Spread The Word: Stephanie Bleyer on Engaging Communities Around Your Art Practice

Community engagement brings politically invested artworks to life. An artist who knows how to successfully reach out to the communities around them and get them invested and involved in a project will see their creative capacity for change multiply.
Stephanie Bleyer is an expert in community engagement campaigns and founder of the firm Six Foot Chipmunk, where she helps artists across disciplines create strategic plans, raise funds, and reach and mobilize new audiences. On Monday, November 20, 2017, she will lead the online workshop Producing & Funding Your Community Engagement Campaign, an essential for artists projects involving social justice, education, public art, or community building. It will highlight effective practices for community outreach & engagement based on several action-oriented case studies and teach artists of all disciplines how to produce and fund effective engagement campaigns for artworks that hope to impact and better the world.

In preparation for her webinar, we asked Stephanie a few questions about how she entered the field of socially aware and active art making and which artists are moving people toward social change.
Ana Cecilia Alvarez: Tell me a little bit about your own work. How has your own passion for social justice intersected with the arts?
Stephanie Bleyer: I’ve been traveling down the social justice career path since high school, but I never intended to work with artists. First semester at NYU I discover political theater and fell in love with the idea that the arts can be used to activate people. It was a revelation. In 2000 I spent a year working at Oxygen, making short docs about women activists. I moved to Kenya and started teaching at a performing arts academy for street boys. Then I moved to Sri Lanka and started a non-profit organizing arts-based programs for tsunami and war affected women and children. In the 18 years since I first happened upon Brecht and Augusto Boal, I’ve worked with dozens of artists, helping them find, build and mobilize their audiences. But this was all unplanned. I just follow my nose and it consistently leads me to amazing arts-based projects with a pro-social message.
Ana: You’ve mentioned that partnerships are an essential component to planning a successful community engagement project. What tips do you have for identifying, building, and perhaps most importantly, maintaining those partnerships?
Stephanie: Oh god yes, partners are the foundation. Identifying partners is the easy part—you just need to make contact with one great group and they’ll open the doors of the movement for you. Building and maintaining that partnership is what takes time and sweat, which is why you have to start early. Start this process while you’re producing your artwork. Don’t wait until you premiere. And when you make the approach, focus on mutual benefit. What are they getting out of the relationship? Once you get an organization on board, stay in touch with them—invite them to previews or rough cuts or private viewings. Send them frequent updates on your progress. It’s all about giving them a sense of ownership and participation in your work.
Ana: Have you seen any projects recently that impressed you in their ability to produce creative strategies to move people towards social change?
Stephanie: Anything Ai Weiwei does. Anything Laura Poitras does. Anything The Yes Men do.

Laura Poitras, a Creative Capital grantee, exemplifies social-justice oriented artistic engagement for Stephanie Bleyer.

Laura Poitras, a Creative Capital grantee, exemplifies social-justice-oriented artistic engagement for Stephanie Bleyer.

Ana: What do you hope artists will walk away with from your webinar?
Stephanie: I hope they get a better understanding of the process of building a campaign. And I want to give them some new tools and tactics for their toolbox. I want them to understand how an engagement campaign can benefit them—it can help them reach new audiences and venues and extend the shelf life of their work.
 Learn more from Stephanie on Monday, November 20, 2017. Producing & Funding Your Community Engagement Campaign starts at 7:00pm ET. Every Creative Capital webinar offers opportunities to ask questions and discuss the content with the webinar leaders.
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