Push Me, Pull You: Jerry Yoshitomi

Jerry Yoshitomi. Video still courtesy of Americans for the Arts.

This is the sixth entry in Act I of Push Me, Pull You, the Center’s series on (co-)authorship. For a full list of posts in this series, visit the main Push Me, Pull You page.

Research demonstrates that many Americans define cultural engagement through personal creation. According to the “Beyond Attendance: A Multi-Modal Understanding of Arts Participation” study by the National Endowment for the Arts, of the 74% of adults who reported participating in the arts, approximately 40% are singing, dancing, painting, and creating videos and music; however, only 17% of those art makers are attending performances and exhibitions at theaters, concert halls, and museums. In addition, the Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance’s 2010 Cultural Engagement Index, funded by The Pew Charitable Trusts and the William Penn Foundation, showed an increased importance placed upon personal artistic practice. Such findings have cultural organizations reconsidering how they engage with their communities and potential audiences.

Last year, Arts Orange County commissioned “Professional–Amateur Engagement: A Balancing Act in Arts Organizations,” which studied the public’s growing desire for active participation with the arts. The research determined the Pro-Am concept as a possible tool for audience engagement with professional arts organizations. One model of the Pro-Am concept is side-by-side performances that include professionals and amateurs co-authoring art together. The Pew Center for Arts & Heritage supported two such models. Merián Soto invited members of the community to participate in meditative movement with professional dancers in her performances of SoMos, in the hopes of achieving heightened consciousness for all. The Mendelssohn Club, a leader in the field of Pro-Am arts participation, is working with composer Julia Wolfe to create an audience-focused work with a “campfire” atmosphere that will involve the community in co-authorship.

We invited Jerry Yoshitomi, chief knowledge officer of MeaningMatters, LLC to respond to a few questions around this subject matter.

We are now seeing co-authorship between artists and audiences, including Pro-Am (or formal/informal) programs in which artists with diverse skills create art together. Can this be done while maintaining standards or is this even an issue when utilizing this method as a means of connecting with new audiences?

Are those producing work for museums, theaters, and concert halls honoring and respectful of the growing interest in community produced and popular art forms and, if so, how are they co-authoring relationships that reflect this?

  1. The questions seem to be written from the standpoint of the organizations, not from the standpoint of the participants. Even the term “audience” relegates participants to mere spectator status. People have never wanted to be considered mere spectators, whether at an Elizabethan play or at the National Hockey League Stanley Cup Finals (go Kings!).
  2. Artists with diverse skills have been creating art together quite successfully for many, many years. Why would we want to stop that now?
  3. When you raise the issue of standards, I’m reminded of a comment at a past National Endowment for the Arts Challenge Grant Panel. One panelist advocated funding for what s/he termed a “world-class orchestra.” Another panelist questioned, “What world are you talking about? They’re not even reaching the world of people living just blocks from the Concert Hall.” I’d point us to the Australia Council, which is using the term “artistic vibrancy” instead of the dated, still undefined term of “artistic excellence.” Artistic vibrancy is defined within the context of the community/genre in which an artist or artists’ organization operates, not as an abstract, hierarchical construct.
  4. It’s not about arts organizations co-authoring relationships; it’s about providing the opportunity for participants to co-author meaning through the art they create. Arts organizations have always been in the meaning business. Many of us seem to have forgotten that.
  5. A recent Los Angeles Times article on the lack of change and vision in the motion picture industry has relevance for the arts as well. “It is more acceptable to fail in conventional ways than in unconventional ways. And its corollary: The reward for succeeding in unconventional ways is less than the risk of failing in unconventional ways. In short, you can screw up with impunity so long as you screw up like everybody else.”

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