Arts Gathering

Arts Gathering Highlights Resident-Led Research

Berkshire Taconic Community Foundation held its second Arts Build Community gathering at Barrington Stage's Wolfson Center on Oct. 17. Generous donors came together for a lively event packed with information and important questions from the group on new research, conducted in partnership with Berkshire Taconic and the Barr Foundation, that highlights how Berkshire County residents experience art in their lives and what barriers they face accessing arts locally. We sincerely thank all attendees and presenters, and we look forward to bringing everyone together again at our next donor reception, which we are planning for late winter or early spring.

View photos of the event

Barrington Stage Engages Local Community

Barrington Stage co-founder and Artistic Director Julianne Boyd spoke at the event to share how the company has made community engagement one of its top priorities. Nearly 20 years ago, she created the Playwright Mentoring Project, a program for underserved youth that received the nation’s highest honor for after-school and out-of-school programming. A recent project borrowed topics from the musical “West Side Story” to animate discussions with local youth who demonstrate leadership potential. Barrington Stage has also partnered with the city to attract thousands of local residents to arts events, introduced open mic nights for young people and sponsored community forums on social issues. The theater was awarded funding from the Barr Foundation and the Klarman Family Foundation as part of a statewide effort to support arts organizations.

Community-Based Process

At the event, we hosted a panel featuring research lead Dr. Linda Sprague Martinez of Boston University; partners Erin Sullivan of Berkshire Children and Families and Sika Sedzro of Transformative Development Initiative; and resident-researcher Sharron Frazier-McClain. With support from BTCF and Barr, this team conducted research over the summer with the objective to understand resident perception of barriers to participation in the arts and creative expression, and to employ an assessment methodology that engages the community.

They used community-based participatory research, which, in Linda's words, “combines inquiry with community capacity-building strategies to bridge the gap between knowledge production and translation into interventions and policies to improve community conditions.”

The team collected its findings using online and in-person surveys, data collection and analysis. They also utilized a process called photovoice in which residents used photography to express points of view to represent their communities by photographing scenes that highlight themes from the research. Survey participants were varied by age and ethnicity.

Key findings

  • Nearly 80% of respondents were interested in having the arts and creative expression be more a part of their lives. This number was 82% for respondents not identifying as white and 87% for both foreign-born respondents and youth.
  • 47.6% reported feeling connected to the arts in Berkshire County, while 10% of foreign-born respondents reported feeling connected.  
  • 35.8% of respondents had a household member involved in the arts. Responses between people of color and respondents who identified as white were 28% and 39%, respectively.
  • Museums were the art space respondents were most likely to name. They specifically named the Berkshire Museum.
  • The most significant barriers to arts participation identified were cost, transportation, social uncertainty, time constraints and fears of rejection based on race status and class.
  • Shows and performances were most commonly named as arts activities respondents reported wanting to engage in more.
  • Insider-outsider tensions between year-round residents and seasonal residents are real issues that need to be addressed.

Themes

Following a Q&A session with the audience, BTCF President Peter Taylor closed by summarizing the following themes:

  • The commitment to listening must be ongoing.
  • The essential nature of partnerships must continue to bring organizations together.
  • We hear and acknowledge that we need to do better and be clear-eyed about the shared goal of social cohesion and inclusion as an area for improvement. Our arts organizations are deeply committed to forging community connections and are already working to find new ways to strengthen these critical relationships.
  • This research process, the results and the research team are essential ingredients of our overall project. They will help inform the other components: our grantmaking program and our peer learning and networking program for arts and community-based organizations that will launch next year. We will also be considering ways to share the results and convene groups to tackle key questions raised by the research.
Panel

Photo by Randy O'Rourke