Can We Do Lunch?

I frequently reference the positive interactions and contributions that have resulted from one of the visual arts teachers eating his lunch backstage. He says he eats here because his students can’t find him to bug him while he is eating. While he does often eat peacefully in our building, he gets himself involved in providing advice or direct assistance on some project or another on a pretty regular basis during his meal. It leads me to suspect he is exaggerating his desire to flee his students.

I get a warm feeling when I hear him chatting with people backstage, even if it is about something entirely unrelated to performing/visual arts like remembrances of past vacation trips. I know there are relationships being strengthened in those conversations and that will manifest to our mutual benefit somewhere down the road.

I got to thinking about how this dynamic which evolved through no effort of our own could be intentionally be replicated elsewhere.

One thing that occurred to me was that K12 schools might set up a program where students could have lunch with artists once or twice a week. They could just hang out together without any expectation of some sort of “artistic experience” occurring and talk about sports or the weather. Maybe the artist would give some sort of advice on a project a student was working on, maybe they would just complain about the cafeteria food.

Of course, this is predicated half on the assumption there is still a music/drama/art studio in the school to hang out in and half on the assumption the arts programs in the school are either non-existent or on the wane. Obviously, this could be a great complement to school arts programs which are already vibrant. But really, one of the benefits I saw to this idea was that if the school can’t support anything else arts related, maybe they could scrape some dollars together to pay for the artist’s gas and lunch over the course of a year.

My other thought was that this could provide the most regular, unintimidating interaction with the arts a student might get. They get to hang out with a knowledgeable artist who isn’t grading or placing expectations on them on a consistent basis. There is an opportunity to actively engage with an artist in a manner that assembly performances and lecture demos by visiting artists don’t provide.

The benefit to the artist is that they gain some insight in to what younger people in the community (and perhaps the community at large) is thinking and experiencing about the arts informally over a longer period of time rather than in the short span of a Q&A or reception which impose constraints and expectations on the interaction.

Unlike a one off outreach concert/lec-dem, there is no pressure on the artist to provide an experience replete with meaning to make the kids love the arts because it might be the only experience they get at all this year.

Students having a rich and varied experience with the arts is the ideal, but maybe this simple interactions over lunch across a student’s educational career is what is needed to normalize the idea that one would go to or be involved in performance, museum, gallery opening when one got older and had the time and resources to do so.

I talk about this idea in relation to K12 schools, but obviously there is nothing to keep an arts organization anywhere from having weekly lunches anyone could attend without any preconceived expectations about the experience. Obviously it would be ideal if it could happen in an arts center so people get used to the idea of just wandering in and so you can jump up and grab something to demonstrate with if someone asks a question.

But if an arts center is physically in a bad location or people just won’t consider it as part of their lunch plans, having a weekly gathering at the local coffee shop/diner to talk about whatever can be just as effective. (Not to mention, the coffee shop owner will love your arts organization all the more.)

Thoughts about this? Ways it can be improved? This entry was about 85% stream of consciousness so I am likely to have overlooked some problems or additional opportunities.

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 ( 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. (

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 “Can We Do Lunch?”

  1. This is brilliant! I wish I’d read this a year ago, when I was setting up a pilot program putting symphony musicians in the local schools. The musicians paired their music skills with their hobbies to enrich the classroom (e.g. musical sounds in nature, presented by a cellist/naturalist, in elementary science classes). This would have fit in perfectly! A simple interaction to broaden their horizons, and extremely cost-effective. Thank you for blogging this great idea!


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