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How is Collaboration Emerging?

by Manuel Mancillas

CORO Southern California —Final Program Evaluation Arts Leadership Fellows Program

1. What are/ were your expectations of CORO training? To what extent were your expectations met?

My initial reaction to the news of the CORO Arts Leadership Fellows program was full of my usual scepticism and cynical approach to government initiatives on community development projects.

I made the decision to participate in the CORO program due to: (1) financial (the lack of) reasons, (2) I had the time, (3) I saw the opportunity of the development a local/regional multinational community based arts and cultural advocacy organization, whose members would establish a unified power to deal effectively with the inequity, the underserviced, the underfunded, the unstable, the isolated, the overpowered, etc. This perspective comes from a vantage point of 30 years of direct participation and actions with community arts and cultural organizations. I saw a window of opportunity in the CORO initiative, that could lead towards the achievement of these goals.

The question remains, what to do collectively with this window? Should it be open and go through it? Shut it and pull the blinds down? Put some dressing on it? Apply a tint to it? Shade it? Sing and dance to it?

The ability of grass-root communities and constituencies to effectively exercise their inherent power to determine their future: the capacity to set their priorities, to control their resources, and to act on them, is directly connected to their ability to sustain long term organizations, based on partnerships and collaborations. It is here where the decision of –what to do with the proverbial window is made.

How are these community partnerships and collaborations emerging in today's society? How are they emerging in the arts and cultural organizations? Where are the models that are providing effective experiences that could benefit, in this case, the San Diego community artists?

2.Which CORO tools do you use, if any, in your professional or personal life?

How effective is leadership "training"? A veteran community and labor organizer once told me that there is no such thing as leadership "training." There are no blueprints or recipes. Basically, community leaders are developed through a process of involvement in actions, campaigns, and protracted struggles.

I also read that in the USA there are over 400 leadership training institutes, academies, methods, that are graduating an average of 20 participants each, therefore, producing approximately 8,000 "leaders" per year. And yet, the country is suffering from a tremendous crisis in leadership. Notice the quality of political and economic leaders that are currently exercising their collective power over our communities. As well, notice the quality of leadership in our communities and constituencies, that are working so desperately to effectively exercise their power, just to survive.

One of the major accomplishments of these 400 leadership programs is the advancement of individuals to become better supervisors, directors or managers, financial, political and government officials. A graduate from a prestigious leadership institute, might receive favorable responses from a fellow graduate, connections might equal influences. This could work well with artists, cultural workers and administrators. And, it will work well for those who are looking for career advancement.

Facilitating communication, consensus reaching, participatory management, strategic planning, action, and evaluation skills are vital to the development of any organization. Learning these tools, as well as mutual recognition, establishment of respect, trust, and power which is defined and shared by all those joined in common efforts, will ensure the health of any organization.

My personal application to what's going on with leadership "training" institutes is that very few of them are actually directly involved in developing effective community organizations and collaborative leadership. I do not expect that from the CORO training.

3. What do you do differently, (if anything) as a result of CORO training?

I would do the following: there are two national models that I am personally aware of, although there are more, in which community/collaborative leadership is developed as part of a long term plan. A strategy formulated through the building of their organization. I would look to these two models of community organizing (PICO and CTWO) to learn from their methodologies:

Participants will not be asked to compete for a space in the project; nor will they be selected by a committee; nor will they receive payment. The participants will be recruited via an extensive and diligent one-on-one interview sessions. They will come from those who share similar values, self-interest, and perspective for the future. The number of participants will not be limited, the only requirement will be the ability to demonstrate, through time, a long term commitment to building their organization.

PICO and CTWO's experience will say that the average time to build a constituted community organization is approximately 24 months. During this time, however, the participants will engage in the discussion of issues and themes that affect their communities and constituencies. They will learn to focus their struggle on those issues that will ensure the growth and development of their organization. They will learn how to wage campaigns on targets who will effectively respond to their demands. They will learn to celebrate victories together.

4. What plans do you have for your involvement in the arts community, and how will your CORO training help you?

The plan is to continue insisting on the following: What are the key themes and issues for discussion among those that can help us understand the context in which collaboration is emerging and how it can be used as a strategy to promote community and systems change?

• Governmental roles and responsibilities.
There are many issues, that are raised by the Federal Government (NEA, NEH), the State (CAC), San Diego City (Arts and Cultural Commission). What role do they play in the development of community arts and cultural organizations? What are the responsibilities we have with each other?

• Government and governance.
Who is at the table and who decides what is to be done? Governance is the practice of power. Power comes from the Latin "posse," meaning to be able, defined in as the ability to act, produce, also, in the ability to control others.
Key question: Do we want power or technical assistance?

• Doing-more-with-less.
How should partners and communities respond to current interpretations of political and economic realities that promote doing-more-with-less because of limited financial resources for public and community needs.

• Collaboration and doing-more-with-less.
If the value of collaboration is primarily promoted because of its usefulness in helping communities do-more-with-less, and in promoting cost-effective service integration, should we question this limited use of collaboration? Are we promoting collaboration only because its saving us money, and integrating components and projects?

• Collaboration and power relations.
In addition to cost-effective and appropriate service integration, how could collaboration also transform power relations, such as the power associated with the allocations of funding and the labelling of people?

• The strengths and weaknesses of service reforms.
In addition to service-based systems change approaches. What kinds of advocacy should be emphasized? What are the priorities that must be addressed in the community? The Bridge from Social Service to Social Justice.

• Advocacy for inclusiveness
A more inclusive society that is more effective at ending discriminations based on class, race, immigration status, ethnicity, gender, ability-difference, age, or sexual orientation.

• Building on assets
In what ways can all partners "walk the talk" of recognizing that, in addition to needs, all communities and people have assets and resources that should be recognized, respected, and drawn upon? How could this emphasis help transform harmful practices in "provider/recipient" relationships?

• Collaborative empowerment
Collaborative empowerment, i.e., the capacity to set priorities and control resources that increases community self-determination?

• Raising expectations
What are some ways that partners can respectfully and constructively raise expectations about risk-taking and changed behavior and, as equal partners, hold each other accountable for increasing each other's competence and responsibility in the work?

• Unintended consequences
How can we be mindful of the interdependence and common ecology of its activities so that it can limit unintended consequences, such as the overextensions and exhaustion of people and organizations, that can seriously damage communities while attempting to revitalize them?

5. What are your expectations of CORO Southern California as an Arts Leadership Program graduate?

My personal application to what's going on with CORO Southern California is this key question. What is the role of the consultant? To instruct, to enlighten, to challenge the preconceived logic, to takes us where no wo/man has taken us?

My experience has shown me that most consultants do not share in either the success or the failure of the projects they consult on, because most of them are brought in as outsiders, neutral facilitators. Usually, it's the community participant who sets the highest expectations for success. Primarily, because of their investment (time, energy, expected outcomes). Secondly, because it's a palliative that has arrived from the heavens, to provide us for our ills, we're perfectly trained as recipients. Frustrations, however, due to the failure of the projects, are always felt the hardest on the participants. And, in the middle, between the consultant and the community participants, are the administrators of the project, who will more than likely be riddle with criticism as incompetents.

8. Other comments/suggestions for the program.
Let's examine the following strategies for the design and implementation of community development projects:

The process of decision making begins outside the community within public, private, or nonprofit institutions and is brought into the community. Community involvement is invited into a process designed and controlled by larger institutions. This collaborative strategy can produce policy changes and improvements in program deliveries, but tends not to produce long-term ownership in communities or to significantly increase communities' control over their own destinies. (Himmelman, 1993)

It also tends to perpetuate a syndrome of "programs destined to fail." And, in most cases, it is assumed that the reasons for a community development project's failure, lies in the community participant's inability to fully buy into the process! Adding to the scepticism and cynicism allude it above.

Let's examine a different strategy for project design and implementation:
The process of decision making begins within the community and is brought to public, private, or nonprofit institutions. In this context, Empowerment refers to the capacity to set priorities and control resources that are essential for increasing community self-determination. An Empowerment strategy includes two basic activities: (1) organizing a community in support of a collaborative purpose determined by the community, (2) facilitating a process for integrating outside institutions in support of this community purpose. (Himmelman, 1993)

If the community has the ability to control the decision making process, from the start, it will guarantee its outcome. Thus, the challenge lies on the community to build a strong organization. The recommendation would then be: 1. The formation of a sponsoring committee (the current CORO members would be the core group) 2. The hiring of a community organizer (whose sole responsibility would be to develop the leadership); and, after 24 months, this leadership would own and provide for its organization.

The funding required to hire one full time community organizer and a part time administrative assistance, would come from several sources. One source would be a 1% "tax" on TOT funds received from each of the local level 1 organizations. These "imperial" arts institutions would realize that having a strong community arts and cultural organization would return great benefits, not just for them, but to the cultural advancement of the whole region. In this particular scenario, the possibilities for a successful outcome would be much greater.

10. In what ways could (s)he improve? (please be specific as possible and use examples where applicable)

Wanted: A miracle worker who can do-more-with-less, pacify rival groups, endure chronic second guessing, tolerate low levels of support, process large volumes of (colored) paper and work double shifts (75 nights a year). He or she will have carte blanche to innovate, but cannot spend much money, replace any personnel, or upset any constituency. (R. Evans, Education Week, 4-12-95)

12. Other comments/suggestions for the Program Coordinator(s):

To seek power is to raise and begin to answer the question: to seek power to change what? Changing the forces of power in no way guarantees that anything else will change...To seek power without asking the 'what' question is not only to beg the question but to avoid it and, therefore to collude in cosmetic changes. (Saranson, 1995, his emphasis)

Manuel Mancillas 'Zopilote' is a native of the Tijuana/San Diego Border Region with a 30 year history of involvement in the arts and cultural milieu. Currently, he's the founder and managing director of El Campo RUSE, a community artists alternative performance gallery, and member of the Border Art Workshop/Taller de Arte Fronterizo (BAW/TAF)

Comment? El Campo Ruse E-Mail

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