Virginia Tech Awarded Grant to Create Online Tool for Community Arts Initiatives

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Marcellus Shale rehearsal
In their earliest conceptual phase, VTArtWorks founders partnered with Talking Band members to use their play “Marcellus Shale,” shown here in rehearsal, as a test case to inform project design.

The Virginia Tech School of Performing Arts has received a $222,824 grant from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation to build VTArtWorks, an online communications hub aimed at boosting knowledge about how the arts can be used to develop communities and foster broader civic engagement among citizens.

VTArtWorks — a partnership of the School of Performing Arts with the University Libraries, the Moss Arts Center, and the Institute for Creativity, Art, and Technology — is an initiative in art, technology, and community cultural development.

“Our goal is to create a space where artists and non-artists engaged in community cultural development work can communicate with and learn from one another in truly meaningful ways,” said Robert Leonard, a professor of theatre in the School of Performing Arts who serves as the project director of VTArtWorks. “This goal includes breaking down barriers that separate academy from community. With critical discourse at the heart of our vision, we intend to help strengthen and build the field, and to transform the field-wide relationship between the academy and community dramatically.”

For two years starting in this fall, VTArtWorks will create, evaluate, and develop an online communications hub serving the emerging field of community cultural development. The hub will integrate two important synergistic activities — dialogue and knowledge exchange — to encourage communication and documentation among artists and non-artists, collaborators and allies, and individuals and organizations engaged in community cultural development.

A key feature of the VTArtWorks hub will be a digital repository for storing and sharing documentation contributed by practitioners in the field. The design of this repository will focus on making crowdsourced content engaging for a range of audiences to create bridges within communities and across disciplines and sectors. The design will help practitioners develop and integrate new documentation practices into their projects while providing the means to share their work with an audience of potential allies, partners, and collaborators.

“In today’s connected world, community cultural development artists and non-artists need ready online access to knowledge, research, best practices, and each other, as allies and potential collaborators linked to one another across fields, disciplines, and communities,” Leonard said. “At the moment there is no single web-based home for these connections to happen.”

The VTArtWorks online communications hub will fill this void, serving as a forum for current arts and performance projects related to cultural development, interfacing with digital repositories of field-wide documentation of current and past projects, artistic and social critiques, and other bodies of knowledge. Leonard believes an intentionally inclusive web platform — one built specifically to address this necessarily broad and diverse range of user groups — can help unite artists with non-arts professionals and community workers, creating productive partnerships across disciplines.

The Doris Duke Charitable Foundation announced the grant as one of a dozen performing arts organizations and projects winning funding through the foundation’s Fund for National Projects. These grants provide organizations with the resources to research and plan for — or pilot and implement — projects showing particular potential for replication and influence on the practices of other organizations across the country. Through the Fund for National Projects, the foundation aims to strengthen the national infrastructure of performing arts by supporting projects that promise to foster continued dynamism and vitality in their respective fields of contemporary dance, jazz, and theater.