Being Heard Is Not Necessarily Being Acknowledged

There is often mention that if the performing arts want to be relevant, audiences need to see themselves and their stories on stage. More and more frequently I am hearing about projects like the one in Reading, PA Margy Waller wrote about last month.

A number of artists and arts groups worked together to create a transmedia production called “This Is Reading,” that allowed the residents of the city to talk about and depict their experiences in the community.

One of the collaborating groups, The Civilians, went to other cities around the country and videotaped interviews with residents about their best and worst memories as part of a virtual dialogue with the residents of Reading, PA.

The various elements of performance, projection and interactions were staged in a community event involving food trucks and special lighting.

According to Margy Waller, the producers went to great pains to ensure participation by a wide spectrum of the community,

“The producers made sure that residents got tickets, delivering them in person to people they were afraid might not learn of the show through traditional marketing. All of the tickets were free. When the first two weekends of six shows sold out quickly, they extended the show for a third weekend.”

As I read Waller’s post and explored some of the other links and videos about this event, I recalled assertions that the last Presidential election resulted as it did because people didn’t feel like they were being heard. I wondered if events like the one in Reading might provide the sense of being heard, even if the relevant political leaders didn’t attend.

It is theoretically easier to make oneself heard to a wider group of people than ever before thanks to the Internet and social media. I suspect that this method of expression doesn’t provide the confidence that what one has said has been sincerely acknowledged in a way that existed 25-30 years ago when the effective reach of a statement was much more limited.

Even as people are increasingly able to experience creative expression without leaving the comfort of their homes, perhaps the value that local arts and cultural organizations can offer is the sense that people are being heard and what they say has value. The quality of experience when others are present to witness your story depicted in a performance, visual representation, broadcast or projection is entirely different from having your story appear on an online forum for 100,000 anonymous eyes.

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.


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