Revitalizing Neighborhoods: Arts and Community

Arts and Community

In recent years, there has been growing interest in the arts, culture, and community revitalization among city planners, policy makers, funders, and scholars from a range of disciplines.  A number of scholars have argued that the arts are correlated to gentrification – the displacement of lower-income residents in urban neighborhoods caused by increases in rent.  However, a considerable body of new research suggests that cultural institutions based in low-income neighborhoods, including a host of non-arts amenities that allow for cultural participation and creative expression, such as community centers, churches, and parks, enhance community stability and are catalysts for change without displacement. 

Funded by a Berkeley Research Futures grant, and in collaboration with the Department of Theater, Dance, and Performance Studies, CCI researched the relationship between the arts and neighborhood change. We started by creating a database of non-profit arts organizations, artists, and art-related events in two low-income Oakland neighborhoods. Through secondary sources, observation, and interviews, we studied their activities, audiences, and networks and identified ways in which the local arts ecology helps strengthen the community. How do community-based arts organizations and events help shape neighborhood consciousness and subsequent change? What makes them effective agents for community building? What kind of relationships enable them to thrive and what types of facilities do they use? How do their activities relate to the city's “official” arts and culture policies? And finally, how might funders, government officials, developers, and city planners think about and support the arts in the context of sustainable and equitable neighborhood revitalization?