Organization Name: Portland Institute for Contemporary Art (PICA)
Department Submitting Recipe: Community Engagement
Program Name: Field Guide to Dance
Time of Program: Varies, but typically early evening (e.g., 6PM) through 9/10 PM.
Program Length: 90-120 minute pre-show; 1 hour show; 30-minute post-show
Goal: To help novice audiences to dance prepare for and process a performance in the context of small group engagement facilitated by a visiting or local expert in dance/choreography, with the aim of increasing comfort with and confidence in watching, thinking, and talking about contemporary and experimental live dance. While open to the general public on a drop-in basis, as a multidisciplinary institution, we are particularly interested in the cross-pollination of participants, cultivating interest in dance among existing audiences of visual art, film, music, and other artistic forms.
Time of Year Offered: Year-round in association with various performances; concentrated series of 4-5 sessions during annual TBA Festival (September)Program Description:
Field Guide to Dance is a public engagement and education program encompassing a series of pre-performance workshops and post-performance downloads that aim to increase comfort with and confidence in watching, thinking, and talking about contemporary dance among audiences who are new to the form. As a multidisciplinary institution, PICA also seeks to cross-pollinate viewership through Field Guide, particularly by engaging visual artists/audiences in dance.
Field Guide is a public, drop-in program for approximately 20-25 participants per session, who are self-elected and self-identified as curious about dance, but lacking formal education, experience, tools, techniques, or vocabulary around it. Field Guide is presented in connection with PICA's year-round programming and well as in a modified festival format (4-5 shorter sessions) every September during the TBA Festival, PICA's annual, international festival of contemporary visual art, dance, theatre, film, music, and new media.
Facilitated by a guest expert (discussed below), a standard Field Guide session involves a 90-120 minute pre-show workshop (60 minutes in a TBA Festival session), a group viewing of a live performance; and a 20-30 minute post-show download. Field Guide is cohered by a set of core values and guiding goals that help us meet learning goals for both PICA and participants. Each session emphasizes a combination of deep observation exercises; movement for non-dancers; presentation/didactic moments; small- and large-group discussion; and social engagement while they eat/drink. Text, video, or other media might be presented, and an icebreaker is always employed at the top of the session (media is also sometimes sent to participants in advance as optional/supplemental/bonus material, which we find more effective in review/interview or audio/video format than as dense historical, theoretical, or critical texts). Moving away from the standard Q&A model, sessions seek to reduce intimidation for new audiences, serving as safe spaces to ask questions and discuss together outside the context of artistic intent.
Each session of Field Guide is facilitated by a visiting or local guest expert in dance, choreography, or scholarship in the field; occasionally, a session will be collaboratively facilitated (e.g., by FRONT, a Portland dance collective). We strive to build a "faculty" of experts, each of whom facilitate more than one session over the course of at least a year, to help build and test curriculum models and modules over time. Facilitators might or might not be "experts" on the specific artist or performance in focus; this is not as important as ensuring the individual is a) an expert in contemporary dance generally, and b) a comfortable and effective discussion facilitator.
Content is aimed at not only illuminating the artist(s) and key themes and ideas in the performance, but contemporary, experimental, and abstract dance more generally. As we continue to build, test, and template curriculum content, it is easier to develop each individual session. For example, to return to discussion topics or prompts that spark conversation around culturally-specific artists/work; exercises that help illustrate and embody key concepts and terms in contemporary dance, such as "pedestrian," "abstract," and "non-virtuosic"; especially effective icebreakers that also incorporate movement; or activities that generate deep observation skills and an emphasis on sensory experience and questions over the pressure to deliver critical analysis or interpretation, so as to engender a more comfortable learning environment for beginners and non-dancers.
In addition to the standard Field Guide formats described above, we have presented a session looking at dance on video (maximizing the opportunity to pause, rewind, and fast-forward); a session exploring a visual art installation that incorporated dance/movement on screen; a customized session for homeless and transitional youth; and a travel edition, which took a group of participants by charter bus from Portland to Seattle (3-hour drive) to see a dance performance at On the Boards, another West Coast presenter of contemporary performance. In this case, the pre-show workshop and post-show download took place on the bus.
To reiterate, the program aims to increase comfort with and confidence in watching, thinking, and talking about contemporary dance performance among those new to the form. As such, social engagement is a key ingredient--participant surveys tell us that "meeting and talking with new people about dance" is a highlight of the session for most attendees. Survey results also tell us that participants crave the informed perspective of a skilled facilitator, and the opportunity to see a performance with more information and preparation than is typical, but that they also need time to discuss in pairs or small groups, or process individually. We have also learned that most participants, even as non-dancers, are open to trying movement exercises, as long as they are optional and modifiable. While visual artists/audiences often report movement activity as their least favorite component of the session, most appreciate the chance to learn from it, and general public participants strongly enjoy it.
Ultimately, we aim for participants to leave with increased interest in, appreciation for, and understanding of contemporary dance, the artist and/or project in focus, and their own relationship to dance as an audience member or participant in the overall performance exchange.
Number of Participants: The program focuses on the value of small group engagement, and the unique conversations that occur among audience members in such contexts. We aim for 20-25 participants per session. We have had as few as 13, and as many as 32.
Target Audience: Adult audiences (unless we are tailoring a session to a particular youth or school group). We have found that the more intergenerational mix and diverse an age range, the better. We market broadly to all constituents, with the aim of appealing to anyone who recognizes themselves as someone who is curious about contemporary dance but does not have a formal education, background, or extensive experience with it. Perhaps they are someone who says "I just don't get it" after seeing a contemporary dance performance. We also strive to engage visual artists/visual art enthusiasts in Field Guide so as to build cross-disciplinary contemporary art audiences. Ideally, we would see diversity across age, gender, race, ethnicity, religion, education level, socioeconomic status, sexual identity, ability, native language, and other cultural identifiers in any session of Field Guide. This especially serves our goals of audience diversification, broad access to the arts, and exposure to multiple perspective and viewpoints in the community.
Is the program for kids? The program is primarily designed for adults, with some exceptions (we have designed one session for homeless and transitional youth via a community partner agency, and another for a group of art history students from Reed College. The program's primary purpose is instructional.
Nature of Audience Engagement: Please see program description for more information. Over the course of the pre-show workshop, performance viewing, and post-show download, participants listen to facilitated presentation and remarks from other audience members; watch live and video-based dance performance and/or works-in-progress; move or dance themselves; ask questions of the facilitator and of each other (we have twice involved an artist Q&A as part of the post-show download); read (optional reading material distributed to pre-registrants in advance includes marketing material; interviews; reviews; an artist's own writing; blog posts; and/or advance copies of the program); socialize with each other over food/drink (we have experimented with both small-scale snacks/wine and full, catered dinners); converse formally (with each other in pairs, small groups, or the larger group/facilitator); and provided written feedback (surveys combining multiple choice and optional narrative responses).
Location: Field Guide sessions generally take place in a movement-, discussion-, and eating/drinking friendly room adjacent to or within walking distance of the performance venue (or, in the case of a work-in-progress showing, at a rehearsal space). We have also held smaller, video- and visual art-focused sessions at PICA's own flex/multi-purpose program space. The travel edition to Seattle used the time on the bus for pre-show workshop and post-show download content. During the TBA Festival series of Field Guide, all post-show downloads took place at PICA's pop-up restaurant and beer garden.
How Many Staff: Two plus an intern (Artistic Director collaborates on visioning/higher-level planning and provides general oversight; Community Engagement Manager designs, implements, and coordinates program. Marketing and publicity are managed by the organization's Communications Manager. A dedicated, unpaid intern is required during the TBA Festival iteration of the program. Each session requires a paid facilitator (occasionally, a facilitator chooses to teach with someone else and split the fee).
Program Cost: Aside from time put into this program by PICA's Community Engagement Manager (approx. 20% of their full-time, salaried position), we spend $150-$250 (plus 1-2 show tickets) on the facilitator depending on their audience draw and reputation in the field; $100-$300 on food/wine/drinks depending on group size and whether we provide light snacks/drinks or catered dinner; $100 on venue rental (if not at PICA); $300 on venue tech (if required for a work-in-progress showing - this is rare); between $100 and $400 on travel (depending on whether a facilitator is coming from as close as Seattle or as far as New York); $120 per diem (3 days @ $35/day - time includes travel days, preparatory/planning meetings with staff plus workshop delivery); and $300 hotel (discounted rate). To reduce costs, we recommend using local facilitators (no travel expenses required); providing snacks instead of a catered meal; and paying facilitators $100 per session IF scope of work is reduced accordingly (e.g., a shorter session will require less time to prepare and deliver; or if you provide the bulk of the workshop curriculum/content, preparation time will be drastically reduced. We keep marketing costs very low, as we are able to secure ideal participant number via web-based marketing only. Our in-house Communications Manager handles photo/video documentation and all marketing (website, emails, social media). We do not produce any print-based promotional materials.
Marketing for Program: Targeted outreach to school groups and faculty; community partner groups; and visual art audiences. Broad publicity and marketing via inclusion in e-newsletters to all constituents, dedicated emails focused solely on Field Guide; event pages and general program description content on PICA's website; and social media (Facebook, Twitter). During the TBA series, we also train box office staff to educate walk-in or phone-based patrons about the program and encourage upgrades to a "Field Guide" version of a show ticket.
Cost for Program Participants: To ensure access and participation in a brand new program in its first year, we have kept prices low, and surveys tell us that we could raise prices and still see similar numbers, or offer a sliding scale with agreeable results. Most sessions involving a live performance produced by PICA cost $10 per person above the price of the ticket to the show (thus ranging from $25-$35 per person depending on ticket price). Our video-based sessions were priced at $8 / $10 non-members. The travel edition to Seattle cost $40 members / $45 non-members (including workshop, roundtrip bus travel, discounted show ticket, and snacks/beverages). The session for homeless and transitional youth was free of charge, and tickets to the performance were comped. Sessions that do not involve a full live production performance (such as work-in-progress sessions or those focused on video/installation) are priced at $15 members / $20 non-members. All sessions include facilitated workshop and food/drink. Most include live art.
Attendance To Date: 195
Past Iterations: 9 sessions - four as part of a TBA Festival series - the others in June, August, and December of 2013, and in March and April of 2014). Our next session is in May 2014.
What works? Strong and skillful facilitation is critical, so as to encourage comfortable and effective discussion. Participants do appreciate opportunities to ask questions of the artist; in the absence of an artist, a facilitator can help guide the conversation. Small-group or paired discussion exercises help ease participants into larger group discussion and sharing. Movement activities should always be optional and modifiable for all abilities and comfort levels in the room. Groups larger than 25-30 would make it difficult to achieve many of the program goals we strive for with Field Guide, which is why we emphasize small group engagement. In the early stages of the program, compensate facilitators more for their time spent developing content and curriculum you can eventually use again later (for a lower facilitator fee). Always pay artists a fee if they will be presenting a work-in-progress showing. Food and drink are highly appreciated and best shared during the post-show conversation; it can be distracting as well as make participants feel lethargic or full if served before a performance. Opportunities for social engagement are critical to repeat attendance and building excitement, investment, and belonging. Icebreakers are crucial to establishing trust among the group. Strive for, and then prepare for the exciting challenge of, facilitating sessions with lots of diverse perspectives and cultural backgrounds in the room. Intergenerational groups have a great time together! Depending on your existing audience demographics, marketing via the web is probably sufficient (we have never found the need to produce print materials). Try to steer post-show conversations away from over-simplified and qualitative responses such as "I liked" or "I didn't like", instead emphasizing observation, descriptions of sights/senses/sensory experience, emotions, memory, the physical experience and participatory role of an audience member, unique vantage points, etc.
What doesn't work? Do not serve a large meal right before a performance (see above). Allow at least 90 minutes for pre-show workshop (those that lasted 60-75 minutes were almost unanimously described as "too short" by survey respondents). Ensure a variety of activities that keep the group moving and talking actively. Sitting in one place, classroom style, is generally not what a public, drop-in group signed up for.
Performances Where Offered: Due to resource limitations, we only offer this program for some of the dance performances during TBA. With our year-round programming, we have offered one in connection with all dance performances we have presented, as well as work-in-progress showings we have orchestrated just for Field Guide, and in the case of our travel edition to Seattle, a session in connection with another presenter's program.
Past Research on Program: Evaluation, to date, has included several steps. We distribute a 10-question survey via email after each session. We distributed a special, 15-question survey after the Seattle edition, and we paid $50 stipends each to a group of five local visual artists who already attend our visual art programs, who served as a visual art focus group for the very first session of Field Guide in June 2013. This helped inform how we market to, and design for, the needs, language, desires, aesthetic tastes, and learning styles of visual artists and visually-oriented audiences if we are going to seek to effectively engage them in dance.
Continuing Program? Yes. It has been very successful in terms of what participants have expressed in surveys, in repeat as well as new attendance, in filling up most sessions, and in building a gradually growing small but newly dedicated dance audience. It was also a huge hit during the TBA Festival that we were told via surveys enhanced audiences' overall experiences of the festival. We have also discovered that it's a great introduction to PICA's programs for our ambassadors to bring their new audiences to. Finally, we hope to expand it to other disciplines, including visual art and experimental theatre. We also feel that a slightly scaled back version of most sessions is financially viable, now that we've acculumulated curriculum we don't need facilitators to be paid to build from scratch, and since we've learned that a) people would pay more per session and b) they do not require a whole lot of food and drink to be content and feel the program is generous. We can increase price and cut costs accordingly to help keep the program financially viable.Additional Comments:
We've had two board members attend so far and received rave reviews from each of them! We were pleasantly surprised to discover that people were willing to take a one-day trip to Seattle for a session and reportedly enjoyed it and found it beneficial and meaningful. We find that intergenerational groups work very well together! We typically have an age range of early 20's to late-60's in any given group. We have had other presenting organizations hear about the program and/or participate in its TBA iteration and evaluated it very highly. We have discovered through survey and anecdotal evidence that we will be able to charge more per Field Guide ticket, or implement a sliding scale model, so as to recoup more costs and help stabilize the program financially. We hope to continue building a subset of the program tailored to older youth. We had a good experience with 19 art students from Reed College attending our most recent session with their professor and thoroughly enjoying it while actively participating. We expect that Field Guide could be something we customize for academic groups in the future, who will cover the cost of student participation through departmental budgets, thus opening up access to younger, student-income level audience as well as those who are already steeped in a critical inquiry context but anxious to apply learning to new contexts and direct artist-audience engagement outside the classroom.