Thursday, October 27, 2011

How Do You Define Community?

I found myself caught in the current and multi-colored swirl of students from all over New Orleans in different school uniforms rushing around me to get to class. Today, I visited the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts (NOCCA), a regional pre-professional arts training center that offers secondary school-age children intensive instruction in dance, media arts, music (classical, jazz, vocal), theatre arts (drama, musical theatre, theatre design) , visual arts, creative writing, and recently, the culinary arts. 

These students have found themselves in an excellent and unique community. There is no other community like this one in New Orleans. The most exciting part of that idea for me is the fact that the school is created from a dazzling array of of other schools. In fact, students from over 100 public, private and parochial schools in the Greater New Orleans area attend NOCCA in the afternoon, late-day, on Saturdays or during the summer session. Each of these students have a community at their home high school, which I would imagine could be very different than NOCCA, yet without them, neither community would be the same. 

When thinking about what El Sistema looks like in New Orleans, today in particular, the concept of 'community' rises to the forefront of my thoughts. What does 'community' mean, really? Is it proximity- the people in your neighborhood? Is it religious- members of your church? Is it ethnic- all the people who look like you? Is it based on income- all the people who can (or can't) afford the same as you? How about interests- your baseball team or your debate club? Isn't 'community' each of these things? 

So, you're thinking of building a social service organization to address the need of a specific 'community' using access to intensive musical ensemble training as a vehicle to individual growth and social change/mobility. How do you pick which of these many, many ways to define 'community' you will use to assess a need in that 'community' and begin to build towards addressing it?

NOCCA is a community made up of many different communities. 

Questions of the day:
How do you define community? 
How do you focus in on the need of multidimensional communities? 

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