AJ Logo an ARTSJOURNAL weblog | ArtsJournal Home | AJ Blog Central

« Factoring in the audience | Main | FInal thoughts »

June 20, 2007

A paradigm shift?

by Steven J. Tepper

I have enjoyed enormously the depth of the conversation that has taken place on these pages over the last week. Engaging Art will clearly cause some ripples, as it should. It is hard to have the words "The Next Great Transformation" in the title of the book without being ready for people to tell us why things haven't changed as much as we think, or to tell us that the real changes are not what we think they are.

But, I think we can all agree that the conversation is changing... and that is an important first step. We are, at least, debating what it means to engage audiences, rather than talking about "building participation" -- which has been the paradigm that has driven policy for the last 20 years. This change -- which focuses on unleashing the creative capacity of citizens -- will put the arts community squarely in line with the types of "public interest" arguments advanced in other sectors. In this country, we don't talk about the health of hospitals without first talking about the health of patients; we care about hospitals only because they help create healthy citizens. And so it should be with the arts, the cultural health and vitality of citizens should come first. This doesn't mean that excellence, artistic innovation, and other goals should be devalued or put aside. It simply means that, for many organizations (although not for all), these goals must serve and advance citizen vitality. Perhaps the next step in the conversation is to come to some consensus about what vitality means, what would be indicators of success and how organizations -- both individually and collectively -- can help advance this notion?

Posted by stepper at June 20, 2007 3:04 PM


Aren't the concepts "building participation" and "engaging" audiences ultimately the same thing. How can you build participation if you don't engage? And how to you engage if people aren't participating? Obviously, hospitals are about the health of patients. Healthy hospitals create healthy patients. So where are we supposedly going here?

I don't find very much new in this blog. The value of orchestras and operas were already being seriously questiond (and seen as outdated) by the 1930s and even earlier. During the 60s composers looked for entirely new paradigms for composer/performer/public relationships. Boulez even stated rather seriously that an elegant solution would be to blow up all of the opera houses. Concepts such as "Happenings" and Pauline Oliveros' "Deep Listening" are just of couple examples the innovations that were created. During the 80s postmodern theory again redefined creator/audience relations. The hierarchies between classical and popular music were questioned, and academic music was thrown into a bad light (finally.) We ended up with "Downtown Lite" and a lot of suburban neo-romantic composers "engaging audiences."

Spin your wheels. In the end, the solutions will always come back to education and funding. As we see in the rest of the entire industrial world, both are best solved by governments, and usually on a municipal and regional level. Of course, the last people to acknowledge this will be those who have built specialized careers dealing with foundations, trust funds, corporations, and the rich. Genuine progress toward public funding would weaken their position and status in society by making them less relevant. Conferences such as the one in Nashville are thus often studies in denial about America's extremist and isolated form of funding. They can't admit the problems are systemic.

William Osborne

Posted by: William Osborne at June 20, 2007 4:39 PM

Post a comment

Remember Me?

(you may use HTML tags for style)

Tell A Friend

Email this entry to:

Your email address:

Message (optional):