In twenty-first-century America, should the audience get to say what a work of art means, or why it holds value? Do audiences who have access to the public construction of meaning experience the arts in a richer, more satisfying way? And are they, as a result, more engaged?
This blog is based on the theory that an audience member’s pleasure is deeply tied to the opportunity to interpret the meaning and value of an arts event or arts object. And it is inspired by the changing behavior of twenty-first century audiences—a change spurred on by a new wave of do-it-yourself social energy and the wide array of digitally powered engines that have helped to engender a sense of ownership in cultural practices ranging from science to politics to journalism to creative expression. The live + digital transformation has delivered us into a world where we expect to be able to participate in the meaning making process. And, importantly, a corresponding post-analog ethos is challenging twentieth-century notions of hierarchical mediation, in which experts interpret the art work and offer its meaning to a largely passive public.
Our goal should be to empower audiences to engage in constructive and pleasurable dialogue about the arts and to celebrate those audiences who, by virtue of their vital and engaged presence, can turn any arts space (live or virtual) into a site of public assembly ripe for intellectual and emotional connection.
Our mission should include offering twenty-first-century arts goers a bill of rights assuring that every member of the audience has by definition not only the right to interpret but also the right to be heard as a viable interpreter. In order to create a more perfect union of arts workers and arts audiences for the twenty-first century, we need to acknowledge that when it comes to making meaning and ascribing value, our audiences want to have a voice, and they want that voice to matter. All of us—arts workers and audiences alike—want the opportunity to formulate and exchange opinions about the arts events we see, hear, and feel.
To that end, “We the Audience” is committed to facilitating a dialogue about how arts workers can work with audiences to engineer, support and celebrate meaningful talk around the arts—before, after, and, yes, sometimes during.
Rather than seeing “us” as producers and “them” as consumers, I posit that arts workers join their patrons to gather and share opinions and, importantly, to learn from each other through the exchange of information and ideas; in short, to form a new kind of audience-centered learning community engaged in a collective effort to decode the layers of information that constitute the value of great art.
For if Great Art is great because it yields itself up to a variety of interpretations over time and across cultures, it follows that a Great Audience has the capacity to meaningfully interpret that work for its own place and time.