LAUNCHING STREET FESTIVALS. Planting watermelon. Doling out fake traffic tickets. If you’re wondering what these have in common, read on. They’re ingenious ways of handling issues, prying open the box.

That’s what Alternatives delivers in this Creative Communities issue: fresh approaches to entrenched social problems – poverty, waste, addiction, environmental degradation – through creative engagement. And if you’re tired of the buzzword “engagement,” you might have to live with it until a better one comes along, because community engagement has arrived.

Activists know how hard it is to alter routine habits, that authentic, lasting change is really only possible once there are fundamental shifts in public perception. Changing perception is what the arts are all about, which is why we’ve made community-based arts our focus – to show how they can tap the local genius, insight and energy needed for renewal or dramatic change.

Environmentalists have been community arts pioneers for decades, but for others, labour-intensive collaborations with open-ended artsy types seem downright distasteful. That’s why we’re featuring success stories and adaptable working models from across the continent, as well as resources, reflection and critique. Not everyone will belly up for interactive theatre or to paint a community mural. But if policy makers, for instance, see planners and architects, filmmakers and gardeners in action, then maybe for the next worthy cause, artists will be invited to the table – not just as the after-dinner entertainment.

In fact, Alternatives has taken the leap by partnering directly with the arts community; to explore these possibilities in depth. The New Quarterly (the other award-winning national magazine in the neighbourhood) is publishing a companion issue, Artist as Activist. This book-length volume takes up where Creative Communities leaves off: behind the scenes with acclaimed writers, storytellers, musicians, visual and performing artists who reveal the complex, often heartbreaking world of arts creation and community collaboration.

In sum, we’re trying to practice what we preach: move beyond toying with ideas to transformative action. Sound risky? Like a lot of work? You bet, but the fruit on the vine is heavy and sweet, and ripe for the picking. We’re learning first-hand about the bounty of uncommon alliances, how imagination, doggedness and a little friendly chaos can bloom into unforeseen abundance.

The uniting power of community-based art means that unlikely conversation partners can dialogue in ways that bring out the best in one another. You’ll recognize these ways as essentially democratic: open, inclusive, fair-minded, dedicated to welcoming a range of voices and perspectives.

So haul up a chair, we’ve just set your place at the table.

Susan Scott writes for arts, academic and environmental communities, and serves on The New Quarterly’s board of directors. To order our twinned issue, Artist as Activist, contact TNQ at: www.tnq.ca or call 519-884-8111 ext. 28290.

Susan Scott, a contributing editor for The New Quarterly: Canadian Writers and Writing, can often be found lurking in the Nature section of her local Chapters.

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