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Wallace Foundation

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Wallace Foundation: The Hearting Continues

You read all about my love for Wallace Foundation here, and thought – wow! Give me more of that! Well, I listened. As I mentioned before, a major tenant of the Wallace study was the need for arts education. Research shows that education level is the most important characteristic in predicting arts participation. “On average, the more education one has, the more one values the arts, supports government funding for arts institutions, supports school arts programs, and engages in a wide variety of creative activities (DiMaggio and Useem, 1980).” (Wallace study, p. 18)

Looking beyond general education level, arts learning in particular and early education about and exposure to the arts strongly influence the level of adult participation in arts activities. To fully understand and appreciate individual works of art, it is often necessary to have some sort of context in which to view it – factual knowledge about arts creation or the historical evolution of artistic practice. Yes, we should focus on educating young children so they may grow up to be arts patrons and collectors. But what about the generation – my generation – of relatively ignorant would-be arts enthusiasts? Where do we fit in?

The lack of background knowledge is a huge perceptual barrier we face to making an attempt to be involved with art. Educate us, so we can nurture our children’s art education. We are ripe for the picking.

Here comes the big idea. Brace yourself. Let’s develop a hands-on, experiential, arts survey curriculum that could be replicated from city to city. (And by “let’s”, I’m thinking “you”, because I have a bus to drive.) A small group of people would sign up for a year-long class that met twice per month and was led by a local art curator or educator. One session per month would focus on the history and overview of a particular medium, and the other session would involve a field-trip to experience that medium, supplemented by a guided tour, discussion, etc. by a local expert/curator/artist. Throughout the year, participants would learn about and experience all types of art, from modern dance to sculpture. Having this familiarity would lower the perceptual barrier to entry for experiencing other arts events and give participants a taste for a wide variety of cultural experiences – a taste that could develop into a passion.

According to the study, “relevant factual knowledge is essential to understanding and appreciating art forms and specific works of art” (Wallace Study, p. 22), and this knowledge can help people approach art with more confidence and insight, leading to a greater connection to and understanding of the piece. Also, having a group to discuss individual works of art and performances with provides a community and a sounding board for impressions and opinions.

A potential criticism would be that this course would appeal to people already interested in the arts, but I feel that is a solid start. It’s broadening audiences (increasing participation by those who already are inclined to do so) more than diversifying audiences, but hopefully one would lead to the other. Although I know a good bit about photography, I know virtually nothing about opera. I would love to participate in this course, and maybe opera would really appeal to me. Then I would start attending performances and drag along some friends, who may then become intrigued. It’s a slow build. But it’s important.

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I Heart the Wallace Foundation

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.

 

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