Community Engagement

emmanuel donnaDonna Emmanuel, University of North Texas
Chair, Committee on Community Engagement


The Community Engagement Committee developed three critical areas to focus on over the next two years: (1) A re-invigoration of the concept of community engagement as existing on a spectrum; (2) the development of a handbook for community engagement; and (3) from a philosophical perspective, exploring the reasons why we should want to engage and why it is beneficial.

As part of the focus on the spectrum of engagement, the Committee developed a webinar series, Community Engagement 101: What’s the point? This series intended to encourage dialogue and conversation regarding perspectives on the why, what, who, and how of community engagement concerning music programs in higher education among members of The College Music Society. The webinars are archived online in Symposium. Descriptions of the individual webinars follow:


Why Should we WANT to Engage?
Donna Emmanuel (University of North Texas)

Within CMS, there are multiple opportunities for a variety of musical interactions, including engagement activities at national and regional conferences, seed grants for one-time projects, or projects over time. For each of these venues, there might be many differing motivations for developing engagement activities. What reasons are important for YOU to participate in community engagement? Is it to contribute to the well-being of people in differing contexts? To develop social capital? To nurture cultural competence? To sustain our art forms? To add a line item to our vitas? To focus on populations we feel are in musical need? Are all of these (and multiple others) valid? SHOULD they be? And where does the JOY of making music together fit in all this?


What exactly IS engagement?
Jack Ricchiuto (Cleveland, Ohio)

How might operational definitions help guide us in the creation of engagement interactions? How do we define “community?” How do we define “engagement?” What about “outreach?” How do we view ourselves? Are WE part of the community, or are we “other?” How might the COMMUNITY define US? Are definitions even important? Isn’t this something we just DO? Where does the perceived power fall depending on how we perceive one another, how we define our roles? This dialogue is about how we might traditionally define and view our interactions and if we should challenge those views.


What is the difference between ‘engagement’ and ‘outreach?’ Aren’t they the same?
Keitha Hamann (University of Minnesota)

This session revisits the idea of community interaction as existing on a spectrum, with engagement and outreach falling in different places. We will explore examples of a variety of interactions, where they fall on the spectrum, and why we place them in particular places. Are there types of interaction we already do very well? Are there types we are NOT doing? If so, should we? Why?


Non-musicians (or 5th graders, or senior citizens or whomever) terrify me!
Susan Helfter (University of Southern California)

How can you best communicate with others to make your interactions as effective and meaningful as they can possibly be? What role does non-verbal communication play in your music interactions? What about proxemics, personal space, gesture, facial expressions? Should cultural competence be considered in your interactions with others who are different, in any way, from you? How important is it that your participants ARE different from you? This session will include basic tips on being an effective communicator, and how to nurture a sense of comfort between you and your participants. 


Resonance, Relationships, Reciprocity: Key elements of authentic community engagement

Donna Emmanuel (University of North Texas)

By seeking out others who share our interests and passions, we can start off with shared resonance that might make interactions easier and more meaningful, particularly if we involve everyone from the initial planning stages. Also, by nurturing and maintaining relationships, rather than a one-time event, it is more likely the activity itself might become more sustainable across time. We must also consider that reciprocity is much more than “if you do this, I’ll do that.” This session will focus on the key principles of authentic engagement and how important these are to sustainable, effective interactions that have the greatest meaning for all participants.


At the past national conference in Indianapolis, the committee met and discussed possible formats for a Handbook on Community Engagement. Members agreed that a web-based format might be more effective and attractive than a traditional format. The handbook will include all aspects of engagement, including how engagement might look, digital examples of successful engagement, and a step-by-step process for how engagement might be developed and sustained. The handbook will also contain section son the engaged teaching, engaged scholarship, and engaged service, exploring the notion of how these might count toward the promotion and tenure process. 


At the same meeting, members gave input on a document to be used by the Committee for Engagement Activities at National Conferences. This detailed set of guidelines was submitted to CMS leadership and will be implemented fully for the 2017 National Conference. It is being partially utilized for the 2016 conference. The guidelines include a step-by-step process for successful engagement activities within the local communities at National Conferences.


Members also began conversation concerning how our webpage might be enhanced, what information to include, and the possibility of a forum for questions and ideas that specifically address engagement. The committee wants to determine the membership’s thinking concerning engagement, and will make suggestions for this on the website.


Looking Ahead

This committee holds a primary goal of formulating a philosophical framework for community engagement that will serve as a guide for action, not only at the committee level, but across the membership. The foundation of this framework will include issues of why we should want to engage and what positive outcomes of engagement might occur. This framework will be completed by mid-summer, 2016. 


Committee members will be submitting articles centering on Community Engagement to Symposium, and are encouraging members who value engagement to do so as well. 


Committee members will also be submitting presentation proposals for the CMS Regional Conferences to promote community engagement throughout the membership. One possible outcome would be more proposals for national conference engagement activities and more applications for seed grants. 


Additionally, the committee would like to make connections with international members to determine how they view engagement and to look for possible collaborations.