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Vision Mapping for Collaborative Discovery

judy butzine & Melanie Ohm, Arizona Cultural Arts Coalition
Make a Difference (affiliate of the Points of Light/Hands on Network), Jr. High Facilitation, Dec. 2007

"The criteria for art and for public interaction diverge so drastically that the education of public artists and their publics (including their critics) together is crucial."
Lippard, Lucy R., The Lure of the Local: Senses of Place in a Multicentered Society New York Press, p.286.

Why Vision Mapping / Why a Collage?

This collage-making workshop illustrates how the arts can create a safe space to engage ideas, values and community concerns in a planning dialogue to initiate change.

Art-making processes were utilized to assist youth, faculty and parents envision solutions for their school and community. The arts were the earliest tools of communication, predating language as a means to answer universal questions. The act of creating a collage together highlights visual elements and ideas that represent our use of symbolic language, our cultural orientation, and our values. It is both personal and communal. Dialogue about randomly selected symbolic metaphors is part of a shared learning process that can build a sense of common goals and objectives. This creative activity supports an egalitarian means of communication amongst participants.

The Purpose
To "discover" possibilities for a shared vision or solutions for a shared concern by identifying meaningful images and words (phrases) to create a visionary document that reflects collaborative intentions for bringing about changes in one's space or in one's life. This documented activity occurred in collaboration with Make a Difference, who is investing time, energy, and funding into a local junior high, identified as requiring not only physical renovations, but thoughtful projects to deal with challenges within the school's holistic educational programming.

"True community occurs when citizens perceive themselves as equals--when helping isn’t charity, but mutual exchange."
- Susan J. Ellis

The Process (can be used as an individual or as a community)

Preliminary Work

  1. The facilitator works with the leadership/identified team from the community to identify an overarching vision for the future or direction for focus, as well as a goal for completion of the long range program (1 month? 6 months? 1 year?).
  2. The inquiry focus of the small group collage activity or activities is determined. Sample questions:
    • How do I see [insert vision for future/concept for change] occurring (what methodology: tools or skills are needed)?
    • What is my role in promoting [concept for change]?
    • What does the community (school) look like following [concept for change]?

  1. A recorder is identified to document the evolving conversation so the key points can be systematically outlined and reviewed at the end with the community group.
  2. A timeline is established for each one of the components of this total process: cutting out images, evolving dialogue, wrap up discussion, adhering materials to the poster board, voting on the determined changes, and finally, assessment from the group as to the effectiveness of the activity.

Event Day Preparations (All items mentioned are to be purchased and available in advance depending upong numbers of persons who will be participating in this facilitation process.)

  1. Each table is set up with the following items: 3-5 diverse magazines per individual with many different types of images, scissors, colored pencils, paper, 3" x 5" cards and glue (rubber cement works well).
  2. Additionally, a large piece of cardboard is used as the mounting backdrop - something larger than 12" x 12" (possibly a colored poster board). For a community project, the size of the board or boards is dependent upon the number of participants. In this situation involving 40 youth, three 36" x 40" poster boards were used.
  3. Identified questions are posted on the mounting backdrops in an easily readable location for quick participant reference.

Group Activity

The facilitator explains the process, that the activity will enable them to discover ways to achieve their vision for the future, a vision for change, that brought them together. Individually, in small groups and as a whole, the goal is to identify specific ways to make that change happen.

Small Group Activity Instruction at tables of approximately 4-6 individuals

  1. Participants flip through the magazines and select images that represent the changes being sought in their personal life or their community setting, specifically responding to the identified questions through visual images. Since this is a new way of problem solving for many, an example will need to be provided to the group. The participants are allowed time to reflect and respond thoughtfully to the pictures while they envision the desired change.
  2. They may also cut out words and phrases that speak to their vision for change. In addition, the facilitator suggests that the blank 3" x 5" cards be used for individuals to note ideas or sketch a picture with the colored pencils provided.

  1. This reflective, communal activity is very intuitive and personal. It is an informal small group process. As participants flip through the magazines, they may select an image, photo or words that do not make sense at that moment. It is during the group discussion that the selection becomes understood. Small group discussion may occur as people begin to seek visual responses. This is a natural part of the preparatory communicative process.

Large Group Activity

  1. Following the designated time for the small group activity, the facilitator begins asking for the “symbolic” answers to the questions – ideas generated from the acquired images. People are engaged one by one from all groups around the room and encouraged to join the conversation as images, phrases or written statements are tacked to the poster boards. Images are laid out and pasted onto the cardboard backing near the question to which they respond. The initial, reflective methodology of seeking images and phrases in small groups to identify solutions to community concerns gives equal voice to all. This enables the evolving large group dialogue to come from a much more heartfelt and individual space of relevancy than if the conversation was engaged directly at the beginning of the session.
  2. The larger group has now move into an active participation process that not only has structure, but one in which the conversation evolved through individual and small group reflection. The selected images help to guide this process and keep people on track. Diverse opinions and personal perspectives are allowed to emerge in an organic and fluid process that originates in the sheltered environment of a smaller group. All the pictures and words initially selected may not be used, and some may be duplicated as the dialog unfolds.

  1. Words and phrases selected by the participants, as well as the pictures created in colored pencil, are added to the poster boards. Meanwhile, the recorder is documenting all of this information on a large flipchart off to the side and creating a specific list of activities to promote the envisioned change.
  2. The facilitator now reviews with the group the actions and physical changes that have been suggested and outlined. The group is asked who among them will take responsibility for these changes; and how will they bring about their actions for change?
  3. Then the participants each receive three small sticky notes or large dots. Each person approaches the list of suggested actions for change recorded on the flipchart and prioritize their personal desires. Individuals may use the stickers all for one project or for three different projects, etc. This last step sets up a democratic process to recognize the most important changes the group seeks for their community (school).

Follow-up to the Collage Activity

  1. Give the participants a chance to assess the effectiveness of this process.

  1. Place this "Vision Map" in a highly visible space that members of the group and others in this particular community will pass often during the day. It is to be a constant reminder of the changes that were agreed upon in a community participation process.

  1. The recorder transcribes, then organizes, this visually generated dialogue into a document for later use as an historical record and a means to disseminate the information to the participants as well as the broader community.

Now, participants Visualize the Change they want to occur as a proactive participant in altering their lives and their communities. They believe in what they have visually created and act on their intentions to bring about change!

  • The "Cultural Arts Coalition Nine Guiding Practices for Community Arts" provide a practical framework for community-based arts experiences, incorporating concepts and methods inside and outside of the classroom, embracing community and its many environments, resources and challenges.

    The Mission of the Cultural Arts Coalition 501 (c) 3
    Identifying, supporting, promoting, celebrating, and documenting community arts practices that stimulate social awareness and honor diverse cultural values, and develop the critical thinking skills necessary to be creative and solve problems. As a networking group, the coalition strives to provide a safe place for persons of all ages and backgrounds to gather and achieve a sense of belonging and respect within a larger community and to explore arts-related skills in a facilitated environment.

    For more information go to:

    Or Contact:
    judy butzinejhb6@mindspring.com602.375.9553
    Melanie Ohmmodinha@cox.net480.580.6257

    Nine Guiding Practices for Community Arts

    When using these guiding practices for building and evaluating programming, it is important to understand that many, but not all of these practices, will be present in a single project. Over the course of a longer program or initiative, all of these practices may be evident in different aspects of the work. The Nine Guiding Practices are the result of a public participation process involving artists, educators, and community activists during 2005-2006 in Phoenix, Arizona.

    Practice One: Participant Centered and Inclusive of All Ages and People.
    Programming is responsive to, even directed or initiated by, the participant community.

    Practice Two: Issue or Theme Driven.
    Programming deals with themes that have a universal focus and promote dialogue and/or creating a rich, interdisciplinary learning experience in safe community settings.

    Practice Three: Experiential and Expressive.
    The environmental setting, the sense of place, engages children and/or adults in active learning and participation, drawing on a full range of communicative media: storytelling, writing, literature, dance or movement, theatre, music and visual arts.

    Practice Four: Holistic and Authentic.
    Participants encounter ideas, events and materials in meaningful contexts with complex, life lessons at the heart of the learning process.

    Practice Five: Reflective and Evaluative.
    Arts programming provides opportunities and vehicles for participants to reflect on feelings, thoughts and new information, as well as a means for community organizers and participants to evaluate themselves, others and the effectiveness of the process.

    Practice Six: Social, Collaborative and Democratic.
    Programming encourages learning in a social-cultural context, preferring cooperative over competitive approaches to achieving goals and creating a shared space for meaningful work with a collective purpose. It is about understanding self in relation to others and community.

    Practice Seven: Developmentally Appropriate.
    All programming is age appropriate, following child and adult development guidelines and providing learning environments that enable all participants to create connections between content areas and understand context as well as absorb content. Learning experiences involve investigative processes, self-monitoring and problem-solving skills that engage higher-order thinking.

    Practice Eight: Relationship Oriented.
    Relationship building and processes have priority over projects and products in the development, implementation and evaluation of community arts work.

    Practice Nine: Celebrative.
    Participants are recognized and honored both individually and collectively through community celebrations.