Unholy Envy

WAAAAYYY Back in the beginning of this blog I posted about co-opting some tools used by religions to promote the arts. I am even more convinced now because many churches certainly are borrowing from the performing arts.

On Sundays we rent the theatre to a church that is far more like entertainment than what I attended in my youth. They typically have three services unless we have matinee. They have a sound system they bring in that is three times the size of the house system and tend to make us concerned for the children in the audience when they crank it up.

Once a month, they hold a special service that is so technically involved, two of my people have to act as stage manager and light board operator. Occasionally dancers join the usual group of musicians on stage.

Yesterday I had to cover front of house for the services because none of the other employees at the theatre could. The first two services of the day are mostly families, but the third service in the evening is exclusively teens and twenty-somethings. One thing I noticed that jibes with observations at performing arts events is that the younger people like to socialize a lot more than their elders.

After the first two services, everyone was gone in a half hour and that includes breaking down the coffee set up, the nursery rooms and tables allocated to literature that wouldn’t be used during the evening service. After the evening service there were about 150-200 people spread throughout the theatre, lobby and courtyard an hour and a half after the service finished.

Because the stage and sound equipment has to be broken down, there was no reason for me to chase anyone out. None of these people were the ones breaking things down though. There were about 30-40 other people doing that. And when the breakdown crew finished, they corralled everyone who was hanging around about of the building of their own accord.

I have spent the day trying to figure out how to tap into that energy. All these young people hanging out chatting for that long without any source of refreshment but a water fountain. Hardly any of them were talking about religious topics. And they had 30-40 people of the same age voluntarily and efficiently stowing equipment.

While the motivating factors that got the young people there in the first place differ from those that will attract them to arts events, the desired result is one that has eluded the arts world. These young people gathered because of reason they were enthusiastic about and they stayed to chat about myriad other things with people who shared their interest.

It can be pointed out, truly enough, that these people are only continuing to express enthusiasm engendered in them as children by their parents. Parents, schools, society no longer places value on the arts as they once did.

Also, while there is a certain immortality available in the arts, how can it compete with the promise of everlasting life, eh?

At the same time, many who were brought up without steady religious encouragement become converts or born again if they have strayed.

Makes me wonder if the arts folks aren’t evangelizing enough. Sure, we can’t offer divine forgiveness and eternal life to those down on their luck folks who look to such things to renew their spirits. But renewal of spirit can be found in sublime beauty, too. Instruction in the interpretation and comprehension of art is no harder to master than are the same skills in relation to holy texts.

Perhaps it is lack of will or understanding of that the tools we ply so easily in our craft are well suited for evangelism of art. Is it more difficult to invite people to a First Friday artwalk than it is to a Bible study? Does the rituals of preparing to perform require so much less discipline than readying oneself for a Sabbath meal? Do Chick tracts make a more convincing argument than a pamphlet most artists could put together?

I have mentioned in the past, as have other writers and bloggers, that the atmosphere and language at an arts event is not welcoming to the novice attendee. If there is anything to be borrowed from some of these churches it is the welcoming attitude and the language of compassion and acceptance.

Obviously, I am not trying to supplant religion in any way. After all, some of the best art is religious in nature. The type of connection people feel for their religion can’t be directly translated to the arts. It can’t be denied though that there is a visceral appeal to both, however different it may be.

Ads and press releases can only do so much to draw people in. After that it is often the direct connection you make to with another person simply and effectively sharing your enthusiasm that causes people to be favorable inclined toward a cause.

Speak well of the arts to someone everyday and share your tips on what is effective with another arts person.

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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