The Institute of Cultural Affairs (ICA)

The Institute of Cultural Affairs (ICA) is a global network of research, demonstration and training organisations "concerned with the human factor in world development". It aims to act as a catalyst for people in a variety of contexts and circumstances to take active responsibility for their own personal, community and societal development.

We trace our origins to ICA's predecessor organisations, the Faith & Life Community and the Ecumenical Institute, of the United States in the 1950s & 1960s, however ICA itself has been explicitly secular and international since it was first separately incorporated in the 1973.

The 1950s - exploring community and social responsibility

In 1952 the Faith and Life Community was founded by students and faculty of the University of Texas in Austin, to explore how and where their Christian faith was relevant to the social issues of the day. In 1962 a member of that community became director of the Evanston Institute for Ecumenical Studies, a training centre established eight years previously by the World Council of Churches, in Evanston, Illinois.

He was joined at the Institute by seven families of the original community, where they began to develop and teach programmes of religious and social studies stressing the need for individuals to take responsibility for their own actions.

The 1960s - pioneering participatory local community development

It was the desire to put the theory behind these programmes into practice which led these families to move to Fifth City, an almost derelict and abandoned black neighbourhood on the west side of Chicago. Here they discovered that the greatest block to development was the people's own self-image - their view of themselves as helpless victims of social forces beyond their control.

As the Ecumenical Institute, they worked with residents of this depressed and neglected community to help them to discern their problems and devise practical, locally-based and replicable solutions. As a result, programmes of social and economic development were designed and implemented through voluntary co-operative action, creating a practical operating model of participatory community development.

Soon the community began to believe in itself. The Fifth City Community Project survived the 1968 Chicago race riots that followed the assassination of Martin Luther King, and became a prototype for citizen participation in community renewal around the world.

Programme activity of the Ecumenical Institute had already expanded rapidly such that, in 1967, 14,000 people participated in Institute programmes and courses in North America, and over 2,000 in various countries of Africa, Asia and Latin America. By 1972, over 30 community living units, or Houses, were working with 188 congregations in North America to replicate the Fifth City model in a variety local contexts.

Go on to the 1970's and 1980's.

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