Sculpture by the Sea brings together sculptures by artists around the world and the natural beauty of the shoreline at Bondi Beach. As a setting for art, it is magnificent. As an example of a community event it is popular and success. But is it community engagement?
Some of my students recently submitted papers critiquing an example of community engagement of their choosing. I advised them to avoid charity events like Race for Research and the World’s Greatest Shave because, while they are great ideas, as an example of community engagement, they are somewhat limited, and students have struggled to identify how the events actively engage the community in a meaningful way. While some people volunteer to help organise the events, most people are fairly passively involved (e.g., they take part in a fun run and maybe raise some funds, but they don’t really have any input in to the program and don’t really engage with the issues involved).
As well as enjoying Sculpture by the Sea, I couldn’t help but wonder why, unlike many charity events, I think it is an interesting example of community engagement. Like the charity events, many volunteers are involved in the organisation and running of the event, but I think there are two features of Sculpture by the Sea that make it a better example of community engagement.
First, Sculpture by the Sea brings art into the community rather than placing art in a gallery and expecting people to come to it: it goes to where people congregate as part of their daily lives. Of course many people (like us) come because of the art, but it still within a community setting.
Sometimes in health, a “community” health service just means it is out of a hospital. It is still in a dedicated health service and people have to come to them. Other community health services actually go to the people they want to engage. Needle exchange programs are often a great example. When I was a community worker supporting permanent residents of caravan parks, an early childhood nurse came with us to one of the parks on weekly basis as part of a trial. In doing so, she came in contact with people who were not accessing other health services. For example, she was able to build a connection with a number of pregnant women had not seen a doctor (or had only seen one once), ensure all the children in the park were up to date with their immunisations, and arrange an assessment for a child with a significant developmental delay (who had fallen through the cracks). If she had expected the residents to come to her, she would have been disappointed.
While being in quite a different context, there is still an element of community outreach with Sculpture by the Sea.
Second, I believe the motives behind Sculpture by the Sea are more consistent with community engagement. In a post about ethics and community engagement I proposed that the motivations for community engagement are important. The motivations behind charity events are fine: they are attempting to raise funds and awareness through a community event. Essentially, however, it seems to me that they are as much about marketing and public relations as community engagement.
Sculpture by the Sea, on the other hand is a free, not-for-profit event, bringing sculpture to the community. Of course there are also other motives, particularly for some of the other stakeholders, e.g., for the sculptors it is a chance to raise their profile and to sell some work, and the local Council sees it as an opportunity to bring people to Bondi. But the motivation for the organisers was to create a major free to the public arts event for Sydney (Sculpture by the Sea). We can imagine a continuum from marketing and PR to community engagement. Some activities are pure marketing or PR, other activities are mostly marketing and PR activities while incorporating community engagement, and other activities are don’t community engagement with some marketing to engage the community more. I suggest that most charity events use to community engagement to support marketing, PR and fundraising whereas Sculpture by the Sea, uses marketing, PR and fundraising to support community engagement.
There is scope for Sculpture by the Sea to have more active community engagement. While we were in Sydney for the exhibition we also saw the Urban Chalk Art Festival at Circular Quay.
As well as the chalk art on display, there was the opportunity to have your photo taken in a “3D” art work, there was an area where the public could do chalk art, there were various interactive works and there was an outdoor library. There is scope for Sculpture by the Sea to also incorporate community art and a hands-on sculpture area so that it becomes more interactive.
Ultimately Sculpture by the Sea is an art exhibition but one that has a foundation of community engagement. If you want to see it, you only have until this Sunday. It is certainly worth seeing.
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