The Art of Community

The concept of community is one that fascinates me.  I believe that people live better lives when they feel supported and understood.  Whether this support is local or virtual doesn’t seem to matter.  In fact, while a local community may be comfortable for some, I have learned that often introverts spend more time on social media than extroverts. Perhaps this method of engaging with a select group of contacts is more comfortable for those who do not need to derive energy from being around others but still need the support of a “tribe”.   Our conversations on Saturday covered community in many aspects from class norms, to communities of support and feedback as described in The Icarus Deception and The Creative Habit as well as the communities of local business and chefs discussed by Lisa Nakamura and the culture of local communities discussed by Andy Fife


In speaking with Lisa Nakamura, I was impressed with the way she discussed food people as a community.  She frequently drew commonalities of behavior and personalities in this group.  She described them as being socially awkward, speaking through their food and also often being control freaks. I loved that while some of these descriptors initially sound negative, she seemed to take pride in each of them. 


I was also interested in her perspective on the changes in feedback in restaurant culture.  Her reluctance to read online reviews because her feeling of embarrassment and anxiety of failing to meet future expectations prevents her from enjoying a positive review just as much as the snarky tone of many negative reviews prevents her from being able to take much away from them.  Additionally, the level of expectation set from the immediacy of modern food blogging reviews introduces a new level of anxiety since historically reviewers gave restaurants six month to get on their feet prior to review.  This new race to review means that a restaurant has to be ready to serve at the top of their game from opening night.  As much as Lisa says she did not read online reviews, her sensitivity to satisfying her customer and the feeling of ultimate responsibility for each dining experience run deep.  My favorite quote of the class came during her talk when she said “Apart from sex, eating is one of the most personal things you can do, so you’d better take care of people.”  If that isn’t supporting your community, I don’t know what is.


Another interesting aspect of Lisa’s professional life is her book, Bucky the Dollar Bill.  I wish we had spent more time discussing this.  The story centers on  how spending choices can either support or harm the financial well being of a community.  Her experience running a restaurant on an island where issues with supporting locals year round when tourism is only active part of the year gave a special insight into the direct impact of a few dollars spent in the community rather than outside of that community.  It is a wonderful book with a great message.  I have a copy for my sons and hope they will take it to heart as they grow older and have their own money to spend.


Perhaps this is a long enough reflection, but I would be completely remiss if I did not cover, even briefly, Andy Fife’s presentation.  After researching Andy’s work and history, I was not really sure what to expect. I thought I’d hear more about non-profit funding and the importance of art, and we did, but not in the way I expected.  The discussion around changing  the message from “Art is the Why” to “Art is the How” was eye opening.   The concept of drawing people together for transformative experiences with art as the gathering point but, education, community and cultural identity as the outcome aligns with my own beliefs about how human beings wish to interact.  So many arts nonprofits do align around art creation, but the art produced is usually secondary to the connectedness that the participants derive, the self esteem, and the confidence of participating in something larger. During the break I spoke briefly to Andy about arts in education, specifically the art based curriculum at Adams Elementary School in Seattle.  In typical “Art is the How” fashion this school explores the ways in which art can help students engage with traditional academics to build deeper understanding of concepts that may have escaped them in a more classical environment. I have continued to mull the content of Andy’s presentation and make connections to projects that I am involved in or wish to start in the future.  Thank you for bringing him to speak with us.