Although up until this point it remains long-distance and one-sided, I have a love affair with the Wallace Foundation. If you are reading this, you already know that I am all about building audiences for art. I think about it, I dream about it, I talk about it, I write about it. (I am so very interesting.) How many times have I said, “it’s all about creating innovative programs that engage people with the art”? Don’t answer that. It’s embarrassing. So it should come as no surprise to you that I read about arts engagement as well. After all of this thinking and writing and talking, I had a rather delayed epiphany: maybe someone else is thinking about this too! And then like a knight in shining armor, I discovered the Wallace Foundation. Their research and case studies are phenomenal, and as it turns out, the statistics and empirical research backs up what I’ve been saying all along.
This study, Cultivating Demand for the Arts: Arts Learning, Arts Engagement, and State Arts Policy makes great bedtime reading, but if you aren’t a giant dork like I am, perhaps you would like just a few highlights. The points that I have been discussing were very well made:
• audiences for the arts are growing older • an aesthetic experience – one that actively involves the spectator’s senses, emotions and intellect – is crucial to engaging someone with art • perceptual barriers – inexperience with and ignorance about the arts, social norms that stigmatize the arts, etc. – inhibit interest in and create resistance to participation
Arts education, of course, was addressed at length, and I have some comments and critiques of that section that I will save for a later post (the suspense!). But what I really found interesting was a discussion about an imbalance between the supply and demand sides of art. The study makes the case that a lot of attention and funding goes to the supply side of an arts equation – to educating artists and facilitating the creation and exhibition of works of art – but not to increasing the number and quality of aesthetic experiences. Demand is not keeping up with supply, and if not corrected, will create a huge imbalance where there is an abundance of art but no audience for it. Or as they so eloquently conclude, “arts policymakers have focused so successfully on stimulating production that they may be contributing to an imbalance between supply and demand that hobbles the entire sector”.
And so we come to the crux of the Crusade. My passion lies in creating unique, approachable programs that bring people to the art table and allow them to engage with art in a meaningful way. It’s not enough to have a party with art on the walls. People need to have a reason to look at the art, to explore their feelings about it, to make a connection.