“Audience development,” “impact,” “arts participation,” are catch phrases of conversations I read and sometimes take part in in the social media universe of arts advocates, managers, and producers. I am blessed to be playing some small part in a project that is achieving significant impact through deep participation and co-creation. This project, At Home in the Desert, has taken me about as far from where I started in NYC commercial theatre as one can get without leaving the US. Thanks to this project, I have found myself in a south Phoenix high school observing a dance class or in a central city Boys and Girls club watching sixth graders move to a track of spoken word beats they created themselves.
Will this project result in increased audiences at the city’s LORT theatre or its symphony? Unlikely. But for the 40 or so students involved, the impact on their lives is profound. At a recent showing of work in process (we decided recently that the co-creative process would BE the product), the spoken word performer/artist who works at the Boys and Girls Club said, “For most of these kids, this is their first experience doing something where people are watching them perform. The confidence this is building in them is awesome.” Meanwhile, at the high school site, members of Dance Exchange (formerly Liz Lerman Dance Exchange) help 17 teens create a movement vocabulary that expresses their complicated perspectives on living in a city in the desert.
I don’t know if any of these kids are going to make dance or music or theatre their career. What I do know is that they are learning to trust themselves and to trust the arts as a viable way of understanding and communicating about their world. The project is having a deep impact on them – and on me.