By LaShawnda Crowe Storm
The Spirit & Place Festival is at an exciting evolutionary moment, of which our community engagement efforts are crucial to supporting the festival as we move into new and uncharted territory. Some of the major changes in how we are moving deal not only with a perspective shift, but in incorporating new strategies in working with our community. Our engagement approach can be viewed from three broad categories:
• People-centered engagement
• Adaptability and flexibility
• Capacity building and collective impact
We’ve reoriented our perspective from “outreach” (which assumes a center/source and a target) to “community engagement” (which embraces reciprocal and ongoing relationship / community development that builds trust). In this model, time is the most critical investment to successfully build effective, collaborative relationships and programs. Being present at crucial community conversations is important, as well as listening without expectation or agenda. In being present and listening to learn and understand, community concerns are in the driver seat and approaches are people-centered.
Adaptability and Flexibility
Flexibility is essential to effective community building and civic engagement work in order to accommodate its many forms, which range from bringing together disparate groups with similar interests and compatible skills to pairing a more established group to mentor a start-up group.
It is also important for Spirit & Place to have a presence in current events and issues. Our work with assisting with the “Talking About Freedoms Without Freaking Out” public discussion series, which explored the RFRA or the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, is an example of this work moving forward.
Capacity Building and Collective Impact
We continue to explore what it means for Spirit & Place to fulfill its mission via a collective impact approach, or bringing our “A-game” to support community capacity building around civic engagement. In this approach, weaving together new relationships and collaborations leads to exciting opportunities for unseen voices to emerge and new ways of seeing and doing. It may also mean that we use our work in community and in program design to support our community partners as they move forward to looking at new ways of working in the community.
Three events in this year’s festival that reflect this new approach include, Dreaming of Justice Through Song, Jitterbug on Fleek and Voices Project. While our community engagement work with SAVI to support their public conversation, SAVI Talks Crime: Does Perception Match Reality?” is another example.
As our community engagement work continues to evolve into new and exciting directions, we eagerly embrace and remain open to the unknown. It is in these uncharted waters that the opportunity, “new connections and new directions” can emerge, further honing the richness and beauty of civic engagement that is at the heart of the Spirit & Place Festival.
About the author
LaShawnda Crowe Storm is the community engagement director for the Spirit & Place Festival.