What does a “community-engaged” artist look like?
Undoubtedly, there are many versions, just as there are many ways to incorporate art into a community or a community into art. The phrase can encompass a lot of territory.
When artists engage in this kind of work they often need a skill set that includes good communication, team building, fundraising and marketing skills along with the ability to plan and execute a performance/artwork/film. Artists need to be able to have honest conversations about the money and time required for the work to be high quality and engaging. They also need skills that will help them relate to community members, partners and other collaborators—all of whom may have different agendas on the table.
This spring semester, students (53, to be exact!) from Professor Jennifer Bauman’s Exploration and Fine Arts LEAP classes got the chance to explore their own identities as “community-engaged” artists while developing the skills listed above—invaluable skills, whether you’re a student who wants to work in or outside of the arts.
The LEAP students worked with children from Neighborhood House to bring to life the original production that is “Sheep! The Musical.” Inspired by the idea of Little Bo Peep losing her sheep, the students created a play that tells the story of where the sheep travel while they’re missing. They have quite the adventure and Bo Peep must travel to far off lands to find them—all the way to an Army Land, a Ballerina Land and a Cat Land. Meanwhile, a wolf, disguised as an artist, is also trying to find the sheep.
Spoiler Alert: The wolf is the reason the sheep wander off in the first place!
“Sheep! The Musical.” Official Trailer
During the fall semester, LEAP students raised the money they needed for the production, worked to build community and learned about the population the LEAP program works with at Neighborhood House. This semester, the students wrote the storyline, the script and the music. They choreographed the dances and created the set design (lights, sound, props), the costumes and even the documentary film about the production of the play. The students were also responsible for the press, publicity and event planning around “Sheep!”
In the end, the LEAP students contributed countless hours to the development of “Sheep!” They befriended and mentored the children at Neighborhood House through months of continued service. They also worked with Neighborhood House children to develop the characters of the play—the children are the masterminds behind the cats, ballerinas and army men.
Ultimately, the LEAP students created a play that showcases creativity while providing a story “that teaches kids about responsibility and inclusion,” says Fine Arts LEAP student, Sara Seastrand.
They learned how to forge and maintain relationships in ways that help an artist gain support for their project and establish their presence within the community. They also developed skills needed to be a “community-engaged” artist, many of which they will need after college, no matter what profession they choose.
You can see “Sheep! The Musical” and the documentary film, which highlights the work behind the production, Thursday, April 25 at 6:30 pm in The Hayes Christensen Theatre in the Marriott Center for Dance (MCD).
In 2007, Professor Jennifer M. Bauman started the Fine Arts LEAP Program. She developed the idea of putting on a play (and creating a documentary about putting on a play) to promote the LEAP seminar theme of community. Together the students and Neighborhood House children explore community from multiple angles—from theory to practice—and bridge the divide between the east and west sides of the Salt Lake community.
Neighborhood House is an organization that provides “quality care for low-income families based on their ability to pay.”