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The Four Dimensions of Person-Centered Arts Practices With Communities: An Introduction

By Dr. Felicia Low

The 4 Dimensions Poster.jpg

An Overview of the 4 Dimensions to Person-centered Arts Practices with Communities

 “ Thank you kindly for giving a damn!”

These were the words written on a card that was given to me by a 30 year old participant at the end of an art program I had carried out in a disciplinary center.

Arts practices with communities is essentially about “giving a damn” with what happens to the individual, the group and the art work created by both the individual and the group. To begin to discuss what “giving a damn” means, and what it can snowball into for society as a whole, I’d have to bring in a framework made up of the social, personal, cognitive and cultural dimensions. This framework is a conceptual one, which invites you, the artist-facilitator, to focus on the attitudes and arts activities we bring to communities in order to understand better the effects and significance of our work. This book aims to be a pedagogical guide that, like a compass, provides artists with some direction when we navigate an artistic experience together with community groups. Like the cardinal points of a compass, I propose that the social, personal, cognitive and cultural dimensions become the cardinal points of reference for our practice as they can uncover new paths of meaning embedded within our work with communities, revealing treasure troves of value and significance which had been hidden before.

If you are browsing this site, it probably means that working with communities as an artist is part of your profession. The work of the arts with communities takes place most often within social institutions that aim to fulfill a particular need in society. There are many different types of needs, ranging from rehabilitative approaches to address issues of social ‘misconduct,’ to the social engagement requirements of those with special needs and the elderly. If you are an artist who is interested in working with communities, it also means that you are interested in social issues or the needs of people in society. This makes you a socially aware and engaged artist, and it is also very likely that you carry a belief that the arts can make a difference to the lives of the people thus ensuring that the arts have an active place in society.


What does it mean to be 'person-centered'?

This site actively promotes a person-centered approach to the arts with communities. The term ‘person-centered care’ was coined by Thomas Kitwood (1997) in expounding the need to recognize the ‘person’ still present in situations of dementia, rather than assume the absence of the individual as a result of dementia. Key to this approach are three areas of discourse:


Firstly, a transcendental recognition of the sacredness of being and life.

Secondly, an ethics that affirms the value of each person who should be treated with respect.

Thirdly, the position of an individual within a social group, with various roles to perform that contribute to self-esteem, integrity and the stability of one’s sense of self (ibid).


Kitwood asserts that positive person work and positive forms of social interaction will be able to counteract negative situations which cause individuals to feel devalued, belittled and powerless. Applying this to our arts practice with communities, what becomes essential to enable positive person work is the ambience, attitudes and environment that we bring to and create through our sessions. Much of it is dependent on our own beliefs that translate into our speech and actions. ‘Person-centeredness’ in facilitation assumes that we are sensitive to the responses of our participants and plan ahead in anticipation of their needs, such that they are constantly engaged to grow in social, personal, cognitive and cultural ways. While these four dimensions have been written in a sequential order, we more often than not move with our participants in less sequential, more random and spiraling ways instead. The dimensions of this framework therefore build up on each other as much as they also weave into one another as both artist-facilitators and participants act and react in individualized spontaneous ways. “Two steps forward, three steps back” is what we sometimes joke about amongst ourselves, highlighting the reality of a process that regresses and progresses over time as we try to keep in step with the group we are working with.

The pedagogical approach and method introduced on this site presents you with several fronts that might be beneficial to your practice. On a practical front, it can inspire a more relevant and sustained program that would stabilize your finances and add professionalism to your work. On a more idealist front, it could lend more meaning to your artistic practice. It could re-affirm your idealist ambition to be an artist with all its attached desires. On a social front, it advocates for making the arts part of everyday life, reaffirming the value of the arts to the meaning of life and society believing that it contributes to personal and social growth

The contents of this site provide you with a framework for analyzing your facilitation approach, to understand the possible effects of your approach on your participants. It encourages you to deepen your approach by engaging with the growth and development of your participants across the social, personal, cognitive and cultural dimensions. You are welcome to browse through each dimension to understand some of these stages of growth and development with your participants.

Further examples of curriculum writing, formative evaluation and written reports are available from the book, Person-centered Arts Practices With Communities :A Pedagogical Guide (


Courses to enhance person-centered arts practices with artist-facilitators are also available here. Do connect with the Facebook page of Community Cultural Development for future sessions.


Kitwood T (1997) Dementia Reconsidered: The Person Comes First. Open University Press, Bristol USA.

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