As outlined in Chapter 1 (Madsen & Chesham, 2015), community resilience can be characterised by a number of factors, including: a sense of connectedness across generations and social groups; celebrating together; developing a sense of optimism and hope; developing a sense of identity and belonging to place; and acknowledging vulnerability. Based on these, it is evident the Afloat schools-based arts project supported and contributed to community resilience during the recovery phase of this particular natural disaster. The three themes that emerged from this evaluation - using art to make meaning as an individual, making art within the context of a school after a disaster, and using art to make meaning as a school community - pick up various aspects of these characteristics of community resilience. We explore these connections in more detail here.
In providing insights into community arts programs that emerged from a collaborative inquiry regarding community arts and community development in the USA, Abby Scher (2007) highlights nine benefits, including: creating safe spaces to increase trust and be open to change; creating something new to offer multiple entry points for conversation and change; learning to slow down and reflect on our own stories; creating beauty that communicates meaning and visions of what we are working toward; creating a place to honour the past and anchor the future in the past and present; creating a healing culture; providing an avenue to stimulate community transformation; providing an avenue of spiritual practice to deal with harsh realities; and being a disarming process for change. These insights explain how arts-based projects can open up spaces for healing both for individuals and communities; art can allow individuals to confront the realities of the past and present in a safe manner, so they can learn to own their own stories and to constructively create their future. Monica Madyaningrum and Christopher Sonn (2011) found similar outcomes in an evaluation of community arts projects in Victoria, Australia; that participation in arts-based programs gave voice to those who felt silenced in their communities, and provided space to create social connections and challenge stereotypes.
All of the themes examined in the Creative Regions school-based evaluation outlined in this chapter support these ideas. The digital storytelling project provided a space for the children to make sense of the flood events for themselves as well as being able to integrate their own stories into the broader story of the school community. In this way they increased their sense of connectedness to their community as well as allowing them to develop a sense of themselves and their place in their communities. While the Afloat project needs to be evaluated within the context of a number of recovery activities implemented in the months after the natural disaster, the responses of the participants interviewed for this evaluation identified the contribution the Afloat project made in helping individuals and the school communities to make meaning of the events, to acknowledge their vulnerabilities, and to find a way forward that reinforced positive aspects of belonging to these communities. In this way, the Afloat project contributed to building community resilience within these school communities. Indeed, Thomas Puleo (2014) argues arts-based projects can provide an access to resilience after natural disasters, particularly those that focus on place and placemaking. For children in particular, arts making, particularly the visual arts, provides an avenue for expressing feelings, perceptions, thoughts and memories in ways they cannot with words (Malchiodi, 2005). Thus, the children who took part in the Afloat project experienced healing as they were able to express the emotions related to the natural disaster events and they started to see their own place within their experiences and those of others. This process of increasing connectedness and developing a shared story is fundamental to community resilience.