Arts Engaged
Engage Now

Understanding Engagement

The Community Engagement Training offered by ArtsEngaged® is a comprehensive overview of principles and practices that support effective community engagement. Unit 1: Understanding Engagement, the content of which is presented here, is the foundation for that training. Feel free to use this independently and share it with colleagues as you wish. We encourage you to form study groups with this material. If you do, please let us know by emailing ArtsEngaged at If you do this solo, of course, you will lose the benefits of learning with a cohort to clarify and expand your understanding of the concepts. It is our hope, frankly, that this may spark your interest in the more in-depth training that we offer.


Unit 1: Understanding Engagement
Part IDefinitions & Principles
Part 2–Myths, Motivations, and Mission

Definitions & Principles

In the arts industry, the word engagement is being woefully overused. The resulting lack of understanding of the concept is so pervasive that we are in danger of losing the power that community engagement represents. The basic principles of community engagement are identical to those that form the bedrock of successful interpersonal relationships: humility, respect, and concern for mutual benefit.

To be clear, the definitions presented here are those developed by ArtsEngaged and do not necessarily reflect the consensus of the field. We will use these to have a common vocabulary and understanding of the issues. Note: Engage Now! A Guide to Making the Arts Indispensable is a source of many of the readings.

Optional Readings are . . . optional. But it would be a good idea if you’d take the time to do them.
Supplemental Readings are just that. They offer depth and/or related topics.
Advanced Readings or Discussion are primarily intended for those who are participating in the core community engagement training course and will be going beyond Unit 1.

Discussion Questions

  • View Ode to Joy Flash Orchestra-Banco Sabadel and respond to questions:

    • What do you see? What sticks out?

    • What lessons are there for the arts?

    • Is this community engagement? How (if at all) does it differ from traditional understandings of marketing? (Remember, just because something is “cool” does not mean it is–necessarily–community engagement.)

  • Be able to differentiate among audience development, audience engagement, and community engagement.

  • Be able to articulate and discuss basic community engagement principles.

  • Advanced Discussion: Review Audience Relationships Project Checklist and Community Relationships Project Checklist [found here] and be prepared to discuss their application to understanding audience development, audience engagement, and community engagement.

  • Supplemental Discussion Questions

Understanding Engagement
Part 2–Myths, Motivations, & Mission

There is an unfortunate tendency on the part of some arts industry insiders to assume that community engagement is inherently expensive, is a distraction from arts missions, and/or demands “dumbing down” the arts. All of these are patently untrue (and occasionally maddening).


Discussion Questions

1. Consider your responses to the listed objections to community engagement and be prepared to discuss them.

  • The Quality Question

  • It’s Expensive

  • It’s Charity Work

  • It’s Pandering (Simply Appealing to the Lowest Common Denominator)

  • It’s a Fad

  • It’s “Only” Code for Diversity

  • It’s a Distraction from Our Mission

2. Consider objections individuals in each of the following categories might raise with respect to community engagement. Be prepared to discuss them.

  • Executive Director/CEO

  • Artistic Director

  • Board Member

  • Donor

3. Identify other objections to community engagement or community-oriented approaches to arts programming that have not been raised so far. What are the rationales for pursuing such work that counter those objections?

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