Do We Need Hysterical Strength To Bring About Required Change?

It appears Indiana University’s Center for Cultural Affairs was having some sort of virtual convening around the topic of New. Not Normal: Artists, the Creative Sector, and Innovation after the Pandemic. I only became aware of it because I was starting to see the videos recorded by some of the featured speakers appear in my Twitter feed today.

I watched the videos by economist Tyler Cowen and self-described philanthropy wonk Lucy Bernholz, both of whom had some thoughts about what the post-Covid future held for the arts. However, the person who envisioned the greatest necessity for transformational change was artist/activity Marc Bamuthi Joseph.

His suggestion was that instead of paying artists to create new works, they should be contracted to lead organizational leadership and stakeholders through a process of envisioning the role the organization should play in the community. In his words, rethinking theater as a site for creative wellness. This is based on the assumption that performing arts organizations can no longer exist with the goal of filling every seat. Even absent restrictions by governments, people will be reticent to return.

As an aside, something that has occurred to me that one has mentioned. If there is any group that turns out to attend performances in sufficient numbers to make an event financially viable, assuming they don’t become severely ill, their influence on what happens in arts and cultural may be cemented for decades to come. Depending on who constitutes that group of attendees, it could either be productive or detrimental in the long term.

Joseph says the smart performing arts entities will be those that embrace

“…social practice artistry, public health, fiscal health, brand expansion, digital production, embodied creative commons…how could currently empty theatres and music halls be utilized in service of social health, used as food service platforms, or testing sites or polling places or spill over waiting rooms for hospitals.”

Near the end of his video, citing the superhuman feats people are capable of when faced with a situation of alarming urgency, he suggests that the pandemic provides both the motivation and “hysterical strength” to rescue the collective arts and culture community from the threat being faced. Though he likens the strength of courage to that of survival so he may not be suggesting we are experiencing a type of disaster that gives rise to instinctive terror.


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. (

I am currently the 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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