Whether Quiet or Rowdy, It’s All About Making Meaning

Arts Talk cover

In two recent references (“In defense of the quieting of the audience” and “Etudes on Innovation: What the Performing Arts Can Learn From Sports Marketing”) to my publications on audiences, I’ve been described as a historian interested in critiquing the passive nature of contemporary audiences. I truly appreciate the interest in my work. Both Dianne Ragsdale and Mark Macnamara make some … [Read more...]

Audiencing: The End of a Road

tower-london-poppies copy

When a performance is over, what remains? . . . The event scorches on to the memory an outline, a taste, a trace, a smell – a picture. It is the play’s central image that remains, its silhouette, and if the elements are highly blended this silhouette will be its meaning, this shape will be the essence of what it has to say. Peter Brook, The Empty Space My sabbatical year is coming to an … [Read more...]

Audiencing: Am I Worth Being Nice To?

lame gallery

In my last post I referenced my recent five-week cross-country road trip, during which I visited a variety of arts venues (from galleries to concert halls to tiny black box theaters). One of the most fascinating stops was Marfa, Texas, home to the Chinati Foundation and the sculptor Donald Judd’s vision to permanently link installations to the landscape (both natural and man-made). All this on a … [Read more...]

The Problem with the L Word

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Learning. Why do arts professionals object to using the L word when it comes to describing the audience experience? That’s one of the questions I take away from a recent five-week cross-country road trip, during which I visited (experienced) various arts organizations and met with a range of arts workers. I’ll explore other questions (thoughts, musings, puzzlements, sparks) from my journey … [Read more...]

Audiencing: The New-York-in-January Laboratory

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Thanks to a sabbatical from my teaching position at Colby College, I am smack in the middle of a two and a half month stretch of research travel. Which is one way of explaining my blogger silence since late December (another is that I’m having too much fun to stop and write). I hope to fill in the gaps here and there as I continue my investigation into the audience experience while traveling … [Read more...]

Taste, Race and Meaning Making


Taste is influenced by privilege. And in America’s serious arts industry, that privilege is shaped by whiteness (or a type of whiteness based on European heritage). This is the final post in a triptych [What If There is no Excellence? and Everybody’s Got One] investigating what I am calling the “excellence equation.” In many ways it is the most difficult post I’ve written since I launched the … [Read more...]

Everybody’s Got One

Dude, opinion quote

The 21st century has delivered us into a world where we define “participation” as an invitation to post an opinion. And it seems that everybody’s got one to share. “People want meaningful opportunities to participate and contribute, to add their piece of information, view or opinion,” argues Charles Leadbeater in We Think. “They want viable ways to share, to think and work laterally with their … [Read more...]

What if there is no “Excellence?”

excellence gold

What if there is only taste, which is only opinion formed through social constructs, which is only cultural learning influenced by a range of environmental factors? Over the past few months I’ve been writing about issues and ideas related to meaning-making and the arts. Exploring how meaning making happens is a complicated process, ruled as much by evolutionary biology and brain science as it … [Read more...]


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...]