Why Beauty Matters: Gladstone “Fluney” Hutchinson on Developing Dignity Through Community Building

Image credit: Lluvia de Pesces via StudyTub

The conversation had two parts:

  • Making the case for why beauty is essential to the health of human beings and society, and how it can be a catalyst for justice.
  • Expanding the space for beauty in our contemporary discourse and policymaking, and understanding the role of art and artists in that shift.

For the next few weeks we will be sharing contributions on the topic by some of the participants in the convening, including Steven Tepper, Krista Tippett, and Trajal Harrell. Here, Gladstone “Fluney” Hutchinson recalls his experience watching a community come together through celebration of hard work and the good things that come from it, as well as the challenges of controlling your narrative. 

Gladstone “Fluney” Hutchinson, Associate Professor of Economics at Lafayette College

During my recent sojourn as head of national planning and chief advisor on economics, environment and social policy to the Cabinet and the Parliament in Jamaica (2010-13), an important focus was on coordinating efforts to renew and redevelop poor working class communities where residents lived with vulnerability, volatility and distress. I understood how essential it was for residents to be encouraged and facilitated in shaping and telling their own narrative, and appreciated the challenge that trying to do so would pose because of their existing relationships with politicians and strongmen. Residents were generally afraid to have aspirations that transcended their current state of desperation and deprivations which was anchored in a clientele relationship with politicians and criminal strongmen. This was an incredible injustice and injury on residents.

I juxtapose this with my experience with residents in the rural community of Lagunitas in the Yoro region of Honduras in 2009. There I witnessed beauty and justice come together! My student team and I had been collaborating with Lagunitas residents since the summer of 2007 on a project that would re-imagine and build their community based on combining economic empowerment, agency and development with environmental stewardship. The project was successful, the community’s voice was strengthened, and during the region’s annual summer Festival of the Fish (Lluvia de Pesces), Lagunitas folks, who in recent past had been coming into the city to find day’s work, were now riding on the white horses behind the Mayor as he celebrated all the good things that had happened that year. Residents used their growing community wealth to build a community center for social and civic meetings, to host a nurse monthly to attend to the needs of the children and the elderly; the women of the village managed the financial affairs, sat on the local school board and proudly ensured that the Village of Lagunitas paid taxes and warmly received government workers who now visited their village to address their needs. Residents took great pride in their industry and success being recognized by other communities and the region’s government —a dignity in being visible and praised for being accomplished and worthy! They were no longer “hombres” and “mujeres”; instead they had transcended into becoming Señors and Señoritas. This was beauty as justice!

About Fluney: Gladstone (Fluney) Hutchinson is associate professor of economics, and founder and director of the Economic Empowerment and Global Learning Project at Lafayette College. His professional work focuses on economics as a moral philosophy and its foundational role in social living, especially in the areas of distributive justice and human security, and the freedoms and happiness people enjoy. He has led community development projects in numerous communities, including the Lower Ninth Ward of New Orleans and rural villages in Honduras. The EEGLP has been recognized for its leadership in higher education by the Clinton Foundation, the US Environmental Protection Agency, the Chronicle of Higher Education, and the Association of American Colleges and Universities. Fluney is currently a co-principal investigator of Performing Our Future, a national project on culture and community development. He was awarded the Prime Minister of Jamaica’s Medal of Appreciation for Contributions to Economic Policy and National Development in July 2013 for his work overseeing the country’s rst long-term development plan. He serves on the National Advisory Board of Imagining America, a higher education consortium dedicated to strengthening academic institutions’ commitment to valuing publicly engaged scholarship and the arts, design, and cultural humanities disciplines.

We’ll be posting responses to this discussion triweekly here on the site. Follow us on Twitter at @ArtofChangeIs to share your own ideas.