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METCALF
FOUNDATION

Stories From the Inc.
2014 Learning Network
2014

 
 
 

Focus Issue: Engaging Audiences and Building Communities

From a summer music academy to an online hub for participatory arts practice, six new projects are being launched as part of our 2014 Learning Network.

Click on each company’s logo to read about their initiatives.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Anandam Dancetheatre

<p>Audience In Residence. Photo: Anandam Dancetheatre.</p>

Supported Initiative

“In exploring the 2014 focus issue, we will study the experiences and effects of participatory performance practices on our audience and chart this process over a three-year time span.

While the Irvine Foundation’s study Getting in on the Act examined what different arts groups were doing through various processes of engagement, we will investigate how our audience experiences and interprets these levels of participatory structures in our work; how these practices can be used to build lasting connections between our artists, audiences, and supporters; and how our activities can help expand cultural literacy in the participatory arts overall.

Through this initiative, we seek to enhance our organizational capacity by getting to know our audience and the kinds of experiences they have at a deeper level. It is an initiative that uses participatory collaboration and a new “Audience in Residence” approach as a form of relationship-building through direct intimacy, artistic creation, and sustained dialogue with our audience.”

Questions and Answers (Click to Read)

What was the biggest accomplishment or milestone so far…?

Strengthening and diversifying the kinds of relationships we have with our audiences, both in a performance context where we are working with a multiplicity of relationships/spaces/collaborations as well as in our research and development process where we have engaged participants through our Audience In Residence (AiR) program.

Through this initiative we have been able to explore the different elements of the work and experiences we create and how they offer meaning in different ways. The AiR initiative has allowed us to have a greater understanding of how much meaning/s the works hold and the different ways that meaning is being communicated and experienced from multiple perspectives. Major milestones working with the AiR participants have been the creation and development processes of two new company works, Seismology (2014) and Weather (2015), the initial stages of a Augmented Reality application for Weather (2015) and a commission from the Dance Made in Canada Festival to create a participatory choreography with company artists and members of our Audience In Residence as well as any interested festival participants called Walking Spaces (2015).

What is one key insight you gained from your original research and planning?

To trust your audiences and communities as much as you trust your processes/work.

What piece of advice would you offer another organization trying to do something similar?

Engaging audiences and communities in development and creation process means working with them as artistic collaborators.

Which is the key question and/or issue that has arisen during your first phase of work?

The key question is about sustainability and this becomes the most important question to unpack. How do we keep evolving and remaining vital in a way that is sustainable, accessible and supportive? How do we work together to remain adaptable, collaborative, resilient and responsive to our constantly shifting circumstances? How do we evolve this dialogue and continued questioning around sustainable structures for collaboration and activation of artistic culture that respond with scale and scope, that creates larger circles of inclusion through a multiplicity of world views and many layers of engagement and discourse.

What motivated your organization to take on this project?

An interest in tightening a particular kind of conversation and feedback loop around the kinds of artistic practices Anandam engages with and the experiences they offer. A curiosity of moving outside the binary of traditional Q and A forums and into a processes of dialogue that examine unsettling the architecture of theatre spaces and most practiced modes of watching, explorations of collaborative considerations in how we create and dialogue about performance and an urgent need to understand movements of contemporary dance/performance stemming from non-Western forms and aesthetics.

 
 

Jumblies Theatre

<p>Jumblies Theatre Composing Community Workshop #1. Photo: Katherine Fleitas.</p>
<p>Jumblies Theatre Composing Community Workshop #1. Photo: Katherine Fleitas.</p>
<p>Jumblies Theatre Composing Community Workshop #3. Photo: Liam Coo.</p>
<p>Like an Old Tale workshop presentation, Cedar Ridge Creative Centre, 2010. Photo: Katherine Fleitas.</p>
<p>Jumblies Theatre Composing Community Workshop #2. Photo: Liam Coo.</p>
<p>Jumblies Theatre Composing Community Workshop #3. Photo: Liam Coo.</p>
<p>Jumblies Theatre Composing Community Workshop #1. Photo: Katherine Fleitas.</p>

Supported Initiative

“Our project will explore, document, and promote approaches to building audiences and engaging communities through the notion of “mainstreaming” community arts: connecting community-engaged and professional arts practice. Jumblies will partner with at least four established Toronto performing arts companies, exploring and chronicling with each a different approach to this question.”

Questions and Answers (Click to Read)

What was the biggest accomplishment or milestone so far…?

One of the biggest accomplishments so far has been the relationships and longer-term collaborative adventures that have been sparked with several contemporary music organizations – the Canadian Music Centre, Soundstreams, and Continuum.

What is one key insight you gained from your original research and planning?

From our original research and planning we learned that when seeking and forming new, less-familiar, and exciting partnerships, it pays off to be bold, initiate conversations, gracefully accept lack of interest, and respond enthusiastically to unexpected enthusiasm.

What piece of advice would you offer another organization trying to do something similar?

I would advise other organizations trying to form collaborations and partnerships across differing types of arts practice to reach out with a message of interest, allow plenty of time, be flexible, understand that we all operate under different pressures and realities, keep listening and talking, admit challenges and dead ends, and be ready and able to put resources behind exploring promising paths.

Which is the key question and/or issue that has arisen during your first phase of work?

Given the difference between a community-engaged organization, which is funded for our process-based art work, even though we value the related products – and other professional performing arts organizations, which – however much they value their related processes – focus on artistic products that need to bring in earned revenue – is a whole-hearted and mutually beneficial coming-together actually possible, and, if so, what might it look like?

What motivated your organization to take on this project?

We were motivated by a curiosity and desire to more intentionally play with, learn from, and share approaches and perspectives with arts organizations outside of the realm of “community arts.” As a company mandated to blur and dismantle boundaries and combine disparate elements, this is an irresistible exploration, which we believe can be of benefit to our own work and to a larger arts world.

 
 

Kaeja d'Dance

<p>Fool's Paradise Animation. Photo: Nadine Villasin Feldman.</p>
<p>The Kerr-Wyncoll Family in Porch View Dances, July 2012 (photo: Diana Renelli).</p>
<p>Diana Rose and Tina Fushell in Porch View Dances, July 2012 (photo: Diana Renelli).</p>
<p>Seniors from Black Creek Community Health Centre in When We Meet, August 2012 (photo: Aria Evans).</p>
<p>Stable Dances, October 2008 (photo: Allen Kaeja).</p>
<p>Karen and Allen Kaeja for their 5th Anniversary Season, June 2014 (photo: Aria Evans).</p>
<p>Bird's Eye View, 2008 (photo: Anuta Skrypnychenko).</p>

Supported Initiative

“The Creative Strategies Incubator will help us investigate and propel a new Public Space Animation Initiative (title TBC) and online hub for the purposes of research, experimentation, and study of participatory arts practice, specifically in the horseshoe of Toronto’s inner suburbs. We wish to find a way to work with the artists, residents, and community organizers in those neighbourhoods to devise new ways of creating audience-inclusive participatory works, to animate public spaces, and to document the experience, resulting in case studies and examples to inspire our sector.

Our aim is to activate public spaces with creative projects for community benefit, blurring the line between art and the public, and going beyond simply exposing new audiences to dance by involving the public (of all ages and abilities) as performers to make for a more dynamic and vibrant city, while building people’s curiosity and trust in an experiential and meaningful way, to be engaged with the arts. We envision parks, courtyards, alleys and vacant sites – awaiting redevelopment, underused, or otherwise – utilized for temporary, creative, people-centered performances.

The project will serve as a living laboratory for participatory arts practice and will help build new audiences for both the company and the sector in general.”

Questions and Answers (Click to Read)

What is the biggest accomplishment or milestone so far?

Through our work thus far, we have been able to develop key strategies for encouraging and nurturing community engagement – what we like to refer to as “the invitation.” This has involved carefully constructing everything from the call for participants (posters, flyers, videos, social media postings, emails, etc.), to the engagement process (communication, registration, orientation, online instructional tools, rehearsals, special events for participants), to the actual performance (cultivating a sense of ownership of the project/performance, anticipating any potential barriers to participation). Another key accomplishment has been the number and quality of community partnerships we have been able to establish in a relatively short period of time.

What is one key insight you gained from your original research and planning?

We have learned that participation and engagement can take on different forms and that not all participants will want to engage with the art/artists in the same way. Therefore, the importance of creating multiple entry points and opportunities for people to engage at their own comfort level is paramount to creating a positive experience and making space for meaningful engagement to occur.

What piece of advice would you offer another organization trying to do something similar?

The advice we would give to another organization is this: you do not need to reinvent the wheel. Building relationships with key organizations when entering a new community allows you to leverage existing resources and relationships, as well as better understand the community you are engaging with. Another key lesson is that one size does not fit all. A community engagement initiative that worked really well in one community may not work as well in another. This takes us back to the importance of building relationships with the organizations that are already doing work in the community, and using these relationships to best understand and listen to the needs and interests of that community.

Which is the key question and/or issue that has arisen during your first phase of work?

Community engagement work is both time and labour intensive. One of the key issues we have encountered is developing a model of engagement that is affordable to both Kaeja and future community partners, while at the same time providing opportunities for meaningful engagement. Our experience has been that truly meaningful engagement requires time, care and resources. Can we nurture the same level of engagement in a more time/cost effective way?

From an artistic standpoint, another key issue that has arisen is the question of how to share our model of engagement and encourage its replication in a way that strengthens and builds the Kaeja profile, and grows our main stage audiences.

What motivated your organization to take on this project?

Although we have been doing community engagement work for a while now, we wanted to experiment and further investigate new approaches of working with audiences in the creation of dance art. We are interested in finding new ways of transitioning the audience member from observer (passerby/passive witness) to active audience participant (such as in our flock landings) to active co-creator - bringing their own stories and improvised movement to the work - with the assistance of professional artists acting as mediators, facilitators and guides.

We were particularly interested in embarking on a learning opportunity that allowed us to dream big, experiment, and fail. Through this trial and error work we are learning from our failures, as much as our successes.

 
 

Nightswimming

<p>Carmen Aguirre in Blue Box (photo: Andrew Alexander).</p>
<p>Anita Majumdar and Nicco Lorenzo Garcia in Same Same But Different (photo: Michael Cooper).</p>
<p>Bryce Kulak leading Why We Are Here! (photo: Max Telzerow).</p>

Supported Initiative

“In response to an evolving Canadian theatre ecology and our new role in it, Nightswimming is developing online, dramaturgy-focused “nuclei” for each of our projects. These custom-designed dramaturgy resources will be designed as destinations for audience, potential audience, and community members to experience the inner artistic life of each Nightswimming project. Aside from taking the participant on an insightful journey through each work, they will also function as audience development and education tools. The sites would facilitate a direct connection with audience members across Canada.

In 2014/15, for the first time in the history of the company, we will have three projects on stage, touring Canada simultaneously. This situation provides an ideal testing ground for this type of audience development tool. More importantly, the sites will allow us to explore the best strategies to enrich, enhance, and deepen the audience experience of our work. In the long run, we can build a larger community of audiences from which to then draw financial support.”

Questions and Answers (Click to Read)

What was the biggest accomplishment or milestone so far?

In March 2015, one of our website curators, Emma Mackenzie Hillier, wrote an article for www.fisheyestrilogy.ca of a very personal nature, talking about some of her experiences with sexual harassment/unwanted sexual advances in a professional setting, and connecting those experiences with a particular scene from The Fish Eyes Trilogy. We had nearly 500 visits to www.fisheyestrilogy.ca in one day – and they were all from people eager to read Emma’s article. This is an example of what we set out to do in the first place – engage new and existing audiences online, with topics and themes that are connected to our artistic work.

What is one key insight you gained from your original research and planning?

As we worked on the initial websites that form the core of this initiative, we realized that although they each serve a role in audience engagement, they must also be conceived as artistic projects. When we added that context to the process, our visions for audience engagement and artistic practice merged and began to support one another in new and satisfying ways.

What piece of advice would you offer another organization trying to do something similar?

To be truly effective, websites for specific projects need to be led by an artist, designed concurrently as part of the creation of the show (rather than afterward), and remember that the social media engagement that is necessary to support such a site is very labour intensive and must be designed as part of the artistic process.

Which is the key question and/or issue that has arisen during your first phase of work?

How to quantify the ‘new audiences’ that are drawn to Nightswimming’s online activities is difficult, time consuming, yet very important in order to assess and refine the process.

What motivated your organization to take on this project?

As a developmental theatre company, we were not historically in the business of building audiences around our work. Our audiences belonged to the producing companies that premiered the plays we commissioned and developed. As a result, we’ve had donors, supporters and fans, but never a traditional audience. In recent years, Nightswimming has experienced increased interest in our work from presenters and festivals. As a result, we have found ourselves not just ushering our projects through all the stages of development, but in some situations producing, marketing and touring the shows. As a result, we have made audience engagement and development a priority and this web project is a central part of that strategy.

 
 

SummerWorks Performance Festival

<p>Photo: Dahlia Katz.</p>
<p>Photo: Dahlia Katz.</p>
<p>Photo: Dahlia Katz.</p>
<p>Photo: Dahlia Katz.</p>
<p>Photo: Dahlia Katz.</p>

Supported Initiative

“We are proposing an audience engagement platform that crosses between digital and physical spheres. The key component for our proposal, and the new approach for both SummerWorks and the sector, is to engage in outreach processes that integrate physical and virtual spaces through the use of a cutting-edge technology known as Beacons. A Beacon is an emerging technology based on a Bluetooth system, allowing contextualized information to be sent to mobile devices within its 72-metre range. This technology will be partnered with active outreach strategies to engage audiences in physical space, encouraging them to develop a virtual community in which conversations begun in physical space are continued.

Imagine being welcomed to your Festival event via a personalized message and reminded that the artist will be giving a talk after the performance, but, if you’re unable to stay for it, you can stream it live on your phone on the way home and participate in the conversation via the app. This is just one possibility for building more meaningful relationships with our audiences in real-time through technology, and we strongly believe that this initiative will bring our audiences together physically and intellectually in exciting and original ways.”

Questions and Answers (Click to Read)

What was the biggest accomplishment or milestone so far…?

This project has created space to ask new questions about audience engagement and development through a data lens. Who comes to SummerWorks? How do they hear about the Festival? How do they engage with it? How can we deepen their experience? We hope that the questions we have asked and the data we have gathered will lead to more people seeing more shows in 2016 and beyond.

What is one key insight you gained from your original research and planning?

While an app can be extremely exciting, it doesn’t always mean people will use it. Having audiences adopt it as a tool is challenging, with many organizations seeing low download rates. Making the app an essential tool, not just an added frill, is the key to seeing higher participation. For most festivals, that means the key offering is a dynamic schedule.

What piece of advice would you offer another organization trying to do something similar?

Spend as much time on the identifying the problem, working through the need, and defining your questions before getting to any answers.

Which is the key question and/or issue that has arisen during your first phase of work?

With the project being so large, which is the better strategy: careful planning in advance of the launch; or learning by doing, releasing an early version of a solution, and iterate/adapt from that launch.

What motivated your organization to take on this project?

SummerWorks presents 66 productions with 388 performances over 11 days, it’s very hard for audiences to decide what to see or how to engage with the festival. Developing an app that deepens the festival experience, serving as a dynamic and interactive program guide, while also offering unexpected and artful engagements in the spirit of SummerWorks, was something we thought would assist in audience development.

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The Theatre Centre

<p>Promises to a Divided City, Mammalian Diving Reflex and The Theatre Centre (photo: Michael Barker).</p>
<p>Sea Sick, by Alanna Mitchell, produced by The Theatre Centre (photo: Chloe Ellingson).</p>
<p>Walk the Walk, The Theatre Centre and Denise Fujiwara for the Tracy Wright Global Archive (photo: Jeremy Mimnagh).</p>
<p>Digest Digest, with BevLab at The Theatre Centre (photo: Kristina Ruddick).</p>
<p>Toronto Needs a Creative Director, hosted at The Theatre Centre.</p>

Supported Initiative

“The Theatre Centre proposes to leverage the resource of its new facility to build community around our work by:

  1. investing in people and groups with innovative ideas about social issues that will complement and enrich the dialogue around the art that we create. We will seek partners who are working with ideas about city building, civic engagement, the environment, food, and other social issues that our community is invested in.
  2. creating an open and welcoming physical space for social innovators and the local community to come together, share a meal, and share ideas.

By engaging partners and people around shared interests, we hope to create a community around our work that will extend beyond the relationship of a broadcaster and consumer of art, and into one of meaningful engagement and collaboration.”

Questions and Answers (Click to Read)

What was the biggest accomplishment or milestone so far…?

How much the space feels like a hub. It feels right for us – we are realizing the main goals of this project, and this feeling is reinforced on a consistent basis by the number of people in the community – who don’t already know the language we’re using – to congratulate us on this "hub" we’ve created. And our gluten-free quinoa brownies are amazing.

What is one key insight you gained since your original research and planning?

This initiative, the Social Discourse Incubator (SDI), could be our full time activity.

What piece of advice would you offer another organization trying to do something similar?

Think of ways to track and evaluate your project before you start. Build in a healthy budget for this evaluation.

Which is the key question and/or issue that has arisen during your first phase of work?

Building a community is not about bums in seats, but true relationships. “Audience development” benefits the institution. Community engagement benefits the community. Your audience, your community will affect the work you’re making, and the way it’s made. The way you interact with that community will have a profound effect on the way they receive that work.

What motivated your organization to take on this project?

Our new facility, and the question “how can a theatre become more like a town square?”

 
 

Toronto Summer Music

<p>Photo: Toronto Summer Music Community Academy</p>
<p>Photo: Toronto Summer Music Community Academy</p>
<p>Photo: Toronto Summer Music Community Academy</p>
<p>Photo: Toronto Summer Music Community Academy</p>
<p>Photo: Toronto Summer Music Community Academy</p>
<p>Photo: Toronto Summer Music Community Academy</p>
<p>Photo: Toronto Summer Music Community Academy</p>
<p></p>
<p>Photo: Toronto Summer Music Community Academy</p>
<p>Photo: Toronto Summer Music Community Academy</p>
<p>Photo: Toronto Summer Music Community Academ</p>

Supported Initiative

“In an innovative effort to engage our audience, we propose initiating a Toronto Summer Music Community Academy, in which adult amateur musicians (our audience members) would spend a week studying with professional performing classical musicians from the TSM Festival, culminating with a side-by-side performance on stage. This project is based on research that participation leads to higher engagement and attendance and is modeled on the Baltimore Symphony’s Amateur Academy program.”

Questions and Answers (Click to Read)

What was the biggest accomplishment or milestone so far…?

Our biggest accomplishment is that we have truly created a program that resonates and engages with our audience public in our first year. 100% of the participants last summer told us that they want to attend again this summer!

http://www.thestar.com/life/2015/08/07/toronto-summer-music-festival-offers-masterclasses-to-adult-amateurs.html

What is one key insight you gained from your original research and planning?

There is strength in being small! It's about the depth of the level of engagement with your audience and not the breadth of engagement. Immediately before the program last summer, we were able to reach out one-on-one with each of the 44 participants and ask them what their top two expectations from the program might be. Overwhelmingly, they wanted to have the opportunity to play with other advanced amateurs and to socialize with like-minded people. We were able to adjust our program to include more time for "sight-reading parties," and to socialize and provide a significantly more engaging program.

What piece of advice would you offer another organization trying to do something similar?

Plan ahead and learn as much about your participants in advance of the program itself. The more work you do up-front, the better prepared you will be for the program itself!

Which is the key question and/or issue that has arisen during your first phase of work?

How can we adapt our program to allow amateur musicians of varying skill levels to participate, while still maintaining a high-level environment for those that are eager for it?

What motivated your organization to take on this project?

Toronto Summer Music is a relatively young organization (only 10 years old) and relies heavily on private sector support and individual giving (only 10% of our funding comes from government granting agencies). One of our strengths has been the sense of community we have developed over the past ten years. A few years ago we added a question to our annual audience survey and discovered that a very high percentage of our audience members still play an instrument or sing in a choir. We wanted to allow our audience to do more than sit in the dark concert hall - to actively participate in the Festival, and to grow closer to our Festival family (and hopefully buying more tickets and diversifying our donor base) while we simultaneously created a new revenue stream of Academy tuition.

 
The George Cedric Metcalf Charitable Foundation
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