Community Conversation: Response to “Why Museums Suck”

LA Youth recently put out an article written by 15-year-old Henry Hwang titled, “Why museums suck.” Hwang visited six museums to get a handle on that “whole art thing” and see if maybe he overlooked the value of museums. Now aside from Hwang’s criticism of “old people,” he does bring up some good points about the whole “experience” of an arts organization – the “experience” being what calls us in and brings us back.

While going through his article and the responses to him, I started to create a list of questions about what we’re doing as arts organizations, what we can do better, and how we can balance what our base wants with attracting new audiences from time to time. Let’s start a conversation.

Hwang’s perception of museums is already uninviting and alienating. He writes,

When you go to museums, you don’t get to laugh, unless it’s at the stupid paintings and how much they cost. The artist will put some blotches of paint on a canvas, give it some stupid name, and the painting will end up costing around $1 million. I don’t get it.

So, museums are not a place he can see himself laughing and having a good time. It’s a fairly common conception for people whose  only interactions with museums are on classroom field trips being repeatedly told to stay quiet, don’t touch, and keep in line. There’s not a great way to correct this. It is important to respect the space, but if your only interaction with a museum or arts organization is being told, in essence, “Stop having a good time with your friends,” it’s difficult to unlearn the dread of attending.

What’s the initial perception of other types of organizations that we have to overcome?

And what about the art, you know the reason to be there? Hwang continues,

I saw this one Picasso painting that looked like Sharpie marks and White-Out on cardboard-like paper called “Heart of a Young Girl.” It was so lame. This tour guide came out and she started making fun of it, but then she actually explained how Picasso started a new type of art. He started painting an image from all different perspectives at once, like he’d paint the mouth from below, the eyes from the side, and mix it all up. I really liked that tour guide, plus, she was hot. I tried to take notes, but I was too busy looking at her. Heh. After she explained the painting, I understood it a little more, but I still thought it was wack.

So, let’s ignore the comments about the attractiveness of the guide and instead focus on the core. Someone engaged him in a discussion about the piece and he wasn’t as bored by it. So that’s something. But maybe Picasso is just not for him.

How are we engaging patrons in conversations about what they are seeing, and how can we do that better? 

He later talks about the Skirball Cultural Center where he had a much different, one would say, positive experience.

When I came in, I was like dude, there are a lot of old people. But these old people weren’t bumping into each other, they were standing at every corner for like three minutes. That’s how good the exhibits were. The topic of the museum was Jewish history, and they had pictures and various multimedia that were very pleasing to the eyes. This museum was very advanced and every teen should go to see its touching exhibits. Some parts of the museum were really moving like the Holocaust part. I almost cried. (SHHHHHH!!!!!)

Here he’s combating that learned reaction to a museum as a place where you stand quietly and not touch. He was actually compelled by the exhibits partly because of an emotional response and partly because he was able to actively engage the work through touch – something that most museums and arts organizations cannot do.

The response to Hwang has been mixed. Some trying to be proactive, listing out the various things that museums do for teenagers now. It’s also brought the amazing work of Nina Simon into focus whose Museum 2.0 is taking an innovative look at how to engage audiences.

Other responses have been more condemning of his attitude, like these tweets.

Agreed. But can we try to do something a little different sometimes as opposed to discounting these comments altogether? I’m not suggesting we reshift every mission to be the champion of the surly teenager, but rather than discount them altogether, how about we actually say what we can be improved upon?

Again, agreed. But disgruntled teenagers who don’t like art and don’t feel welcome in a museum now aren’t magically turning into adults who love art in the future. A process is involved. Can we find some places to bend?

I feel like this idea comes out a lot in the artistic community whenever you bring up the idea that someone doesn’t “get it.” Not everyone is going to “get it” all the time. That’s a fact. We are all different and varied. Hwang visited six museums to try to convince himself that they were worth going to, and he didn’t win that game. Only one out of the six museums gave him something that he actually connected with everything else had an air around it that was distancing either because of the work itself or even just the atmosphere. So, again I say maybe there is something to his criticism and we shouldn’t discount it out of hand.

I also take issue with the phrase “dumbing it down.” It’s not asking to be dumbed down. It’s asking for a way in. 

Here’s a well-articulated response that I wish I could take credit for, but can’t. It comes from 2amTheatre called “An Audience Development Parable.” Andie Arthur writes,

Not everyone is going to be the right audience or even a good audience for what you do, just like I was not a good audience for someone who was looking to catch an undecided voter for Romney. It would just end with both of us frustrated. Likewise, I’m not a good audience member for a lot of different shows. The show I loved most this year, which was one of my favorite South Florida theatre experiences, was the one that also had the most walkouts at intermission. I was the right audience for that show, and sadly the theatre’s subscriber base was not.

As theatre practitioners, we need to be smarter about audience development and we need to learn when to let go. How many folks have complained that people don’t get your work are stupid or culturally ignorant or something else? I get the need to vent, but spending too much time complaining about people who don’t like your art is similar to the Romney supporter complaining that I wouldn’t take a pamphlet. He was never going to reach me anyway.

Hallelujah. But but but, that doesn’t mean that you can’t reach out every now and then and do something differently. One of Arthur’s favorite pieces was amazing to him but not with the subscriber base of a particular theatre. Does that mean that that theatre should never go outside the box again? I hope not.

Later in the piece Arthur muses, “so why do we get mad at folks in their 20s for not going to shows geared for people in their 70s?” Should we then instead say that while most of our offerings are geared toward an older base, we can still have shows, works, pieces in our repertoire that might appeal to someone outside of that group? And perhaps programs outside of, “Here’s a free ticket to a show you probably won’t have any interest in?”

I agree with the sentiment of Arthur – all art is not for everyone. It’s subjective and shifting. Everyone likes different things and that’s fine, great in fact, because it means we’re not boring. We’re unpredictable. But I don’t think that means we should stop trying to reach new audiences.

Like everything in life, there’s a balance. I think having areas/moments in all of our work where we can include engagement outside of the usual “stand here and stare at it pointedly until it resonates with you” is an important idea to champion. But maybe that’s just me.

So, I’ll put this to you, oh smart internet Seattle arts people: How can art institutions as a whole including theatres, museums, galleries, dance companies, etc., engage new audiences and compel them to return or even stay without compromising their mission? Is there room in every organization to have at least one out-of-the-norm experience that is trying to appeal to a different group than the usual base of support? Or, is it better to always cater to your base? 

Thoughts? Outrage? Puppies? Leave a comment. Let’s brainstorm ideas.

Theatre Suites – A Night for Watching Plays on Hotel Beds

Sounds saucy, right? An evening devoted to watching plays in hotel rooms? It is pretty sexy and fun and silly and just about everything you never knew you wanted from a theatre experience. And it’s happening this Monday at 5:30 pm.

For the uninitiated, Theatre Suites mashes three playwrights together with three theatre companies and takes over the Maxwell Hotel for a one night only showing of the plays developed specifically for this project.

What am I going to see? 

This year, we’ve got Samantha CooperElizabeth Heffron, and Rosenstock Productions writing plays for theater simpleIntiman Theatre Festival, and… Rosenstock Productions (they do a lot, guys).

The works are Shirtless Wonder (theater simple and Cooper), Brides of Butoh/ Appalachia (Intiman and Heffron), and 27 Roses (Rosenstock). Titillating, yes? A little daring? Perhaps some raunch? We’ll see!

How does it work? 

Show up at 5:30 pm to reserve your spot on one of our tours. The first tour starts at 6:00 pm. After that we’ll have one tour of people leaving the lobby every hour. Reservations for tours are on a first come, first served basis. So show up early to reserve your spot.

Tours will happen at 6:00 pm, 7:00 pm, and 8:00 pm with partying in the lobby until 10:00 pm!

Don’t miss your chance for this one night only performance of new work by local artists!

What if my tour is later? Or, in other words, what’s going on in the lobby?

We’ve got The Careless Lovers giving you some brassy swing tunes. Bring your swing shoes, stretch before you strut in your zoot suite, and come dance with them.

Additionally, you’ll dine on free food from The Rock and free wine from… some place. (IT’S FREE WINE.) So you’ll be entertained and well taken care of! Trust us, it’s worth the wait!

More incentive? Check out these photos of the hotel. We’re going to watch theatre in these rooms! How awesome is that? 

Degenerate Art Ensemble: Creating a new scene behind the scenes at Seattle Center

Arriving at Seattle Center at 9:30 pm October 5, the high school football game at Memorial Stadium was about to be over and the audience was assembled near the International Fountain for Degenerate Art Ensemble’s recent production Underbelly.  We were led into possibly the largest gate I have ever seen into a large storage area amid cheers from the crowd in the stadium.

The large group of audience members was herded into the space through a cube of neon light that helped to give the feeling that we were transporting, a psychedelic airport x ray or border to some other world like the wardrobe in Narnia.  Artist-ushers with white masks led us into the first performance space, under a sign near the ceiling (presumably aimed at the driver of a large truck) that read “Warning: Pedestrian Congestion”.

The Kickstarter-funded free-to-the-public event was put on by Degenerate Art Ensemble in collaboration with Olson Kundig Architects and featured innovative multimedia presentations including large light installations, video projections, music, dance, intricate costumes and sculpture.  A musical performance of strings and singing began the show, and we traveled between various installations that combined light and sculpture in amazing ways and utilized the dark, utilitarian space.

Led to various areas of the warehouse we watched an animated video with motifs of a journey through the forest, axe-wielding men cutting down trees and matryoshka doll figures.  After the film we watched one of the most mesmerizing performances I have ever seen, a butoh-influenced one-woman act beginning in a cold and dark-looking pool and ending with the dancer, Haruko Nishimura radiating from within another neon space.  A film and sculpture with the theme of police force proceeded the finale, another solo dance by Nishimura  (which we dubbed the bird pants dance when breathlessly talking about the evening over a beer), backed by men singing “tell me much” over and over.  Stars were overhead past fifty-foot high concrete walls.  I was confused and amazed.  I heart Degenerate Art Ensemble.

Jordan is part of Crush Crew 2012.


Afro-Brazilian dance class kicked my butt!

If you’ve never taken an Afro-Brazilian dance class, you should definitely try it – but be prepared for burning glutes and quads! Crush Crew was invited to try one of Dora Oliveira’s renowned classes at Spectrum Dance Theater last weekend. A whole range of us showed up, from no dance experience to Zumba to some people doing expert-looking balletic warm-ups. (I was somewhere in the middle, having taken jazz and modern . . . back in college.)

The moment Dora turned on the stereo, I knew we were in for a full-blast workout. Yes, there’s ample booty-shaking to the booming Carnivale beats, but Afro-Brazilian dance also has a lot of isolations, where you’re expanding and contracting and shifting your rib cage, then your hips, then your rib cage, etc. We also did a lot of steps really close to the ground, even dropping to the floor on one move in the style of capoeira, the Brazilian martial art. So you have to be very grounded and willing to ask a lot of your leg and butt muscles.

Luckily, Dora gave us a couple chances to breathe while she gave us some background on the hottest dances in Brazil right now and the background of samba among African slaves. If you want to break a sweat and hear some awesome music, her classes are every Sunday at 1:30!

At the end of our class, Spectrum’s company of professional dancers came in for rehearsal and told us a bit about their new show, “The Theater of Needless Talents.” It runs Oct. 25-28 – get your tickets!

Kjersti is part of Crush Crew 2012.

Bus Mural Project

Chiara Burt is part of the Crush Crew 2012 and is one of the organizers for our plan to take over some bus stops around Seattle. 

So, I’ve been lucky enough to have the honor of being an artist for the Bus Mural Project. Now the big questions are, what to paint, and WHERE? If any of you have bus stop suggestions, let me know in the comments.

My two main ideas for the mural are:

Birds of Seattle – a row of paintings based on bird photos I’ve taken. Could include the caption “Birds make where we live more awesome. Keep it awesome for them too”

Wildlife of Seattle – again, based on photos. It would feature birds as well as frogs, fish, rabbits, and maybe even a seal. Would have a quote similar to the one above, or maybe something different like “Some people aren’t so lucky to have these creatures where they live. Respect our frogs and other wildlife.”

Semi-Fantasy – The style would be somewhat based on the work of Gregory Euclide, as well as landscape photos and maybe some wildlife photos too. It would include the caption “It’s an adventure-romance-sci-fi-fantasy-action-contemporary story and YOU are in it!”

What do you think?


First Art Crush Prizes at Kick-Off Fair this Sunday

So, if some of the amazing talent and plethora of raffle packages already were not enough for you to come down to the Kick-Off Fair this Sunday from 11am to 2 pm, we have one more announcement to sweeten the deal.

As you’ve probably noticed we’re talking a lot about our first art crushes. We’re a sucker for a good story, and everyone seems to have one. These stories are those first moments that make you hungry, dare we say, insatiable for more art in your life. We’ve been collecting these stories on our YouTube channel and helpfully embedded the whole playlist at the top of this blog.

At the Kick-Off Fair we will have a First Art Crush booth with a webcamera so you can share your stories without worrying about finding the time in your hectic life.

That’s not all. If you are one of the FIRST FOUR to share your story with us at the Kick-Off Fair (into the camera) you will get one of these fantastic prizes lovingly donated by some of our participating organizations.

Plus, by submitting your video you will automatically be entered for a drawing to get free Teatro Zinzanni tickets! This is a can’t lose scenario!

Be the FIRST FOUR to record your video this Sunday!

Free Stuff at the Kick-Off Fair

Hear ye, hear ye. Not only does the Kick-Off Fair give you a priority code for the Free Night Lottery, but we have A LOT of donations that we’ve helpfully turned into raffle packets for you, you eager person coming to the Kick-Off Fair this Sunday at Seattle Center from 11am to 2pm.

Here are the packages we’ll be raffling away.

“Creation and Inspiration”

  • Allied Arts of Whatcom County gift certificates for the Allied Arts Art Supply Thrift Store: AARTS
  • Seattle Art Museum two tickets to Elles: Women Artists from the Center Pompidou, Paris opening Oct 11
  • Bellevue College provides two tickets for their whole season (including the shows 8, Little Shop of Horrors, The Last Days of Judas Iscariot)
  • Hoot Hoots CD “Silly Lecture Series”

“Theatre Theater”

  • West of Lenin provides two tickets for anything in October
  • Pinoy Words Expressed Kultura Arts provides 8 tickets (a full table) to their production (and Arts Crush Featured Event) of Florodora Reimagined. It includes dinner at the theater.
  • Ghost Light Theatricals offers two tickets to any of their season offerings (including Scapin, Hamlet, Hairy Ape, or Paper Bullets)

“Literature Buff”

  • Book-It provides a t-shirt from the Art of Racing in the Rain and two tickets to Owen Meaney’s Christmas Pageant
  • The Furnace Reading Series chapbook
  • Seattle Arts and Lecture Series provides two tickets to any event they host
  • Goddard College provides a book of essays on the arts called Thematic Engagement

“Assortment of Goodies”

  • Against the Grain/Men in Dance provides to tickets to their opening night on October 12th
  • Ballet Bellevue provides tickets for 6 to Oct 5 Night at the Opera, featuring a preview of Handel’s Messiah.
  • UMO provides tickets to Maldoror at West of Lenin (September 23rd evening performance)
  • The Hoot Hoots CD Appetite for Distraction

“Gotta Get Away”

“History Nerd”

  • UW World Series gives two tickets to Cedar Lake Ballet (Nov. 18th)
  • Arts West provides four tickets to Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson and four tickets to their late night show
  • Events on the Edge and Argosy Cruise provides two tickets for their popular cruise “A Taste of Seattle History”

Whoa. That’s a lot of free stuff.

How do you enter though? By playing Arts Crush Bingo. Yup. It’s super simple.

You will be given an Arts Crush Bingo card when you enter Fisher Pavilion. Visit tables in Fisher Pavilion and find out about an organization. The Arts Crush Bingo card has squares on it that say things like, “Has a female artistic director,” “Likes to sing,” etc. You just need to find an organization that fits that criteria.

Once you get four in a row in any direction, turn your Bingo card in at the TPS table and wait for the raffle. Multiple entries encouraged!

We’ll be holding raffles around 12, 1, and 1:30. You must be present to win.

Fiddlers on Roofs!

It’s on now, guys. So you already know about our First Art Crush YouTube campaign. But Arts Crush is also partnering with Village Theatre and Seattle Chamber Music Society for their upcoming production of Fiddler on the Roof by starting another YouTube campaign called Fiddlers on Roofs!

Here’s the first video:


The task: give a musical-shout-out from a rooftop! Don’t do anything too crazy. One minute videos of the impromptu outdoor mini concerts will be collected, edited and strung together to comprise one dynamic video homage to Fiddlers on Roofs (online video release 10/10). Fiddlers of all ages and abilities are encouraged to submit a short video of themselves, playing any piece from the musical Fiddler on the Roof on, or near, a roof of their choosing. Air bowing is encouraged, especially for kids. Be safe and have fun!

Create your video. Post it on YouTube. Send the link to It’s that simple.

Arts Crush Kick-Off Craziness

Holy Heck, folks. We have quite the Arts Crush Kick-Off Fair extravaganza planned for you all on September 23rd at Fisher Pavilion (11am-2pm).

Why should you go to the Kick-Off Fair? Here are just a few reasons:

  • One-of-a-kind, exclusive giveaways by over 50 arts organizations (including swag, drink coupons, free tickets, and more)!
  • Everyone who attends gets a priority code for the Free Night Ticket Lottery! Check out our Free Night event listings. We have A LOT of Free Night offers this year!
  • Learn more about our incredible Feature Night events and unique collaborations (including Degenerate Art Ensemble and Pat Graney, SketchFest, The Verbalists, The Esoterics, Seattle Erotic Arts Festival, Gay and Lesbian Film Festival, 3rd Shift Dance Company, UMO, Improbable Places Poetry Tour and much, much more)!
  • Incredible arts performances!

Okay, now. When I say incredible arts performances, I mean it. Let’s go over the talent list, shall we?

The amazing Rainbow City Band will kick-off the festivities with a raucous march into Fisher Pavilion!

A K Mimi Allin has cooked up new piece called the “Not So Easy Chair.” We dare you to sit in it.

The Live Painter, Matthew Scott, will be painting a new piece for you inspired by the fair.

The Queens of Nano-performance, 3rd Shift Dance Company will be displaying their jaw-dropping, boundary-pushing choreography.

Silent film with harp accompaniment? We’re just classy like that with Leslie McMichael in the joint.

We’ve got the amazing acrobatic skills of the Cabiri, making you realize that whole gravity thing is just a myth.

Bunny suits and super heroes. Rainbow cloaks and Vader onesies. Fuzz, synths, sing-a-longs, and yes more fuzz! Yup, we’ve got The Hoot Hoots.

This is going to be our biggest Kick-Off Fair yet! Don’t miss out. Let us know you’re coming and invite all of your friends!