Some time ago I commented [Engaged Mission: I], in response to a NY Times article, that social practice art–art with an explicit social service intent, while admirable, is not the only way to approach community engagement. It’s a good and valuable way to engage, but it is not the sole means to do so. When I discuss community engagement I talk about the “issue” being addressed by a project, but an issue need not be a problem or something in need of “fixing.” An issue can also be the need for people to connect or even just have a good time.
I have in the past talked about how much I like the Knight Foundation’s Random Acts of Culture™ program. Earlier this year the NY Times has put me on to another example of serious fun: Watch Out for the Horses on Your Way to the Train. Chicago artist-choreographer Nick Caves created a work for Vanderbilt Hall in Grand Central Station. It was performed by students at the Alvin Ailey School in “costume-like sculptures” of horses (sort of).
The video below gives a sense of the work itself and of the delight of the unsuspecting Grand Central audience. The intent was to achieve something “magical and family friendly.” I think they succeeded.
To me, this is a great example of art taking the public seriously. The desire to connect and delight is clear. (Inspire, Delight, and Surprise) The costumes are gorgeous, the choreography is effective, the young dancers are clearly talented. There is no obvious social concern being addressed here. However, everyone who experienced this piece will remember it for a long time. That certainly bodes well for their future interest in dance. More to the point, though, from my perspective, each (or at least nearly every) audience member came away with a slightly brighter view of their day as the result of a work designed for them and brought to them–good for dance, good for art, good for us all.