Community Matters: Art and community

Daniel Rossi-Keen
Daniel Rossi-Keen

Over the last few weeks, some very exciting things have been happening in Beaver County at the intersection of community development and art. These have included a county-wide art crawl, a spoken word event, a pop-up art gallery and an art and business conference.

These four events were organized by a Beaver County nonprofit called The Genesis Collective. Collectively named “Art Madness,” this compilation of activities served as the culmination of a year of planning, organizing, networking, fundraising, and much more.

Each of the four events was created to engage a slightly different group of creative stakeholders and art lovers. The art crawl temporarily installed community-created art in more than 20 local businesses throughout Beaver County. The spoken word event drew in creatives from around the region, each of whom offered performances in front of a live audience. The pop-up gallery publicly showcased all the work from the art crawl (and other Beaver County pieces) in one location. In the process, the pop-up gallery attracted over 100 community art advocates and featured a live preview of a play by and about Beaver County residents that will premier in full in August of this year. Finally, the business conference was targeted at local creatives interested in growing their art-related businesses here in Beaver County.

In case you have not heard of them yet, The Genesis Collective is a growing and diverse collaborative of local artists and community advocates who are engaged throughout Beaver County to “support artists and their work, increase the public’s access to art and creativity, and entrench art in and around community development in Beaver County.”

From its earliest stages, the organization was intentionally and relentlessly built with the idea of collective leadership in mind. At present, the core leadership of the collective is comprised of nine Beaver County creatives, all of whom are deeply committed to creating a more beautiful version of Beaver County. In its current iteration, the group contains painters, photographers, podcasters, art historians, screen printers, artisans, and more. The collective is intentionally always expanding, seeking to add additional creativity and insight to its team of advocate artists who labor tirelessly on behalf of Beaver County residents and organizations.

In the last 12 months, members of The Genesis Collective have taught art classes to area youth, created public murals that highlight a brighter future for Beaver County, conceptualized and funded art that showcased the diverse story of Beaver County, generated art that reflects on the challenges facing Beaver County, engaged in relentless storytelling about our region, and so much more. Along the way, the group has quickly emerged as a kind of public conscience and guide, holding a mirror up to our collective experience and helping to lead our region into a more beautiful, honest and constructive future.

As Beaver County continues creating our future version of itself, we will need more and more organizations like The Genesis Collective. For those inclined to pay attention, this group of creative disruptors has modeled what it looks like to privilege equity when building an organization. They have intentionally worked to affirm healthy public narratives and disrupt those that are no longer useful to our collective health.

The Genesis Collective is leading us in moving beyond tired and ineffective ways of communicating our shared needs and goals and is providing tools with which we can more effectively move stakeholders toward collaboration and a unified vision. This group of creatives is empowering community organizations to bring their story to a broader public, helping them to expand their influence and connect to increasingly impactful resources required for community growth. Most important, the work of The Genesis Collective is reminding us that, even in spite of what we have long believed about ourselves and our region, Beaver County and its people are beautiful, dignified, and full of volition.

The Genesis Collective is reminding us that creativity abounds, that creatives are eager to come out of the shadows, and that together we can all benefit from encouraging and elevating the voices of artists living and working all throughout Beaver County.

In many cultures, countless cities, varied contexts, and all kinds of historical settings, artists have regularly been catalysts for community rebirth and vibrancy. In fact, I would argue that in nearly any setting where robust cultural growth has occurred, one will find a group of artists just beneath the surface of more obvious markers of community change. Art has that kind of quality about it. It critiques what exists, envisions something different, inspires others to elevate their humanity, and creates communities fueled by creative vision and productive dissatisfaction with the status quo.

Whatever Beaver County’s future holds — and none of us can predict that in full — the health of that future will undoubtedly hinge on our willingness to encourage, support, and elevate the work of local creatives and artists.

If the work of The Genesis Collective to date is any indication of what is yet to come, then we all have reason to be hopeful and expectant about our shared creative future.

Daniel Rossi-Keen, Ph.D., is the co-owner of eQuip Books, a community bookstore in Aliquippa and the executive director of RiverWise, a nonprofit employing sustainable development practices to create a regional identity around the rivers of Beaver County. You can reach Daniel at

This article originally appeared on Beaver County Times: Community Matters: Art and community