Are We Doing Enough? Part 1

Tough Questions We Get Asked About Engagement Practices and Programming in the Arts

Ted Russell
Jan 19, 2016 · 12 min read
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Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History: July 2015 FREE First Friday | Photo: Celia Fong
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1. Are some communities more important to engage than others?


Michael Garcés, Cornerstone Theater Company

Cornerstone is, at our core, an ensemble of artists with a shared commitment to the community-engaged practice of theatre. We make our central decisions, including which communities to collaborate with, based on our curiosity — aesthetic and civic. It’s an idiosyncratic, consensus-based process and comes out of the passions of the people who make up our ensemble.

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2. Will these new “engaged audiences” detract from the experience of our current audience members?


Nina Simon, Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History

No. Or if they do, that should lead to some frank conversations about who gets to exclude whom from the art experience you offer.

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Alison Levinson, Pacific Symphony

Anecdotally, we have found that a more diverse audience in and of itself is not a negative thing in the eyes of many of our current patrons, so long as the core product — the classical music canon and experience they know and love — doesn’t change.

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3. What makes us think audiences want to engage?


Josephine Ramirez, The James Irvine Foundation

Contrary to what traditional attendance figures reflect, people are actually deeply interested in the arts.

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4. Should artists be responsible for creating art for the purpose of engaging communities?


Deborah Cullinan, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts

One could argue that all art that is created for public consumption is art that is made for the purpose of engaging people, engaging communities. To me, engagement has to be thought of more broadly than what often comes to mind — participatory activities, public programs, workshops. Rather, engagement is the myriad of ways that a work of art of any kind can spark people and communities along a spectrum from inspiration, to dialogue, to creativity, to collective action.

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An artist creates in the open throughout the YBCA: Work in Progress exhibit | Photo: Jordan Fugate
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5. As we think about engagement, do we start with a more diverse audience, staff, board, artists, or art works?


Kelly McKinley & Lori Fogarty, Oakland Museum of California


Deborah Cullinan, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts

To realize our potential, we must expand our definitions of arts participation and set our sights higher than counting the number of people who walk through our doors. Our “diversity and inclusion” efforts must move beyond representation and toward massive change. Perhaps, the question is not whether we should focus on diversifying audience, staff, board, artists or art works. The question is, simply, how willing are we to change from the inside out?

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Cornerstone Theater Company: dtLA Arts District Opening Night Ritual | Photo: Cornerstone Theater Company

What tough questions are you struggling to answer in your own engagement work?

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This is the first in a series of stories on Medium exploring how arts organizations are adapting to reflect the changing demographics of California, engage with their communities, and become more resilient organizations.

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Ted Russell

Written by

Senior Program Officer for the Arts at the James Irvine Foundation since December 2005.

NEW FACES | NEW SPACES

Inspiring stories and practical advice about embedding art in our communities and community in our organizations.

Ted Russell

Written by

Senior Program Officer for the Arts at the James Irvine Foundation since December 2005.

NEW FACES | NEW SPACES

Inspiring stories and practical advice about embedding art in our communities and community in our organizations.

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