How Access to the Arts Empowers Communities

In partnership with Vanity Fair

For these cultural organizations across the country, experiencing the arts isn’t just a perk—it’s an essential part of creating a vibrant, thriving community

After going without live arts experiences for long stretches over the last two years, people are once again tuning into local culture to find new sources of inspiration—and new ways to belong and connect with each other.

Now more than ever, it’s apparent how important the arts are—on an individual, community and economic level. Inspired by our “Do Well Better” campaign, which shines a light on the impact our clients make in their own communities, we’ve partnered with Vanity Fair and identified organizations across the U.S. that have made it their mission to enrich their communities through access to the arts. Read on to learn more about how each organization is “doing well better” by positively impacting its community members through unique programming, resources, and events. 

Preserving History Through Social Sculpture

project row houses artist

Houston, TX – Photography by Project Row Houses Artist Round 51 Local Impact II. Art House by Jasmine Zelaya. 

Project Row Houses is a series of 39 shotgun homes that have been turned into free art galleries located in the Third Ward, one of Houston’s oldest Black neighborhoods. This type of art is what the founders of Project Row Houses refer to as “social sculpture.”

“Our founders incorporated Joseph Beuys's concept of social sculpture into our DNA,” Danielle Burns Wilson, Curator & Art Program Director of Project Row Houses, told Vanity Fair. “Beuys believed the very act of creating community is art.”

In that spirit, Project Row Houses is more than an art gallery. The organization has programs that support local entrepreneurs, students, young mothers, and artists in the Third Ward, emphasizing that their work is always deeply connected to the needs of the immediate community. “It can mean a room filled with people discussing the latest art installation, or one of our founders wandering into the Community Gallery to play the piano, or a room filled with diapers, formula, and bottled water after a storm or flood,” said Eureka Gilkey, Executive Director of Project Row Houses.

“We want anyone who visits to leave feeling like they are now part of the community—that their experience has added onto the social sculpture, a work that we hope will never be complete.”

Nature as a Creative Outlet

DNDA photography

Seattle, WA – Photography by DNDA.

In Seattle, WA, the Delridge Neighborhoods Development Association (DNDA) helps young people connect with their local parks and instills stewardship of the local wetland habitat. The organization purchased Delridge Wetlands Park from the city of Seattle in 2017 to preserve as public land, and now hosts hundreds of hands-on science classes for elementary school children there, as well as field trips, and an annual Arts In Nature Festival. 

“Our service work engenders a feeling of ownership for our young neighbors, so that youth—particularly youth of color—feel more belonging in local parks, green spaces, and public gathering spaces,” said David Bestock, Executive Director of DNDA said. “The feeling of belonging and ownership of local natural spaces fosters further care and stewardship of these spaces.”

The organization’s approach is unique in that it combines affordable housing, environmental and racial justice, and the arts into one holistic mission. Compared to other major metro areas, Seattle’s cost of living rose the fastest in the U.S. over the last decade, when compared to other major metro areas. DNDA works to preserve and increase affordable housing within the Delridge neighborhood, while also improving the quality of the neighborhood through ecology restoration work.

“We believe all people, and especially those historically disenfranchised by discriminatory policies and practices, should have ready access to local greenspaces for their physical and mental health,” said Bestock.

As screen time has steadily risen over the years, especially during the pandemic, access to nature provides an essential mental health benefit for young people.

“Connecting with nature offers respite and solace, artistic inspiration, and tools to lead a healthier lifestyle,” said Bestock.

Eradicating Racism Through Theater Arts

Black Ensemble Theater

Chicago, IL – Photography by Alan Davis. Black Ensemble Theater's performance of "It's Just Like Coming To Church." 

Jackie Taylor founded Chicago’s Black Ensemble Theater (BE) over 40 years ago because she wanted to build an institution that would “combat racism, create work for African American artists, and perpetuate the greatness of African American culture — while building programming that would destroy the foundation of racism.”

The director, actor, and playwright told Vanity Fair that the theater embodies diversity, equity and inclusion. “These assets build strong communities while helping us to respect and accept each other as human beings.”

Today, the theater attracts 55,000 racially diverse theater-goers each season, and works with over 10,000 students per year. The theater’s programming focuses predominantly on productions related to Black American culture and history, and its Black Playwrights Initiative incubates rising Black writers, providing them with resources and mentorship. BE also creates professional opportunities in the performing arts for youth, a career track that traditionally has many barriers to entry for under-served populations. BE’s Summer Job Training for Youth program employs inner-city Chicago youth (ages 16 to 21) and trains them in technical theater arts.

“Access to the arts is vital, and it should be considered a necessary part of our DNA and a powerful force to strengthen communities,” said Taylor. “The arts are the essence of humanity—telling our history, shaping our future, and helping us to sustain through this difficult process called life.”

These organizations understand that bigger-picture societal change starts small, on the community level—but the ripple effects from that work have exponential potential. Similarly, individuals who support cultural organizations, whether through volunteer work or philanthropy, stand to make a huge difference, too. By investing in causes we care about, and supporting our community, we can all “do well better.” Our “Do Well Better” campaign highlights our clients who are making a difference. Learn how our active approach to wealth management helps clients support their wealth goals and the causes closest to their hearts.

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