TEDx Mich Ave: the Future of the Arts

Foursquare must have thought I was on a different time zone. And my friends there must not have been awake yet to ask: wherefore and how are you at the Symphony Center at 9am?

The how is easy: alarm clock and a bike.
As for the why, there's a simple answer and a long answer. 
The simple answer is: TEDx. 
The long answer is as follows.

TED means Technology, Education, and Design. It's a regular conference bringing together the smartest people in those disciplines. 'x' just means 'independently organized.'

TEDxMichiganAvenue (#TEDxMiAv) was focused on "The Future of the Arts" and so brought together musicians, playwrights, arts admins, dancers, visual artists, and general out-of-the-box types.
By the end, there were many accounts of "foie gras brain": stuffed to the brim but greatly enriched.
I let my notes sit idle for a couple days to see what salient details stood out in my mind. They are:
  • Participatory culture. It's almost as if somewhere in the world there was a giant black obelisk sighting and the reverberations are finally reaching everybody. David Dombrosky spoke to this eloquently and to-the-point in a largely non-participatory presentation. (I relish in irony.) Our world has become 2.0 - even our government - and if Arts Orgs don't make the transition, enabling a 2-way communication between prophet-artists and the masses, then audiences will find new ways to get engaged.
  • Localization. Scott Walters exhorted arts communities to tell their own stories, sing their own songs.  When we visit a place, we want to taste the local cuisine not eat a mass-produced chain. We need to publicly fund small startups, not the greedy geezers of the art world (Goodman, Steppenwolf). They are 60-year-olds still living in their parents' basement. "Serve everybody, not just middle-class urbanites."
  • Public Funding. Ian David Moss (Createquity) listed two reasons for publicly funding the arts. 1) "to give us cool art that the market wouldn't otherwise want" 2) to give access to the arts to people who wouldn't otherwise have it. These seem like great reasons but are not the ones that people usually think of. By "people", I mean politicians, constituents, and even the arts orgs already receiving funding.
  • Chicago-based 5th House Ensemble took to task the traditional arts organizations that endeavor to "reproduce perfect experiences" but rely too heavily on our own conception of what the audience should experience. It hearkens back to the severe lack of dialogue between artists, organizations, and audience. Which, in turn, spoke to a point made by...
  • Gwydion Suilebhan who decried the one-way relationship between artists and audiences - from artist to audience - and the similar relationship between institutions and artists - from institution to artist. In the age of the internet, Life 2.0, we all want choice and gratuitous personalization - like that Arcade Fire interactive experience that made a music video with Street View images of your neighborhood.
  • Also, according to Suilebhan, the institutions in this 2.0 world are not at the top of the hierarchy. They will (and should) function like platforms to connect consumers and products/services. This also goes for government.
  • Seth Boustead, of the local new music advocacy group ACM spoke about finding audiences for music through creating community-based storefront music schools throughout the city and world.
  • Local man Adam Thurman, aka Mission Paradox, is also the marketing director for the Court Theatre. He spoke about using the Power of marketing in Softer ways, bending people toward your world view through attraction, not the force of Hard Power. Also, this is good foreign policy and goes back to my age-old theory of Nudge, which started as a theory of morality and then has grown to include any belief.
  • Sustainability. Julie Ritchey of Filament Theatre spoke about making environmental sustainability a goal for the Arts, who will, in turn, help lead business down the path to environmental viability. The Arts are merely a part of society's needs, which are simply a part of the Environment and its needs. We forget, all too often, that we are parts of something greater, thinking instead that we are a whole unto ourselves.
Many of the presentations spoke to the need to engage the audience. The Arts can do things that films and recorded music cannot: be interactive. In a world of increasing interaction, the Arts - indeed, all business - needs to innovate new ways to be interactive, engaging and involving the audience in the process and the product.

Filed under: TEDx

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