Curriculum Project Topics


About the Project

Project Principals

Project Survey

Glossary of Key Terms

Project Report



What is Community Cultural Development?

The Curriculum Project Glossary

Every field has its own vocabulary. Often, terms overlap, with people calling the same practices by different names. This glossary is intended to help clarify some of the terms you will encounter in reading about The Curriculum Project.

Community describes a unit of social organization based on some distinguishing characteristic or affinity: proximity (“the Cambridge community”), belief (“the Jewish community”), ethnicity (“the Latino community”), profession (“the medical community”), or orientation (“the gay community”). The word’s meaning becomes more concrete closer to the ground: “the gay, Jewish, academic community of Cambridge” probably describes a group of people who have a passing chance of being acquainted, whereas many of the more general formulations are ideological assertions. As Raymond Williams put it in Keywords: A Vocabulary of Culture and Society (Oxford University Press, 1976),

relationships or the warmly persuasive word to describe an alternative set of relationships. What is most important, perhaps, is that unlike all other terms of social organization (state, nation, society, etc.) it seems never to be used unfavorably and never to be given any positive opposing or distinguishing term.

In the context of community cultural development, “community” describes a dynamic process or characteristic. There is general recognition that to be more than an ideological assertion, the bonds of community must be consciously, perpetually renewed. In contrast, a network is a much looser form of association.

Community Arts/Artist. This is the common term for community cultural development
in Britain and most other Anglophone countries. A distinction is often made by adding the word “based.” While community-based arts emerge from a local group’s experience and imagination, the conventional idea of community theater, for example, is the amateur remounting of established plays without an effort to express something specific about local people in this time and place. “Community arts” is also in use in the U.S., but in U.S. English, the term is also sometimes used to describe conventional arts activity based in a municipality, such as “the Anytown Arts Council, a community arts agency.” “Community artists” or “community-based artists” are the individuals engaged in this work.

Community Cultural Development describes a range of initiatives undertaken by artists in collaboration with other community members to express identity, concerns, and aspirations through the arts and communications media, while building the capacity for social action and contributing to social change. Sometimes abbreviated CCD. The Curriculum Project uses this term because it seems to encompass all the key elements of the practice: community, culture, and development.

Community Engagement describes the internships, field placements, and university-community projects that are part of many community cultural development education programs. In The Curriculum Project, the term is used to indicate a kind of reciprocal, mutually respective working relationship between students, faculty, and community partners.

Community Organizing describes the process of bringing people together to act on their common interests. In The Curriculum Project, this term is used to describe activities that seek social justice and cultural democracy. The goal of such community organizing is to create social movements, helping to build a base of common concerns and aspirations and to mobilize community members to act in concert.

Culture in its broadest, anthropological sense includes all that is fabricated, endowed, designed, articulated, conceived, or directed by human beings, as opposed to what is given in nature. Culture includes both material elements (buildings, artifacts, etc.) and immaterial ones (ideology, value systems, languages). Culture encompasses the distinctive spiritual, intellectual, emotional, and material traditions and features of a people or society.

Development (with its many subsets such as “economic development,” “community development,” and “cultural development”) describes a process of analyzing the resources and needs of a particular community or social sector, then planning and implementing a program of interlocking initiatives to rectify deficiencies and build on strengths. The community cultural development field stresses participatory, self-directed development strategies, where members of a community define their own aims and determine their own paths to reach them, rather than imposed development, which tends to view communities as problems to be solved by bringing circumstances in line with predetermined norms.

Popular theater/Theater for Development: these two terms have different origins, but over time, they have become more or less interchangeable. “Theater for Development,” originating in Africa, Asia and Latin America, typically refers to the work of troupes touring indigenous communities and using enactments, stories, and music in local languages to convey development-related knowledge, such as how to ensure a clean water supply, increase crop yields, or prevent the spread of HIV. Very often, the underlying aim is to make use of traditions deeply embedded in local culture that can help promote development, while encouraging a critical relationship to the cultural understandings that deter it. “Popular Theater” (sometimes “People’s Theater”) encompasses Theater for Development and other drama-based practices focusing on social justice. One of the most widespread forms is Forum Theater, pioneered by Augusto Boal.

Social justice is a social goal: a society in which justice is achieved in every sphere, including economic, political, and cultural. Those who pursue social justice seek a fair distribution of social goods, such as equal access to opportunity, equal standing before the law, equal voice in determining society’s direction, and equal standing in social and cultural institutions, regardless of cultural heritage, race, gender, disability, education, or class. The term is used in The Curriculum Project to describe the commitments to pluralism, participation, and equity that motivate much community cultural development work.

Scholarship is used in The Curriculum Project to describe those elements of education for community cultural development that focus on the field’s history and animating ideas, as well as the economic and policy environments for community arts work. In this pillar of community cultural development education, students learn about history, cultural policy, the development of art forms and practices, the ideas that drive the work, and the larger social and ethical issues that concern practitioners. This component of CCD education involves reading, writing, and critical reflection about both theoretical and practical aspects of the work.

Teaching artist is a term for artists working in schools and other learning settings. They are not art teachers per se, but working artists who bring their skills and perspectives into classrooms, after-school programs, social service agencies. and sometimes other institutions such as hospitals and prisons. Some teaching artists think of themselves as community artists, applying community cultural development values and methods to their work, but this is not universal.

Training is used in The Curriculum Project to refer to practical learning, such as developing skills in group facilitation, community organizing methodologies, and artistic practice.


Many of these definitions are drawn from New Creative Community: The Art of Cultural Development, by Arlene Goldbard.