Taking a time out from mainstreaming engagement and questions of diversity (although both really are related to this), I feel a need to revisit (briefly) the “question of quality.” This is something that needs to be done with some regularity by anyone advocating for a community-oriented perspective in the arts. There is, among some, an almost knee-jerk response that quality and community are incompatible. I’m not going to repeat the many, many posts I’ve done on this topic. (Selected examples: Engagement Uber Alles?, Lessons from a Pirate: I, Lessons from a Pirate: II, Quality and Community, Quality and Community-2.)
An issue I have not previously addressed is in some ways the most important one. Granted that we all strive for excellence, what is the purpose of that striving? In other words, are we pursuing excellence for the sake of excellence? (Think about it, that’s a bit of a strange goal.) Do we pursue excellence for the sake of the art itself? Again, that’s an odd and, arguably, dessicated goal. Does the art really care? Do we pursue excellence for our own sake (individually or for an arts organization)? That’s a bit more human, but fairly narrow.
Some of you may have already gotten where I am going with this. I would suggest that the pursuit of excellence should be, ultimately, for the sake of the perceivers (creator/performers, audience, visitors, purchasers, viewers, etc.)–all of them. Why? Because, as human beings, we all deserve it. And it is then only a tiny leap for me to say that, at root, we should pursue excellence because the communities to which we present our art deserve excellence. Working from that frame, we must then be concerned not only about excellence but about our role in connecting with those communities. Here’s a koan-like question: If we do not connect our communities with the excellence we as artists attain, is it indeed excellent? Upon reflection, for some of us, that question may not be nearly as “unanswerable” as it might at first appear.
It’s been a while since I’ve posted an update on my ArtsEngaged travels. Here are my whereabouts for the next few weeks:
American University Emerging Arts Leaders Symposium: Audience Engagement/Community Engagement
Raleigh-Arts Day 2013 (Arts NC): “Building Communities, Not Audiences”
Ft. Lauderdale-Broward County Cultural Division/ArtServe: “Mainstreaming Engagement”
Individual organizational consultations
Detroit-CultureSource Annual Conference
Keynote Speech: Engaging for Success
Workshop: Engaging the Third Rail
May 15th – Los Angeles
“Mainstreaming Engagement” hosted by Emerging Arts Leaders/Los Angeles
“Artists and Community Engagement” hosted by the Creative Catalyst program of the San Diego Foundation