Building Community Buy-In

This month Richard Evans is joined by the leaders of two different arts organizations which are both implementing projects in Hunts Point, a neighborhood in the New York City borough of the Bronx:  Aviva Davidson, Executive and Artistic Director of Dancing in the Streets, and Amy Sananman, Founder and Executive Director of Groundswell.  They offer a lively discussion which explores how to build community engagement in cultural initiatives — a question that each organization is approaching in some different — and surprising — ways.


Credit: Adam Davidson

Aviva Davidson (Executive and Artistic Director of Dancing in the Streets) has over 25 years experience as an arts administrator, producer, presenter, and theatre director. She has an MFA in Arts Administration from Columbia University. From 1993-98, Davidson was the Curator of Performing Arts at the John Michael Kohler Art Center in Wisconsin.  Previously, from 1985-93, she was a Producer and Marketing Director at Symphony Space.

With Dancing in the Streets since 1998, Davidson has commissioned and produced over 35 site-specific works and created three signature series of innovative public performances that celebrate and explore salient aspects of New York City public life—Breaking Ground, Hip Hop Generation Next, and—in collaboration with Casita Maria—The South Bronx Culture Trail. In the context of Trail, Davidson commissioned choreographer Joanna Haigood and musician Bobby Sanabria to create PASEO, a community-based, traveling site-specific work that featured over 80 performers in a celebration of the Latin music history of the South Bronx. She spearheaded Dancing in the Streets’ move to the South Bronx on January 31, 2011, where it became a Company in Residence at Castia Maria Center for Arts and Education in Hunts Point.

Amy Sananman (Founder and Executive Director of Groundswell) was motivated by her long-standing fascination with murals to conceive of Groundswell in 1996 — its mission to bring together professional artists, grassroots organizations, and communities to create high-quality murals in under-represented neighborhoods, and to inspire youth to take active ownership of their future by equipping them with the tools necessary for social change. Over the past sixteen years Groundswell has worked with thousands of community members to complete more than 400 collaboratively-designed and painted murals across New York City. From the Bronx to Brooklyn, Groundswell’s murals have visually transformed neighborhoods through celebrating cultural diversity and unity, telling stories of community empowerment and challenges overcome, and giving youth a voice to speak to their immediate communities and the general public.

Sananman holds a masters degree in Public Policy from the University of California at Berkeley. Her accolades include NYU/Wagner School’s Rudin Award for Community Service through the Arts and the prestigious 2006 Union Square Award for her leadership in developing Groundswell as a grassroots asset. In 2009 she was named one of the 21 Leaders for the 21st Century by Womens Enews. She has served on numerous panels speaking on arts as a tool for social change panels hosted by the Bronx Museum of Art, the New School for Social Research, Pratt Institute, Columbia University, Teachers College, CUNY’s Hunter School of Social Work and the Partnership for After School Education. She currently lectures at Pratt Institute on Arts and Community Development.

*Featured image of Jose Garcia in Hunts Point, the Bronx by Chris Arnade

Piama Habibullah is the former Online Producer + Communications Manager at EmcArts.