Small Art: results from the experiment

December 7, 2012

Last Friday Ben and I had twenty folks over to our house for a performance. We set up our living room  like a movie theater. Brad Liening read poems, Kristen Graves sang, and Emily Gastineau performed two dances. One dance involved the audience passing around a bowl of giant marshmallows, hardboiled eggs, and roses. In each was a message, and we took turns reading them aloud while Emily improvised. I think that-- hearing each audience member read, and then laugh in response to one another-- really summed up why I wanted to have the performance in the first place: the sense of community and intimacy that performance in a small space creates. There we were reading and watching and laughing together, dear friends and strangers mixed together. It was delightful.

The Twin Cities are saturated with opportunities to see live performance. I feel grateful for this, but I think that it often works to the disadvantage of the artists. It's hard to get a consistent audience, and making performance work is expensive (rehearsal space, performance venue, set, costumes, designers...) -- especially if you're only going to be able to have a short run.

I wanted to start Small Art as a baby experiment [start small-- with 20 people!] in making + curating artistic work in alignment with my values. Meaning, it supports:

  • Creative and inexpensive performance spaces. In this case, all money proceeds were able to go to the artists. There was no tech, special costumes, or expensive set.
  • Unlikely collaborations (and, as a result, broadened audience bases). Many of the audience members we had typically attend dance performances. They had the opportunity to get exposed to poetry and folk music, too. And, as a result, Kristen and Brad got to expand their fan bases a bit.
  • Reusing artistic material. The artists didn't specifically make their material for Small Art. They will be able to perform the material (and hopefully make money off of it) again.
  • Multiple ways of supporting artists. In addition to ticket sales, audience members could support the artists by buying beer + wine, books, and albums. In the future, I'd like to have some kind of visual art element (posters, etc...).
  • Talking about/educating the audience on artistic work. Rather than just stepping on a stage and performing, all of the artists talked about how they made the work and what drove their choices. It made for a stronger connection between the art and the audience.
  • Creating community around art. When you're sitting on a floor next to a fellow audience member, and then enjoying wine with them later, if fosters new connections. I got really excited to hear performers sharing updates on their work, and see unlikely collaborations forming behind the scenes.

And, of course, there is lots of room for improvement and growth. For one, we need to find a better system for ticketing and promotion than facebook. It was hard to make sure that all of the seats were going to get filled, without worrying about overbooking the space. Overall, though, I am certainly game to try this again and see how it grows.

Critic Lightsey Darst writes about Small Art for here.

[All photos by Ben McGinley.]



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