenary speakers at the upcoming Neighborhood Revitalization Conference. Dr. Shonkoff is a professor, a pediatrician, and the Director of the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University. His work examines the role of environment and early child care on brain development, and what it means for future wellbeing.
 
We look forward to welcoming Dr. Shonkoff, as well as numerous other researchers, academics, practitioners, policymakers, thought leaders, and more at the 2014 Neighborhood Revitalization Conference. The Conference will take place July 24-25 in Washington, DC. There’s still time to submit workshop proposals! Keep watching the main Conference website for up-to-date information on registration, speakers, and more.

Upcoming Community Schools Forum Focuses on Strong Schools, Strong Neighborhoods

The following is a guest blog post from Martin Blank and Reuben Jacobson at the Coalition for Community Schools and Institute for Educational Leadership. The Coalition for Community Schools, housed at the Institute for Educational Leadership, is an alliance of national, state and local organizations in education K-16, youth development, community planning and development, family support, health and human services, government and philanthropy as well as national, state and local community school networks.Their upcoming national forum will take place April 9-11, 2014 in Cincinnati, Ohio.
 
Strong neighborhoods require strong schools. Strong schools require strong neighborhoods. That’s what teachers, community members and organizers, nonprofit and higher education leaders, faith-based groups, United Ways, and neighborhood leaders will be talking about at the 2014 Community Schools National Forum in Cincinnati April 9-11.
 
A community school functions as a unique and essential center of the neighborhood -- a place where the resources of school and community are aligned to support students’ academic and non-academic development. Together with community partners, including human services nonprofits of many kinds, community schools provide academic, physical, social, emotional, and enrichment opportunities and supports to our nation’s vulnerable children; and they strengthen families so that they are better able to support their children’s education.
 
The theme for this year’s Forum is Community Schools: The Engine of Opportunity. It’s a theme that reflects our commitment to equal opportunity for all students, and the belief that that community schools, with their deep and sustained partnerships between schools and community organizations and institutions, are the “engine” that will prepare our young people to succeed. This Forum comes at a key moment in time. There is a growing conversation about the importance of student engagement in learning, and the influence of out-of-school factors, including poverty, on student achievement. Community schools and their partners work in both areas knowing that there is no “silver bullet,” no one program, that can accomplish the work we need to increase opportunity, decrease inequity and help young people succeed.
 
The conference is being held in Cincinnati because of their successful Community Learning Centers initiative that has recently been featured on NBC’s Education Nation, Marketplace, and The New York Times. This district-wide community school strategy (community schools are called ‘community learning centers’ in Cincinnati), represents a unique and sustained partnership between the school district, school board, teachers union, and more than 400 community partner organizations. Cincinnati is demonstrating how partnerships can help schools fulfill their core academic mission while offering students the opportunities and supports they need and deserve to thrive.
 
The Forum will cover a variety of topics such as community organizing and community schools, the relationship between community schools and other place-based initiatives (including Promise Neighborhoods and Cradle-to-Career); engaging learning; expanded learning; and family community and engagement.
 
In addition to engaging site visits and workshops, the Forum will include presentations from: Christopher Edley, Co-Chair of the Commission on Excellence and Equity; Randi Weingarten, President of the American Federation of Teachers; Senator Carol Liu, Chair of the California Senate Education Committee; Hartford Mayor Pedro Segarra; Rev. William Barber, Chair North Carolina NAACP; Ralph Smith, Senior Vice President, Annie E. Casey Foundation; Hedy Chang, Director, Attendance Works; Michael McAfee, Director, Promise Neighborhoods Institute; Dianne Piche, The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights; Joseph Bishop, National Opportunity to Learn Campaign; and Ira Harkavy, Director of the Netter Center for Community Partnerships at the University of Pennsylvania.
 
To learn more about the Forum and to register, please go to www.communityschools.org.

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by Dr. Radut