The arena of arts for change work uses many terms. We offer three categories of terms with definitions based on professional sources and informed by the field, acknowledging that others may define such terms differently and that definitions evolve.



In arts- or humanities-based civic dialogue/engagement, the artistic process and/or art /humanities presentation provides a key focus, catalyst, forum or form for public dialogue/engagement on the issue. Opportunities for dialogue/engagement are embedded in or connected to the arts experience. In addition, the arts may provide a direct forum to engage in community planning, organizing, activism, and therefore is a form of arts-based civic engagement. Arts-based civic dialogue/engagement may draw upon any of the arts or humanities disciplines and the spectrum of community-based, experimental, mainstream, or popular approaches to making or presenting art. Individual artists or companies, community-based arts or cultural organizations, or large institutions, may undertake arts-based civic dialogue/engagement utilizing a wide range of artistic practice and dialogic and engagement methods.



Animating Democracy has defined civic dialogue to specifically refer to dialogue about civic issues, policies, or decisions of consequence to people’s lives, communities, and society. Meaningful civic dialogue is intentional and purposeful. Dialogue organizers have a sense of what difference they hope to make through civic dialogue and participants are informed about why the dialogue is taking place and what may result. The focus of civic dialogue is not about the process of dialogue itself. Nor is its intent solely therapeutic or to nurture personal growth. Rather, civic dialogue addresses a matter of civic importance to the dialogue participants.



Civic engagement encompasses the many ways that people may get involved in their communities to consider and address civic issues. These include but are not limited to: joining committees or boards, volunteering, community organizing, participating in community planning or improvement efforts, and attending and participating in civic forums.



Animating Democracy’s understanding of dialogue derives from the Study Circles Resource Center: Two or more parties with differing viewpoints working toward common understanding in an open-ended, face-to-face format. Dialogue is inclusive of multiple and possibly conflicting perspectives rather than promoting a single point of view. According to Daniel Yankelovich, author of The Magic of Dialogue, three qualities of dialogue distinguish it from debate or discussion. These are:


  • Dialogue allows assumptions to be brought out into the open and encourages participants to suspend judgment in order to foster understanding and break down obstacles.
  • Dialogue seeks to create equality among participants. Certain conditions can be created to even the playing field for participants with various levels of information about the issue, experience in public forums, real or perceived positions of power or authority and help build the trust and climate of safety for deep dialogue.
  • Dialogue aims for a greater understanding of others' viewpoints through empathy. In dialogue, multiple perspectives are invited to the table and encouraged to be voiced.