Using Your Art To Answer The Call To Serve Your Community

As artists, we often feel a calling to serve the community in which we live. Showing up to serve can be, and is some of, the most fulfilling and rewarding work we can do. This can be incredibly difficult as we balance family/friends, work, and the constant pursuit of perfection in our art.

For the past fifteen years, I have been passionately working with individuals and organizations to help them identify a strategy to serve their community. Here are three rules of engagement to help you as you consider how to serve your community:

  1. Show Up — In order to serve, you have to be willing to physically and mentally show up in a place and commit to serving a cause that is way bigger than you. There are a multitude of areas in which to get involved, your job is to pick one (only one) cause and dive in. Tip: Before you commit to helping an organization or a cause, take several months to explore the different service organizations that inspire you. There are likely local, regional, national and international organizations that serve each cause so you want to figure out what feels right. It’s also important to note that many organizations do similar work within each service sector so once you figure out the specific cause in which you’d like to engage (serving individuals experiencing homelessness, serving our veterans, etc) take a second step and identify five organizations doing similar work and get to know them as well. You may be surprised in the subtle differences each organization has to offer. 
  2. Listen — During the exploratory phase of your work, you have one job. Listen. Listen to the various service providers who passionately lead their organizations, listen to those individuals being served by the organization, and read up/research the organizations. Tip: This is not about you, this is about how you fit on a personal/philosophical level with a specific cause. 
  3. Stay — The most important thing to remember when it comes to serving a community/cause is that when you make a commitment, you keep it. Organizations often suffer from Volunteer Fatigue. Put simply, they are reticent to having volunteers because they come and go so quickly, which makes it difficult for organizations to rely on individuals wishing to give their time. Tip: When you make the decision to serve, make an additional commitment in writing of how much you intend to serve. I like to say something like “I’d like to serve this cause for three hours a week for the next three months and reevaluate the relationship.” Giving a specific timeline and commitment amount allows you and the service provider to think about how to engage in the work. 

What are you doing in your community today that might help my audience think about ways to engage with their own community? Let me know in the comment section below. Tomorrow I’ll discuss ways you can engage when you are limited by time.


Published by Nate Zeisler

Nate Zeisler is the Dean for Community Initiatives at the Colburn School in Los Angeles. He envisions a world where students majoring in the arts have a clear path to a sustainable career, where creative minds are empowered and inspired to rule the workforce, and where access to the arts is not just for the privileged few, but for all.

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