Exposing Yourself…

…To the Arts

Thanks to a link from Adaptistration last week, I had more visitors on the first two days of April than I had all of March. In order to retain the interest of all those who visited last week, I figured I had better start using salacious titles for my entries.

Seriously though, I am glad to see so many people interested in some of the things I have to say. I must say I was surprised to see someone from India has been regularly reading the blog since last month. Welcome to you all.

With all the writing and article citing I have been doing regarding the importance of education and exposure in determining willingness/interest in arts attendance and participation, I thought I would do a little research of my own. I decided to speak with my family about how our upbringing has shaped our view of the arts. The process was decidely unscientific, but I present the results in order to generate some thought on the matter.

I have never really had a conversation about the arts with my family. My sisters and mother have seen me perform and discussed those events with me. My mother has often mentioned the many things she used to do to give us fond memories of our childhood and some of those instances involved the arts. I often discuss my siblings’ and mother’s jobs with them, but I think because so much of what I do is behind the scenes, my jobs may be a bit hard for them to understand. The process proved to be an interesting experience and I have to admit to being surprised by some of the things I learned about my family.

Because this is likely to be long, I will give the general results of my survey today and then talk about the implications and surprises that occurred in the course of my discussions tomorrow.

A little background–I am the eldest of 4 children. Because a gentleman never reveals the age of a woman, I will simply say that I am in my mid-30s and my sisters are in their early 30s. My adopted brother is in his late 20s. A year and nine months separate the elder of the two sisters and I and five years separate me from the younger. My mother and sister #1 are both social workers in schools and have master’s degrees. Sister #2 works for one of the biggest ad agencies in NYC and has a bachelors. I didn’t include my brother in this because his educational disabilities and social development have created some obstacles to his arts education and exposure.

I essentially asked some basic questions-Last attended events, gallery, museum; impetus to attend; current participation in arts; importance of attendance in life; impediments to attendance; would background info available in advance online make them more likely to attend.


I spoke to my mother about her exposure to the arts as a child. She didn’t go to any events until she reached adulthood, but my grandfather would constantly watch and listen to opera and musicals. She also babysat for our family doctor and had access to his record library of classical music and opera.

In bringing us up, she felt the arts were an important thing to expose us to. In addition to playing recording of musicals (no wonder I could sing everything from Camelot 20 years later), she took us to see modern dance (my sister shouted “Mommy they are naked” when members of the Eric Hawkins dance troupe appeared on stage in body suits), children’s theatre, circuses, historic sites, Chinese acrobats and museums. We didn’t have a lot of money so my parents would save Christmas and birthday money an aunt sent to underwrite these trips. My mother played guitar at church services and played oldies songs at retirement homes and street fairs so our house was often filled with the music of practice sessions.

Today she takes singing lessons and sings with a choral group. She doesn’t attend too many full scale professional productions because of the distance, time and money involved. The last production of this type she attended was an Andrea Bocelli concert because I gave her tickets as a gift. However, she does attend school productions and will go to summer concerts at the bandshell in the park and various town and ethnic festivals in the area.

She said having information about the thought process that went into the development of a production would definitely enhance the experience and might cause her to attend something more often. She actually cited examples of how much better she understood something when she knew the director and felt she could approach them to talk about aspects of the show.

Sister #1
Has recently seen the Blue Man Group, Stomp!, Riverdance and a number of jazz shows and festivals with a (now) ex-boyfriend. The impetus to attend was mixed. Some times it was personal interest, other times it was because people invited her. Some of the jazz shows she went to because there were opportunities for her foster children to interact. She also attends ethnic festivals and summer concert in the park type events because she can bring her dog. As far as arts participation, she has been active in a belly dancing troupe for a number of years and intermittently performs at festivals and on cruise ships.

It is important to her that she is able to attend arts events. She says she was a little concerned when she moved from the NY City area to Tampa that there wouldn’t be enough opportunities to these types of things. She said she goes to the Florida Holocaust Museum and various art museums even though the experience might not be the most comfortable and she may not understand the pieces she is looking at.

She often watches how other people there interact with the displays and will attend with people who have more knowledge and interest than she does so that she emerges a little more educated. The biggest impediment to her attendance is cost. She often looks for coupons or discounted performances and dates.

She feels that having information available about a performance in advance enhances her experience and provides a reason to attend. She stated reading about how the Florida Holocaust Museum was created and about the process of collecting the items, interviews and photographs made her interested in seeing the place. She said that learning about the process gave her insight into the passion of the curators and stresses the importance of keeping such opportunities alive. I gave her a greater appreciation of the organization and the effort that was invested in creating the exhibition.

Sister #2

The last things she saw were all in NYC- Christmas Carol, Beauty and the Beast, Rent, Chicago and De La Guarda The impetus for seeing each of them was mixed-friends and in laws invited her to Christmas Carol and Rent, her husband got tickets for Beauty and the Beast and the others she attended with clients.

She doesn’t feel it is particularly important that she attend shows. She did express an interest in seeing The Lion King and Aida, though she wasn’t sure why in regard to the latter. (Perhaps the Disney/Elton John/Tim Rice connection of the two shows.) She also said she was uncomfortable with any show that broke the 4th wall like De La Guarda or Tony and Tina’s Wedding. She isn’t personally involved in any arts activities, though she was in the chorus for a few high school musicals.

The biggest impediment to her attendance is cost and time. (While she works in NYC, she lives in Central Jersey near Princeton. She formerly lived in Hoboken, NJ) She feels the only place to see shows is in the city. She doubts anyone who sees a show outside of the city (be it a tour, a production at a professional house or community theatre) has really seen the true show. She doesn’t often have the time or energy to attend after work. Returning to NYC on the weekends seems too much of a chore.

She might look up background information for a production in advance online, but hasn’t attempted to do so at this time.

That is about all the information I have collected in my interviews. Tomorrow I will discuss what I see as possible contributors to each person’s views and practices and the information about my own family that surprised me.

About Joe Patti

I have been writing Butts in the Seats (BitS) on topics of arts and cultural administration since 2004 (yikes!). Given the ever evolving concerns facing the sector, I have yet to exhaust the available subject matter. In addition to BitS, I am a founding contributor to the ArtsHacker (artshacker.com) website where I focus on topics related to boards, law, governance, policy and practice.

I am also an evangelist for the effort to Build Public Will For Arts and Culture being helmed by Arts Midwest and the Metropolitan Group. (http://www.creatingconnection.org/about/)

My most recent role was as Executive Director of the Grand Opera House in Macon, GA.

Among the things I am most proud are having produced an opera in the Hawaiian language and a dance drama about Hawaii's snow goddess Poli'ahu while working as a Theater Manager in Hawaii. Though there are many more highlights than there is space here to list.


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