Learning about ourselves from others: transformation of artists’ identities through community-based arts practice
Community-based arts projects can act as powerful learning opportunities in a variety of lifelong and life wide contexts. Many of these projects involve artists, who usually undertake a leading role to ensure that some type of transformation takes place for those involved. The impact on the leaders—in this case the artists—is difficult to identify, even if they have been involved in several community-based arts projects. In this paper I provide insights drawn from my doctoral thesis. There I explored the cumulative impact on artists who work on community-based arts projects, what transformations and learning occurred for them as a result of working on these projects, and how those experiences contributed to their identities. My study involved hermeneutic phenomenological/narrative research approaches based on in-depth semi-structured interviews with 12 visual artists. Data were analysed using a recursive and spiralling process and were subsequently presented thematically as a neonarrative. The findings discussed in this article relate to the artists’ attempts at reconciling aspects of their individual, social and cultural identities by challenging their own as well as the community’s perceptions of artists. The cumulative effect of being involved in community-based arts practice also provided the artists with ongoing identity capital in that they came to realize that they learnt about themselves by connecting with others. The findings contribute to the emerging debate that challenges the narrow view of measuring the value of community-based art projects based on instrumental and public worth, and invites exploration of the private and intrinsic impact on individuals.
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