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Doug Jackson Shares Recent Work: Year of the Artist and Other Projects

Doug Jackson portrait
Doug Jackson is a capacity development specialist with the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) and the City of Roanoke’s arts and culture coordinator. Photo credit: Doug Jackson.
By Brad Stephens, Graduate Research Assistant with the Institute for Policy and Governance, and PhD student in Planning, Governance, and Globalization

The Community Change Collaborative has had speakers working across a wide variety of contexts through the years. It’s always interesting to see how people are fostering change at different scales and utilizing a plethora of tools to do so. Recently, we had Doug Jackson join us from just up the road in Roanoke, Virginia, to share how he is engaging in creating change. Doug, by virtue of having two distinct positions which are both focused on community change, is currently working across multiple contexts every day and always seeking the appropriate tool for each engagement. During his visit to the Virginia Tech campus on November 14, 2022, Doug Jackson participated in a podcast interview, a roundtable discussion, and gave a public talk.

It was fascinating to hear how his work in a local context as Arts and Culture Coordinator for the City of Roanoke lines up with and/or deviates from the work he does in a statewide context as a Capacity Development Specialist for the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD). Working in each of these spaces presents unique challenges. While his role in Roanoke is focused on exploring the possibilities presented by the arts in a local context, he is still calling upon other community development tools, such as meeting facilitation and community training sessions, that he more often uses in his work with DHCD. Likewise, you can see how the arts are informing his statewide work with DHCD as well.

This ability to read a situation and pick the appropriate tool can be connected back to Doug’s focus on process. His understanding of the importance of proper process came across clearly in our podcast conversation. Community work is too often focused strictly upon outcomes, and the process gets overlooked. At the end of the day, we want to combat poverty, overcome racial injustice, and improve health outcomes. But, Doug spoke about how focusing on the process is absolutely vital for producing positive outcomes. Indeed, he noted how utilizing the appropriate processes will in itself help build community and capacity. This often leads to better outcomes beyond the goals of the specific project for which the processes were implemented. He made it clear that, while there are always other goals that drive engagement, establishing the appropriate processes in a community can and should be a goal in and of itself.

These lessons continued to echo through Doug’s roundtable discussion about working in community development. One of the DHCD projects he mentioned was the Rally Project in Southwest Virginia. It was focused on helping communities convene and develop capacity for larger projects by providing $3,000 seed grants. If these initial small projects were successful, there were opportunities for larger grants moving forward. But, he noted that some communities struggled to spend all of the funding available. Once capacity had been developed, the creativity about how to accomplish projects increased, and resources were much more easily supplemented and could stretch significantly further. Again, the very act of coming together as a community with some basic process guidance became a powerful end in and of itself.

Doug’s public talk focused on his work with the Year of the Artist program in Roanoke. It was interesting to hear in this presentation how he was not only empowering artists to be change agents, but also actively providing training and opportunities for professional development. He spoke of an understanding that artists can spark change and help us reimagine our communities. However, Doug also noted that many artists do not necessarily intuitively know how to engage in communities. With that in mind, a little training about how to work in and with communities has allowed the arts to be much more involved and impactful across the community. It was fascinating to think about how the arts can be so powerful, but they must be allowed space and provided opportunities to engage.

With the Community Change Collaborative, we know how powerful good facilitation and the arts can be in the quest for change. But it was great to hear Doug’s perspective and learn about how he is incorporating some of the theories we discuss on campus into his practice. It was an opportunity to reflect on how facilitation can empower communities and allow resources to be magnified. Meanwhile, there is much to learn from how he’s changing the relationship between the arts and community development in Roanoke and hopefully unlocking its transformative capacity in that place. It was also just really compelling to hear how he is always processing and reflecting on his own work and looking for ways to be better. There seems to be a foundation of humility and open inquiry upon which all of his work is grounded. At one point, Doug noted there is nothing worse than being in any room and thinking you know more than everyone else there or that you have all the answers. This mindset continues to resonate and feels like an ethos we can all learn from.