Congratulations EDA!


Breaking news. The Minnesota Shubert Project and the Walker Art Center have good reason to pop the bubbly and stage a well-deserved celebration. Here’s why, but you’re going to have to bear with me through an explanatory setup.

For several years the national dance scene, of which the superb Twin Cities dance community is a part, has been exploring a new concept, currently named “Engaging Dance Audiences.” The idea is at once simple and provocative.

going through the movements is the blog of john munger, one of seven bloggers covering the minnesota fringe festival for the daily planet.

The simple part is to perceive that proscenium-theater presentation is no longer necessarily the primary or even the only way to deliver dance to audiences. In other words, the old model is that you buy a ticket, you sit passively in a seat, and you watch virtuosic strangers performing, all with production values as lavish as budget allows. Hey, that’s what Long Lake, Wayzata and Edina like. The newly evolving model is that audiences want to be participating partners in an event of wider impact and inventiveness.

Which brings us to the more complex and provocative part. It’s not so easy to articulate this part because dance companies, dance presenters, dance educators and others across the country are experimenting with how “engaging audiences” might be defined and what might be good practices.

Let me offer two very succinct examples of how this might work in practice.

Several dance companies around the country have changed their “audience talkback” format to make it more participatory. The old model was that after the final curtain some or all of the artists come out and sit onstage in front of the audience to answer questions and respond to observations. Please note that this is a constructive back-and-forth with the artists holding the trump cards but also being on the spot. The new method is to have the talkback(s) in a separate space(s), such as rooms, with a facilitator, perhaps with one or more artists present, and the audience talks with each other. The point is that different people see the work in different ways, and all views deserve to be heard. The artists already made their statement, onstage. Now let’s talk with each other.

A second example occurred at Northrop a year or so ago when an Argentine Tango company graced the stage. Northrop did an “EDA” event by having three couples from a Twin Cities Tango organization doing demonstrations in the lobby. Then after the show a live milonga combo played in the lobby and free tango lessons occurred. Collaborative. Participatory. More than just the stage performance.

A year ago the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation approached Dance/USA, the national service organization for professional dance, and proposed that Dance/USA, in collaboration with Wolf-Brown (a consulting and research firm deeply involved with audience issues for the arts) build a re-granting program to fund creative and useful new ways of “Engaging Dance Audiences.” And to require that effective practices be researched and shared. As the project evolved the Irvine Foundation of California joined up as another funding partner.

The result was a panel process, a ton of proposals from dance organizations across the country, and finally a set of awards. Nine substantial awards were announced yesterday. They include over $100,000 to each recipient in order to do a serious EDA program with clout, plus generous additional funds to cover administrative costs and other related overhead.

Full disclosure here. I work for Dance/USA as their full-time Director of Research, and I had a small hand (among so many others) in the creation of this re-granting project. Let me assure my readers that I had no part whatsoever in reviewing applications, the panel process itself, nor anything regarding the budget of the project. There is no conflict of interest. Like many members of Dance/USA I did encourage people across the nation to apply for this project.

The Minnesota Shubert Project and the Walker Art Center are two of the nine recipients. BRAVO!!

The full official press release is here :

Readers of this blog under the age of 40, I URGE you to follow this project further. Click on the link and learn more. The majority of the projects involve emerging-leader web-based technological elements. This is not just some dusty old-style re-grant program that is only for the big guys and you maybe don’t think it applies to you. This is about the new ideas, the new and younger thinkers, the future. This is about the dance field learning from each other. This is useful stuff to follow.

Only one other city in the United States has two recipients: New York City. California has two recipients (one in Stanford and one in San Francisco) and it should be noted that the Irvine Foundation’s contribution was targeted to California applicants. Two from NYC, two from Twin Cities, two from CA, and the remaining three are On The Boards from Seattle, the American Dance Festival in North Carolina, and the red-hot Trey McIntyre Dance Company in Idaho.

I rejoice to have one more reason to claim, as I often have, that the Twin Cities dance community is widely regarded as one of the five or six most significant in the nation. Now if we can only convince the local audiences, the local mega-media, the local corporate community and the local decision-makers we might steal some respeck from Rodney Dangerfield.