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visit london

I’m off to London this week to do some full-time audiencing. Those of you who are familiar with Christopher Small’s work know that I am referencing his concept of musicking: an activity in which all those present are involved and for whose nature and quality, success or failure, everyone present bears some responsibility. It is not just a matter of composer, or even performers, actively doing … [Read more...]

Ex Uno Plures (or why we need to forget e pluribus unum when it come to the arts)

e pluribus

From one, many. If I were writing a new constitution for audience engagement strategies, that’s the motto I’d apply to our official seal. When it comes to interpreting a work of art, the notion that our goal is to work toward the one true meaning is psychologically, cognitively and culturally misguided. We should instead be celebrating the wide variety of meanings that surface when audiences … [Read more...]

Monetize This: Tales from Two Convenings

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I’ve been on the road participating in two convenings and learning from a host of smart arts workers (administrator/programmers, philanthropists, scholars and artists). Several topics, plenty of compelling data (soft and hard), some competing agendi. Through it all I was struck, again and again, by how often the topic of interpretation and valuation came up. The words/jargon might be different … [Read more...]

Telling the World What Dance Means, 21st Century Style

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Want an example of how social interpretation (audience-produced meaning making that occurs in/through public settings and mechanisms) operates in the contemporary arts world? Check out the Audience Review portal at The Dance The brainchild of former dancer and producer Christine Jowers, The Dance Enthusiast is a self-described “digital news site and arts service … [Read more...]

Across to the Other Side


"What matters is not what happened but what people think happened."   ~Harold Pinter The human mind is always busy translating symbols (whether man-made or natural) in the external world. The Latin word translatio expresses the process beautifully. It means, “to carry across.” The human mind is also always looking for opportunities to integrate those symbols into a higher-order unity, in … [Read more...]

How We Got Our ‘Making Sense Organ’

rock-art w clouds

In Art and Intimacy, evolutionary anthropologist Ellen Dissanayake’s recent study of the relationship between art making and the “infancy of the human species,” she notes that meaning was first located in “what ‘felt right’—a full stomach, a safe environment, nearness of familiar others, or ways to acquire these.” Over a millennia of human evolution, the mind increasingly became a “making-sense … [Read more...]

What is this thing called meaning?

Blue sky with white clouds

Autumn brings the urge to change up my rhetorical strategy a bit, so for the next month or so I’ll switch from writing self-contained essays on different topics to posting a series of quotes, ideas-for-thought, and short provocations exploring the concept of meaning-making in the arts. As readers of this blog know, my mission is to open up the meaning-making process to and for our … [Read more...]

Arts Democracy Now!

sacre corp

We are accustomed to describing the premiere of Le Sacre du Printemps as a riot. That’s what the history books say and that’s what Wikipedia says so there you have it. But another way of framing Sacre is to call it one of the last examples of more than 2500 years of audience-centered social interpretation in the Western arts tradition. That infamous uproar was not so much an aberration as it … [Read more...]

Pay Attention to the Show! (Or What You Will)

Imagined pit audience

I’m sitting on a blanket on the lawn of the Boston Common, sipping my Pinot Grigio out of a water bottle (like half the audience) and finishing my sandwich (pesto, sun-dried tomatoes and goat cheese=good). On my right a family group with several young children are huddled around a smart phone looking at a video and laughing (the mother too). Just a few minutes ago they were all laughing at Sir … [Read more...]

In Praise of Spoilers (and a plug for Jacob’s Pillow)

Jacob's Pillow

I have been invited to participate in a Pillow Talk discussion at Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival on July 11 (5 p.m. for those heading to The Berkshires this weekend). “Talking About Dance” will be moderated by Scholar-in-Residence Maura Keefe and also includes Christine Jowers from Dance Enthusiast and Nancy Wozny from CultureMap Houston and Dance Magazine. I’m a big fan of the audience … [Read more...]