CoLab has long championed the idea that the arts have an integral role to play in community revitalization and social change. Artistic inquiry can help to illuminate the complex, human dimensions of communities that are rarely captured through social science or planning methodology. Many arts-based projects inspire community dialogue and storytelling that help magnify and inform community voice, connect community members in their struggles, and pave the way towards a more just and sustainable future. In these ways and others, the arts can serve as a powerful tool for helping us to more intimately know cities and the communities within them, and to better understand the realities of identity and place by making the invisible, visible. Likewise CoLab recognizes that while art has tremendous potential to impact place, artists may lack the technical planning skills and tools to systematically transform urban communities and the lives of residents.
Through its Empathetic Aesthetics Pilot Program, launched between 2014-2016, CoLab sought to facilitate connection between the sensibilities and methods of engagement utilized by artists, and the technical skills and practices deployed by planners in hopes of identifying ways in which the two groups could support and complement one another’s important work. Collaborating closely with DUSP students and faculty, as well as other local and national partners, the program’s primary focus has been on the social-justice oriented community-based art initiatives of renowned artists and 2014 Mel King Community Fellows, Rick Lowe and Mel Chin.