The Community Based Arts Project at Cornell University, Ithaca, New York was a collaboration of the University's Center for Theatre Arts, Roadside Theater, and local schools and organizations. It built on the 1988-1990 work of playwright-in-residence John O'Neal, the 1989 "An American Festival: A Celebration of Heritage, Community and the Arts," and the 1990 Community-Based Arts pilot program.
The Project was based on the premise that community-based theater draws upon the lives and histories of people and place, fashions their stories into theater, and returns them to the community for its enjoyment and response. This ongoing creation, enactment, and evaluation is a circular process that allows audiences to see that art is open for their participation at whatever point they choose.
People of all walks of life in the community surrounding Cornell chose to participate in a variety of Project activities through inter-related artistic, academic, and community programs. For example, Roadside Theater, Cornell staff and students, local senior citizens, teachers, and young people explored and told their own stories through a course, "Theatre Arts 440: Issues in Community Based Arts," which included community projects.
During Spring 1992, over 250 people from ages nine to ninety-six heard and told stories at eight sites in Ithaca, Trumansburg, and Newfield. A highlight of the semester was the Community Story Swap when participants and their families and friends came together at Cornell's Center for Theatre Arts. The popular course was offered again in Spring 1993, as well as workshops on topics such as the use of storytelling in the classroom and storytelling through music.
October 9-11, 1992, the Project convened a national symposium, "Grassroots Theater in Historical and Contemporary Perspectives." A book about the symposium, "From the Ground Up," edited by Roadside Director Dudley Cocke, Harry Newman, and Janet Salmons-Rue, was published by Cornell University in 1993
In the spring of 1993, Roadside theater performed its "Pine Mountain Trilogy," three plays spanning 150 years of Appalachian history. Cornell faculty and students studied the Trilogy's design and technical aspects, and worked on the presentation of the three plays as a practicum for Theatre Arts 441: Design for Non-Traditional Spaces.