Messengers of the Gods

About Lynne Conner

Lynne Conner has written 3 posts in this blog. #

Lynne Conner is a cultural historian and playwright/director currently serving as Chair of the Theater and Dance Department at Colby College. Her research interests and consulting projects are focused on studying the history and contemporary status of audience behavior and psychology, with a special interest in how audiences engage in the interpretive process. She has given scores of talks on topics in the cultural policy field, including keynote and panels lectures at the Salzburg Global Seminar, Toronto Creative Trust, National Performing Arts Convention, Wallace Foundation, International Society of Performing Arts Presenters, Boston Foundation/Massachusetts Cultural Council, Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance, Southwest Arts Conference, Grantmakers in the Arts, Dance USA, and the American Symphony Orchestra League, among others. Her audience studies publications include a widely cited chapter in Engaging Art: The Next Great Transformation of America’s Cultural Life, co-edited by Steven J. Tepper and Bill Ivey (Routledge, 2008), Project Brief: The Arts Experience Initiative (available at, and We the Audience: The Pleasures of Interpretation in the Live|Digital Era, forthcoming in fall 2013 from Palgrave Macmillan. She has twice before been a guest blogger for #



  1. I really like your thought that conceptions of excellence are sometimes “a willful practice of social separation and segmentation.” As the linguist Noam Chomsky once noted, the principle function of elite schools is socialization in elitism itself. Many of our arts institutions use similar conceptions of excellence as a “smoke screen” to create arts institutions with the character of rarified cultural country clubs for the wealthy.

    I’m an American who has lived in Europe for over 30 years, and so I notice how Europe’s public funding system creates a much more democratic sense around the arts than America’s private funding system. In America, there’s a feel that the wealthy take the good seats, and the rest of the community is let in as by-standers in the back rows. The admittance of the “by-standers” in the poor seats is defined as a “philanthropic gesture.”

    We also see that our funding system creates some good cultural institutions in a few financial centers where the wealthy donors live, while the rest of the country remains culturally impoverished. Germany, for example, has 83 opera houses, while America only has about six real houses for four times the population. We only have 3 cities in the top 100 for opera performances per capita.

    The Metropolitan Opera’s 300 million dollar budget for a 7 month season is about twice what comparable European houses spend for 11 month seasons. We see that wealthy Americans service themselves luxuriously while letting the rest of the country go to hell. And we see how arts administrators, who work for those wealthy board members, barely breathe a word about the serious problems our neo-feudalistic funding system creates. (For much more about this, see my comments in Kelly Tweeddale’s first blog entry.)

  2. Lynne,
    I love both of your posts–and thanks for raising ideas from Plato and Bourdieu. And I take your point (diverging from my point)! I suspect audiences are less engaged, in part, because they have been tethered and muzzled by our conventions. The popularity of So You Think You Can Dance (and the rest), one suspects, has more to do with the voting and picking favorites and arguing with friends over who should or shouldn’t win as the watching of the performances.