Why Arts and Culture?

Not so much in response to, but in the interest of furthering McLennan’s posts at Diacritical I want to share some thoughts on WHY ARTS & CULTURE?

People who’ve followed me here for awhile will know my thoughts on building community vs. audience (i’m in favor of it) and also will be familiar with my thoughts on repositioning arts and culture in society, restoring it to a central position, a locus for debate on civil society. Frequent readers will also be familiar with my thoughts on arts, culture and corporations and the need to reassess that frequently fraught and occasionally antagonistic relationship.

I think it is helpful to look at the arts – particularly the lively, contemporary arts – as a means of delivering experiences. The specific disciplines are less important than the overriding idea that these are experiential arts, that they can only exist, truly, with a live audience, and that is what makes them unique. As much as we can use the tools of Web 2.0, etc., to disseminate the objects and artifacts and documentation of the live event, it is still the live event that is the primary objective.

WIth that in mind… let’s offer a working definition of culture as:

culture n. The totality of socially transmitted behavior patterns, arts, beliefs, institutions, and all other products of human work and thought.

Art, in that sense, is a very focused subset of culture-writ-large. As such, Arts & Culture offers a unique platform to provide  meaningful, memorable, enriching experiences. In a time of media saturation and mass produced entertainment, strategically developed arts and culture can create personalized, physical, real-world engagements with a set of ideas and values. In a world where people are always-on and always-connected,  arts and culture provide opportunities to meet offline and share meaningful LIVE experiences and encounters.

In this new era of civic responsibility and community involvement, people are thinking globally and acting locally. Cultural institutions are seen by their communities to be providing enrichment, education and quality of life. Arts and culture allows us to create experiential engagement with the following characteristics:

  • Quality – providing quality experiences that speak to people’s emotional, intellectual and personal lives.
  • Community – bringing people together with a shared experience to foster conversation and connection.
  • Authenticity – Quality arts and culture is undeniably authentic, in that it is a deeply personal experience, shared with others. The cultural environment engenders trust and good will and is less likely to appear manipulative in the eyes of media-savvy audiences.
  • Impact – Quality arts and culture provides entertainment – but more importantly it provides substance, food for thought, opportunities for education and occasionally even transformative experiences. The impact on the audience – and on the community – can be significant. Also, ideas frequently “trickle up” – and issues explored in the arts, over time, have enormous impact on the culture at large.

In business-speak: working within the existing arts infrastructure it is possible to create high-impact, high-touch experiences on a scalable budget with significant ROI. Projects can tour for years, generating press and publicity regionally, nationally and internationally and continue to have impact long after the event itself is over. Arts and culture can deliver powerful transformative experiences at a much lower cost than “mass media entertainment”. 

So – when we talk about using social networking tools to building community – or audiences – the question is lwhat are we building that community around? what are the ideas/thoughts/feelings/values that serve as an organizing principle for the community? how do we look at concentric circles of community and identify what makes the core more passionate and committed than the outliers?

There’s too much focus on the techne and not enough on the psyche that goes into this analysis of “social networking”. If we use a capitalist model – what creates social capital? how do we generate social capital and encourage an exchange of “social goods and services” that promotes community engagement and commitment?….”art” is pretty abstract, so is “cool” – though if we look at language as a mode of knowing, there is “coolness” associated with knowing specific forms of language, a way of talking about things that signifies you are “inside” and “in the know.”… so is there social capital in being “in the know”? But what about?

People tend not to get passionate about abstraction… so what are the tangibles? I guess that’s my big question – what specifically are you building community around, who populates the inner circle and who are the outliers and what motivates social mobility, i.e. the desire to move from outlier to inner circle?

There is a lot  of time and energy spent analyzing how, much less time on the why or the actual what. If we start thinking about our work as the experience creation and delivery business, we can start to identify new models of funding and outreach that speak to that in innovative ways.

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