As part of Engaging Matters’ 10th Anniversary, we are highlighting important and/or popular posts from the past. In reviewing such posts it became clear that many were grouped thematically. As a result, this Anniversary series will, for the most part, present the theme with links to relevant posts rather than simply re-posting individual items.
Over the last few years I have developed an increasing awareness of the critical importance of broad-based participation in the arts to the future of our industry. Decades of disaster in arts education have left us with a population that has little or no experience in doing the arts. And, as I said in Doin’ It: “People with participatory experience in something are more likely to support those activities even when they are not doing them themselves.” The result is that we have a far smaller percentage of the population that is predisposed to consider the arts as something of interest to them than was true even as late as the 1970’s. Our field has an existential need to expand our reach and “arts participation is about as significant a way to build relationships between people and arts organization as I can imagine.” That relationship building is crucial to forming a base sizable enough to make our arts institutions viable in the decades to come.
Excellent examples of participatory work abound–from old standbys like community theaters, orchestras, and choruses to newer-fangled options like community-curated in-museum and pop-up exhibitions (See Doin’ It: Museums) and the Baltimore Symphony’s Rusty Musicians, Vermont’s Farm to Ballet Project, and one of my all-time favorites: Forklift Dance Works. (See Doin’ It: Performing Arts). Of course, there is also the relatively simple (and tried and true) option of offering lessons in the organization’s art form.
We in the nonprofit arts skew heavily toward “spectator arts.” We are an event presentation/production industry. Yet developing and offering participatory programs is, arguably, as important as the presentation of “spectator” events. (See Doin’ It: Vocabulary)The provision of participatory arts activities, opportunities to do the arts, should be seen as an essential element for safeguarding the future of individual arts organizations and of our industry as a whole.
In order to make that happen, however, there is need for some “attitude adjustment.” Unfortunately, to this point, creating participatory opportunities has been considered by many to be totally unnecessary or at best on afterthought or, rarely, a generator of a modest amount of income. In my experience this work has never had a “place at the table” or been seen as important to the work and mission of the organization. That must change.
Creating and producing hands on arts activities requires a skill set and level of expertise every bit as rich as that required for producing “spectator” events. It behoves our industry to level the playing field between these two areas that should, together, form the core of our organization’s programming. “Arts participation is a patently obvious foundation upon which to build broad support for the arts. There are many ways to encourage participation. We need not all undertake all, but most of us should seriously consider moving forward on one or more.” (From Doin’ It: Performing Arts)
Helen Lessick says
Don’t forget about public art! We in public art use participatory creative strategies including social engagement through quilts made in group sewing workshops, murals made from fired ceramic tile sessions, artists’ cookbook made with participating senior groups. I’m doing all that as the public art consultant for Inglewood, CA. (Inglewoodpublicart (dot) org.
It’s vitally imnportant we engage adults and seniors as well as youth – seniors have the highest voter participation of all age groups. Only organize!
Doug Borwick says