Justina Crawford-Williams & Christina Oi Ying Nip: A Conversation

By     Jul 13, 2014

Field Notes

These articles were originally featured on Field Notes, National Arts Strategies' ArtsJournal blog where we mine, distill and contextualize ideas; provide frameworks that anyone can use; and offer everyone in the field the opportunity to discuss the underlying issues.

This week we will be featuring conversations with leaders working in communities. Justina Crawford-Williams is a musician, educator and arts administrator dedicated to mentoring others to realize their potential. Christina Oi Ying Nip is passionate about community-based public health work who's happiest working in, with and for her community. Both are Creative Community Fellows.

Creative/cultural work makes communities thrive. Creative/cultural work makes communities connect. Creative/cultural work makes communities healthy.


Summary Thoughts

By Justina Crawford-Williams

For the past two weeks, I’ve had the pleasure of speaking with Creative Community Fellow Christina Oi Ying Nip. Each of us is embarking upon new creative ventures within specific communities. Despite our communities being different, we both strive to help our communities thrive, connect, and be healthier as a result of creative and cultural programming.

As cultural entrepreneurs we have each identified a barrier or need that is preventing each of our communities from flourishing. In San Francisco’s Chinatown, Christina has identified a need for healthy activity and also unity. While in Dayton, OH, I have discovered that military spouses are dealing with mixed emotions associated with deployment. Because of this it is necessary for us to engage with these groups and respond to them in creative ways.

We are passionate about our projects due to personal connections, influential mentors and interactions with concerned community members. Most importantly, the unknown obstacles and opportunities that we will meet along the way drive us. With our unique experiences, educational backgrounds, and awareness, Christina and I both fit within the cultural sector as we are working to help others realize their potential and build stronger communities through arts programming. We understand the importance of the arts, their relevance within our current day, and how others can benefit from them.

We, as cultural entrepreneurs, plant the seed for change. As a result, dance will be introduced within Chinatown to improve the health of community members. It will also be used as a method of communication, providing all participants who speak various dialects of Chinese the opportunity to express and experience a new language, dance. Through arts exploration, military spouses will gain new strategies and tools to improve their self-confidence, communication, and self-expression that can be shared with family members.

Together, Christina and I are determined to collaborate with our communities beyond differences, social labels, stereotypes, race, ethnicity, gender, age, and socio-economic statuses to help our communities thrive, connect, and be healthier as a result of creative and cultural programming.


Summary Thoughts

By Christina Oi Ying Nip

Before entering into this two weeks long discussion, meditation, and conversation about our work, our communities, and our projects, neither Justina nor I have heard of “Creative Placemaking”. However, when we researched the topic, we realized that many of the ideas behind creative placemaking can already be found in our own work and what fuels our own passion to seek creative answers to the problems we see in our own communities. It has been extremely rewarding and inspiring to be able to discuss the driving force of our work, and the source of our passion. And through our interaction, we have noticed more commonalities than differences, more shared themes and common threads than differences in our motivations and our approaches.

For the past two weeks, we both shared and found to our amazement that it is personal connections that drive our work and fuel our passion for the work we do. It is the people we have met, mentors and community members with their personal stories that were the seeds of our projects. For Justina, it was a chance meeting with a military spouse who opened up and shared about her struggles and this personal connection that inspired Justina’s work. For Christina, it was a lunch conversation with her sister about Chinatown’s lack of artistic opportunities and whether the art was a luxury that challenged her own assumption about this dichotomy of necessity versus luxury.   Careful listening and being wary of our assumptions of what a community’s needs may be are common themes in our discussion.

For both of us, cultural entrepreneurs are people who are firmly rooted in their community who not only identify unmet needs, but respond to them in a collaborative fashion that taps on the community as the driver of change. As Justina says, “she sees her community as driving the boat, and that it is extremely exciting to be on this journey”. For Christina, cultural entrepreneurs’ role in the cultural sector involves making art and culture relevant to people’s every day lives. She observed that both Justina and herself are working hard so that “art is not something that is confined within the space of a museum or left on a painted canvas, but is something that can be brought home into the every day lives of those involved.” And in many ways, that is the work that both Justina and Christina are doing. They see art and culture as a resource and a strategy to helping communities become more connected, healthier and to thrive.

And at the end of this two weeks long conversation, we both came to realize that conversation and collaboration are powerful tools. Justina has provided valuable resources and guidance to Christina in her work, just as Christina offers useful paradigms through which Justina can better understand her own work. It has been an amazing opportunity to converse about our work, our communities and our passion.


The Conversation

How do you define “community?”

Collaboration: We define community as a group of people coming together to work for a common goal. Shared goal and passion unites them beyond differences, social labels, and stereotypes. Community can be built through collaborations across race, ethnicity, gender, age, and socio-economic statuses.

Inclusion and Exclusion: In our discussion, the question and internal struggle of who is included or excluded in our definition of community came up. We talked about whether projects or efforts targeted at a specific group or community may be considered exclusive. We also talked about our own concept of identity and how that plays into our definition of community and the concept of belonging. While we don’t have a clear-cut answer to this, we agreed that this question and struggle may be normal and even necessary to the discussion of community and that it takes openness and a willingness to step out of our comfort zone in response to this.


How do you see the role of cultural entrepreneurs like you in the community?

Need discovery: We believe that cultural entrepreneurs play a role in need discovery in communities they work in that may be invisible or unaddressed by establishments.

Seeds of change: Cultural entrepreneurs plant the seed for change through engaging with these discovered needs and responding to them in creative ways.

Freedom to innovate: We discussed the possibility of cultural entrepreneurs to be resourceful and to innovate outside of regular channels and inventive collaborations. Channels include local, national, and international.


Why do you think people are talking about creative placemaking so much now?

Broad Scale: We identified that the multi-disciplinary approach in creative placemaking can be seen as being increasingly fruitful in academic and community settings. We observed that such broad collaborative thinking involving innovative collaborations between individuals and organizations working in different disciplines have been happening outside of as well as within the art and cultural sphere. Community agencies and the public health sector have also broadened their perspective on what it means to be healthy in a parallel fashion. Private, public, non-profit, and community entities are working together to revitalize and create more opportunities for all. Hence such, broad collaborative thinking in the concept of creative placemaking has been and is happening on a broad scale and on different fronts.

Creative Fund Sourcing: We also determined that the need to source for funding in creative ways might also be a driving force.


Talk about the work you’re doing in your community: What was the catalyst for this work? What started you on this journey?

Personal Connection: We both identified a personal connection to the community and someone in need as a catalyst for our projects. It was the personal story and a social interaction that catalyzed the project ideas. For Justina it was speaking with a spouse of a military personnel in deployment. For Christina, it was a lunchtime conversation with her sister that sparked questions about the place of art in her community.

Careful listening: Both of us went through a process of carefully listening and trying to understand what someone else, who is different from us either in their background or their opinion, is really saying. Justina listened carefully to the stories and struggles of a military spouse. Christina listened to her sister’s opinion about the importance of arts & culture and deeper thoughts even though she disagreed at first.

Challenging assumptions: We were either very wary of making assumptions or challenged our own assumptions in the process of idea formation of our projects. Justina mentioned several times that she didn’t want to make assumptions about the needs of military families. Christina challenged her own assumption about the importance of art and culture in a community struggling with many basic necessities.

Stepping in someone else’s shoes: Really empathizing with someone else’s need catalyzed both our projects. Justina mentioned a desire to really understand what it means to be a spouse of a military personnel on deployment, and Christina talked about the role that art played in her own childhood and how she sees a lack of such opportunities in her community as a need that she really hopes to address.


What is the driving force? What continues to motivate the work?

Unknown/risk: Justina shares that the unknown and risks of pushing against boundaries is a driving force in her work. She sees it as an avenue of growth. Christina found such a view inspiring versus seeing risks and unknown as obstacles.

Personal inspirations: Inspiration from mentors and people both Justina and Christina have met continue to motivate their work.

Compassion through discovering needs: Both of us feel that discovering and seeing unmet needs in the community we serve continue to be a driving force.

Community driving the boat: Justina shared that she feels that she is part of a process and that the community is dictating the direction of development.


Who is it for? Who benefits from this work?

Justina: Her program is for military spouses dealing with mixed emotions experienced during deployment. Through arts exploration, tools and resources will be shared with military spouse to improve physical, social, and psychological well-being. As a result, military spouses can share with their family new methods of communication, self-expression, and self-confidence just to name a few.

Christina: Her program is targeted at children and families, but her program would benefit families and the community. She sees children and families as an inroad to making change in her community, and hopes for a wider impact than those directly served by the program.


What is the role of cultural entrepreneurs like you in the cultural sector?

Help build and shape stronger communities.

Collaborative Problem Solving: Collaborating with various industries and groups to help solve an issue in a community.

Relevance to everyday life: Help make cultural sector relevant in people’s everyday lives by building and shaping communities and helping them understand that arts and culture is a real strategy, tool and practice that can be infused with every aspect of their practical lives.


When you hear the terms “cultural sector” or “arts and culture field” do you feel that includes you? Why or why not?

Justina: Answer is yes. Because it is the industry she works in. She sees the cultural field as a way creating more-well rounded and experienced people who are more in-tune with various environments/locations. As a result, the field will include cultural workers who are inclined to build relationships with other to help share the culture around them.

Christina: Answer was no; prior to the fellowship and conversation with Justina, but Justina shared that public health is a new topic to the arts, new area to push to funders. Justina shared that public health and Christina’s work in the community is not an outlier in the conversation.