April 26, 2018

The Messy Art of Community Building

A Sign of Community

A Sign of Community

Creating better and evermore expensive and extensive systems of social change will seldom deliver promised success.  We don’t live or thrive in tightly designed and imposed systems of social change.  Peter Block wrote, “It is out of the subjectivity and complexity of life that transformation emerges.”  Painting and community building are messy forms of art.  Progress is related to the stack of paint-stained shirts and shattered plans.

The transformation of paint to art does not come from neatly stacked books about the perfect painting.  It does not come from the workshop where I learn to paint like the instructor. The transformation comes when I reach down deep inside to what I care about most.  It is when I decide I really can paint something special.  In community change, transformation comes when I believe that I have a gift buried inside that can rise to the occasion of a better community.

So that is why I work, which is more important than how I work or what my work is. (See the Sinek Ted Talk on C4.)  I work because I want to see the joyful art of community where discouragement often reigns.

While I respect the expertise of community builders, many professional social change agents truly believe that they can create tightly scripted plans that will change other people and their communities. “We can plan and create a system that guarantees success,” they say. “Systems will fix people.”   It is also where the art of community is lost.

Amy Bauer in her blog Sol Lewitt Inspired said, “Conceptual artists are mystics rather than rationalists. They leap to conclusions that logic cannot reach.”  I am thinking this is true for the art of community building as well as for other forms of art.  We need more mystics who can conjure dreams and see visions.  Sure we need to plan.  We need to think.  But we really need the mystics to keep us honest and to see things that reasoning misses.  That is what the heart is for. That is what art is for.



  1. Hey there! Do you use Twitter? I’d like to follow you if that would be ok.
    I’m definitely enjoying your blog and look forward to new

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