At yesterday’s meeting (?) there was a lot of talk about art and the community, but what or who exactly is the community? Too often it seems an undefined given; arts managers talk about closer links with the community, of reflecting the diversity of the local community, of how art can empower a community and help regenerate it and so on, without interrogating the concept of community itself.
The local community is constantly mythologised; the idealised community typically consists of close knit extended families living in proximity to one another, experiencing hardship and as a consequence having little physical or economic mobility. Whilst contemporary society is often conceptualised by the same arts managers as a fluid hybrid of intersecting trajectories and spheres of influence meditated by new technologies the community reassuringly stays put. The world turns rapidly around, but the community is always there.
The community then is something of a noble savage; untainted by the individualism of modernity, a mistrustful beast it will initially be reassuringly hostile to art change. When the centre, theatre, or project opens the local children will overturn the bins and shout abuse as they rattle the security grills on the window. But in time, after overcoming numerous hurdles, the community will gradually begin to come round, to see salvation in the art centre. Local crime will fall, and those same children who sprayed graffiti on the front door will now sing with angelic voices as they photograph themselves and their surroundings.