Community Engagement Training

Community Engagement Training

ArtsEngaged exists to advocate for stronger connections between the arts and communities and to train artists, arts organizations, and their advocates to become more effectively engaged with the communities they serve. AE’s Community Engagement Training provides various levels of training–beginning, advanced, and “trainer training”–in the “how to” of community engagement.

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The content can be delivered either entirely via video conference or in a combination of face-to-face workshop with video conference follow up. The units are presented via an online learning management system. The video conference and workshop function as debriefing mechanisms for the content learned.

Training Overview

There are, currently, three levels of training. Videoconference debriefing sessions will be approximately 1½ hours long.

Understanding Engagement (1 Session): This training is designed for board members, upper level staff of arts organizations, anyone else wishing to better understand community engagement as it applies to the arts. It introduces basic concepts of and rationales for community engagement.

CET Cohort Model (5 Sessions): This training is designed for anyone (organization-based teams or individuals) interested in helping arts organizations connect more deeply with their communities. It emphasizes the means of implementing a community engagement agenda.

CET Trainer (5 Sessions, same as CET Cohort; plus 2 more): This training is for individuals who would like to become trainers. They will develop skills in preparing others to lead arts organizations to more effective community engagement. 


Understanding Engagement

A study of community engagement (or anything else, for that matter) must begin with an understanding of terminology and basic principles. With community engagement, however, there is also a great deal of misunderstanding of its impact on arts organizations and even its implications for art itself. This section addresses definitions and principles as well as the misunderstanding that make some reluctant to consider community engagement work.

Getting Your Board on Board

Boards of Directors are the governing bodies of nonprofit arts organizations. They determine mission and set policy. They serve, by and large, because the organization–as it is–is meaningful to them. As a result they can be (understandably) disinclined to press for change. However, to be effective, community engagement must be a mission-level commitment. It is imperative that arts boards be “on board” about community engagement before substantive progress can be made.

Are You Ready?

Before attempting to develop relationships with external communities, it is vital to be certain that the organization is ready to do so. Significant pockets of resistance will derail efforts as will inordinate focus on organizational self-interest regardless of whether those attitudes are consciously held.

The Process of Engagement

Very few arts organization staff members, board members, or volunteers have preparation in working with people (much less communities) who are not arts friendly. In addition, the process of engagement is often foreign. To be effective, participants must prepare and plan for developing relationships with people who are not already convinced of the value of the arts in their lives.

Like any action-oriented industry, the world of the arts is predisposed to do–and do quickly–once a decision is made. It would be a mistake, however, to go too far without adequate preparation. For communities with no history (or, worse, negative experiences) with the arts, efforts that appear half-hearted, insincere, or “tone deaf” can do more harm than good.

Mainstreaming Engagement

Successful transformative community engagement demands a mission-level commitment on the part of every element of an arts organization. Every facet of the work, every constituency can and should play a part. Fortunately, change can (and ought to) occur gradually, and initial steps largely involve relatively simple changes in habits of mind.

Working with Communities

True mutually beneficial collaborations between arts organizations and communities are not common. There are some who might call them unnatural acts. But effective community engagement demands them and in order to participate, arts organizations need to develop skills in working with communities, skills that are not a traditional part of training in the arts or arts administration.


The moment at which an arts organization deserves to be considered indispensable–through demonstrated commitment to its communities with tangible results–is the point at which its future is best assured. It will also represent a pivotal milestone for the community, ensuring far greater health and productivity as well as better, more fulfilling lives for all who are members of it.

Arts organizations cannot long survive without earning impassioned support from the communities they serve. Those communities cannot reach their full potential without the benefits the arts can provide.