Getting the most from sports, arts and culture
In Chicago, the Twin Cities, and Indianapolis, sports, arts and culture are doing more than just making the neighborhood a lively, interesting, fun place to live—as important as those goals are.
Community programs are engaging a wide range of youth and other residents, reclaiming community spaces that had been abandoned to blight and crime, and developing leadership and building the capacity of residents to mobilize resources and drive change.
It's not just the players that can get involved in sports and arts in the community: Friends, parents, siblings and others can have a role as well.
A strong and healthy neighborhood requires many ingredients—from decent housing and safe streets to employment opportunities, good schools, and access to shopping and services.
At Institue workshops in Phoenix and Greenville, Miss., experts shared how their programs used sport, arts and culture as a tool to tackle such a wide range of interconnected challenges.
“This is not about building a sports program in the community,” explained Rob Castañeda, who founded Beyond the Ball, a youth sports program based in Chicago. “It is about using sport to build community.”
While many youth sports programs focus on creating elite athletes and using sports to pluck kids out of a neighborhood, Beyond the Ball programs are designed to bring people together to improve a neighborhood and teach youth what it means to be a good member of the community.
Bill Curry of Breakthrough Urban Ministries runs another Chicago-based program that uses sports and fitness to teach sportsmanship, leadership, healthy lifestyles and spiritual development. Curry echoes Castañeda’s sentiments.
“For us, this isn’t about finding star athletes who will leave our community to make it to the big time,” Curry said. Instead, Breakthrough delivers high quality programs with lots of community support to “bring the big time to the community.”
Rob Castañeda presents on how Beyond the Ball impacts the community at the workshop in Greenville, Mississippi.
Ten tips to be successful
At the Phoenix workshop, Curry, Castañeda and Joanna Taft of the Harrison Center for the Arts in Indianapolis and Erik Takeshita of Twin Cities LISC gave specific tips on how arts and culture can unleash creative power to address physical, economic or social challenges in community.
Focus on getting people involved.
Create roles beyond the traditional “coach” to get parents, siblings, grandparents and others involved. Curry designates scorekeepers, team moms and even “happy coaches” who are charged with giving praise and encouragement to all players.
“The mistake I made the first couple years was growing the number of kids involved without focusing on parental involvement,” Curry said. Now this is a top priority for his team, and every month each staff person reaches out to parents with a positive message.
Bicycle polo in Indianapolis
Get out and spread the word.
Art can cut across class, age, race and culture. But you need to get out and talk to people for it to work its magic.
“We read the paper and go to community meetings,” explained Taft. “We reach out to the community with ideas for events and programs. And now they come to us.”
For example, Taft saw a group of kids playing bicycle polo, and started up a conversation. She invited the kids to play a demonstration game at her next arts event, and event attendees were fascinated.
Make sure residents shape and own the program.
Seek input from everyone involved. Each year implement at least one idea from the community. Over time, the program will become the community’s program.
An abandoned wall was transformed from an eyesore to the "front door" of a local cultural corridor by NACDI.
Reclaim neglected or abandoned spaces.
One Chicago neighborhood looked at the local school and decided, “this is our space.” They came together, cleaned it up and then used sports to re-activate the building.
In the Twin Cities, the Native American Community Development Institute (NACDI) worked with youth to transform a graffiti-covered wall that is viewed each day by a thousand people traveling on the adjacent light rail line.
Twin Cities LISC also sponsors one day “place-making workshops” during which artists who live in the community are asked to come up with an idea for community art and to partner with a community based organization or a local business to make it happen.
Build and maintain partnerships.
For each local organization, identify what programs and services are offered, where and when. Use the “map” to explore additional collaborations with others engaged in this work. Partner to create a cohesive, coordinated calendar of all sports programs and events.
Build a coalition with these partners to raise resources and support each other’s programs. To make sure your coalition stays united, decide upfront how you will share power and establish a fair process for shared decision-making.
Get and keep volunteers.
Look to colleges, churches and businesses for people who’re interesting in getting involved in your program. Give a tour of your programs so they understand the good work you do, and then recruit volunteers with specific roles and tasks. Incorporate volunteers into future program design and keep them in the loop.
Be clear that sports and art can be about the community.
Teach kids that this is not only about their own personal development, it is also about improving the neighborhood. Incorporate projects that benefit the whole community.
In an arts program in the Twin Cities, youth learn visual arts skills, and also about leadership and business.
Develop leadership and business skills.
The core mission of the Twin Cities' Juxtaposition Arts, a local arts organization, is to develop the visual art skills of young people.
But they don’t stop there. They use art to teach leadership and business skills to youth and young adults too.
Bring in resources to do big things.
Be creative and very intentional in attracting funders. For example, the Harrison Center for the Arts approached UPS to sponsor their “brown paper packages tied up with string” event, and they got White Castle to sponsor the “White Christmas – What You Crave” event.
After Beyond the Ball received a $2,000 grant from FinishLine, they wrote back to the funder to tell them how the money was used, sent photos and thanked them.
Keeping that connection open paid dividends: FinishLine came back later with $50,000 for a new basketball court.
Don’t wait for it to be perfect; make it happen now.
When Taft decided to lease a vacant building to open an arts center, it was a mess. But she didn’t wait to raise enough resources to rehab the entire building; instead she started moving forward right away to open a gallery and plan a show to attract interest. Spaces were offered “as is” to artists to see what would happen
“All we were providing was a really gross room really cheap,” Taft explained. But it got things started.
Posted in Chicago, Indianapolis, Arts & Culture, Youth Development, Sports & Recreation