Field Report

Into the Art

Houston arts institutions launch programs to foster audience engagement.

By Abby Koenig August 15, 2013

Tinderbox, a craft collective (3622 Main Street, Suite B)

We live in an era of engagement, where writers live-tweet the books they’re writing and actors share backstage photos on Instagram. Artists increasingly want their audiences to be involved in the artistic process, which is changing the way art is consumed. In fact, audience engagement is fast becoming a requisite for artistic success.

“What arts administrators have been hearing from people in the field is that audience involvement is now a requirement,” says Sue Schroeder, the artistic director of the CORE Performance Company.

Accessibility is one of the driving factors behind CORE's Fieldwork Showcase. The program gives choreographers a chance to workshop new pieces in front of a live audience. The audience then gives immediate feedback on the work. 

Houston arts service organization Fresh Arts recently stumbled upon a program that grew out of Minneapolis’s Springboard for the Arts called Community Supported Art (CSA). CSA borrows the food co-op model by organizing a group of artists to create original work and then soliciting patrons to buy shares of the product. For a reasonable price, art collectors can walk away with multiple pieces. Fresh Arts Executive Director Jenni Rebecca Stephenson explains that CSA is a way to financially support local artists while building relationships between artists and patrons.

“For the patron,” says Stephenson, “it’s about relationship building. One of the ideas behind CSA is to foster a connection between artist and collector.”

Connecting artists and patrons has also been one of the keys to success for Ren Mitchell, who owns the newly formed “craft collective” The Tinderbox, which is located in the “Mid-Main” section of Main Street. The Tinderbox is a craft center and retail outlet where artists sell their handmade goods. “One of the best moments we have had was this woman who had bought a few pieces from one of our artists,” Mitchell says. “During First Thursday [a monthly block party and fundraiser] she came in and the artist was there, and I connected them together.”

Sculptor Patrick Renner recently invited the community to watch and assist as he erected an 180-foot-long multi-colored tunnel on the Montrose esplanade adjacent to Art League Houston. Main Street Theater launched their “Part of the Art” series this year, which invites audience members to attend read-throughs, “stumble-throughs,” and opening night Q&As.

The days of hiding alone in your studio may be over. Invite the audience backstage; let them see how you mix the perfect acrylic blue; or video blog as you write your latest song. Building and engaging the community might just be the key to getting people off the couch and into playing an active part in the art world.

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