Will Perform For Snacks

On the Marginal Revolution blog, Tyler Cowen has a short post about a psychology professor who requires his students take turns bringing a homemade snack in to each class. If they don’t bring in a snack, he doesn’t teach. I was initially pretty cynical about this approach as a valid teaching technique and was surprised to learn he had actually been doing it for over 30 years before it became an issue.

While I was still a little cynical after reading about his rationale for the requirement, I could understand how it fits into a psychology class that runs 3 hours at a stretch.

Parrott said that he’s teaching students to work together to set a schedule, to work in teams to get something done, and to check up on one another, since everyone depends on whoever has the duty of bringing snacks on a given week. Typically, no individual should be involved in preparing the snack more than twice a semester, he said.

Parrott said that considerable research shows that students learn more if they develop the skills to work in teams, to assume responsibility for projects, and get to know their fellow students. Team members need to count on one another, he said, and his students learned Thursday that if someone fails at a task for the team, there are consequences. “They need to learn to check on one another and clearly they didn’t get that done,” he said. “This was an important lesson.”

It struck me that this might be a good approach for building/engaging community around an arts organization (with the punitive elements de-emphasized, of course.) An arts organization might have a performance/gallery series where attendees were required to bring food as payment. Some times it might be the orange ticket holders, other times the blue ticket holders, so that an attendee isn’t bringing food for the whole audience every time they attend.

Allowing for a snack period like this will change the dynamics of the relationship with the audience. It isn’t going to pay the light bill, but it can get people involved and invested enough in the organization in other programs that do earn revenue and donations. I suspect the staff will do a much more effective job of convincing people their organization is worthy of support while chatting over chocolate chip cookies than pitching them during a curtain speech.

I can envision scenarios where groups bond over their shared responsibility to provide snacks to try to outdo the other groups. If that turns into its own type of headache and introduces stress to an event intended to be informal, that impulse could be channeled to support a more formal series of events to increase the investment in its success.

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.


2 thoughts on “Will Perform For Snacks”

  1. This is sort of a tangent, but your post reminds me that majoring in theatre taught me more about collaboration in the workplace than anything else in my 4 years as an undergrad.

    I work in marketing now and basically what I do all day is get together with teams and solve problems creatively. Few things I did in college did more to prepare me for this job than my time making theatre. Theatre students don’t always appreciate that the skill they hone — the ability to come together as a team and produce something new and innovative — is one of the most sought-after skills in America.


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