Why Here? Why Now?

You may have seen that the St. Louis Symphony experienced a pop-up protest urging a change of attitude in light of the killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO.

I have looked at reporting on this event on Huffington Post, NPR and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

None of them answered the biggest question that came to mind–Why did they choose to do this at a St. Louis Symphony concert? Are there people from Ferguson who attend the concert that they hoped to influence?

The Washington Post article quotes one of the organizers as saying they wanted to “speak to a segment of the population that has the luxury of being comfortable,..”

But I wondered if that was their only aim or if they are hoping for something more. It seems like a lot of effort to jar people out of the comfort zone.

My assumption, which may be incorrect, was that it was perceived that people of influence in general attend symphony concerts and the planners of this intermission event hoped to mobilize the attendees to act either directly or indirectly. Is this at least a partial acknowledgment that a symphony still wields some relevance?

Perhaps their aim was simply to reinforce their parting message that black lives matter.

I doubt the answers to any of these questions are clearcut because there are complicated issues of racial and social demographics and power dynamics entwined with Ferguson, the symphony attendees and the flash mob.

As to whether they were successful or not is a matter of gauging whether more people were applauding than were visibly displeased.

Two weeks ago I wrote about my participation in an NEA webinar that stressed the value of the arts in healing communities. As I watched the video of this flash mob today, I wondered if the St. Louis Symphony had been recruited to serve as a convener for a conversation without their knowledge.

Is this an opportunity for the St. Louis Symphony or some other arts organization to facilitate a conversation about the issues facing the greater community?

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.


9 thoughts on “Why Here? Why Now?”

  1. I was there; my husband is the Timpanist. We agreed the main reasons SLSO’s performance was chosen were 1. It was broadcast live on radio and 2. Powell Hall was an excellent setting to ensure acoustics, rapt attention, and good video footage and photos for the desired media field day

    • Thanks Tim. I totally missed that first sentence about putting on sports jackets and dresses and I read it at least three times. As you say, there are a lot of assumptions and stereotypes tangled together in this situation.


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