Audiences or communities?
Audiences or communities?

Between policies, marketing and true desires.

By Silke Bake & Jacopo Lanteri


People within contemporary performing arts usually have a slight sensation of ‘deja vù’ when someone focuses on the audience. in the talk with Barbara Van Lindt for this publication, Gabriel smeets points it out: ‘the issue of audience was also discussed in the 90s and early 2000s.’
So, why are we doing it again?

It is certainly true that the topic has been discussed in the recent past. For sure, it has never before been taken as a guideline for the cultural policies in the EU commission. Besides the title ‘Creative Europe’, one of the main focuses of the next support program for Europe’s cultural and creative sectors 2014/2020 will be audience development. Androulla Vassiliou, the European Commissioner responsible for education and culture, is quite clear about the reasons for this choice: ‘we need to do more to engage the public with European culture and to protect diversity. To do this effectively, we need to help artists and other professionals to build new audiences [...], to re-assess their relationship with existing audiences and to diversify audiences.[...] if we don’t look at this issue seriously, we risk undermining our cultural diversity and its benefits for the economy and social inclusion.’

We would like to take this assertion as a starting point for field research in order to understand more about the ‘we’ that seems to be the foundation of and the motor for a relationship between art and the audience. we would like to rediscover the debate about the audience and ask for ‘what’ could be addressed and ‘why’. For this reason we will stay close to artistic production, its questions, its environment and conditions as well as the players involved in it.

The role of the audience changed and was repeatedly challenged in specific periods during the 20th century. It was not an accident that within the last 10 years visual artists have also become more and more interested in live performance work; the impact of a live relationship with other human beings opens up an enormous potential for an art-work as well as its social and political dimensions. However, for quite some time one did not see that ‘the audience’ has become a serious economic factor and, simultaneously, that economic arameters have entered the performing arts fi eld. A ‘market’ has also developed within this art discipline: changing political systems question the fundamental value of contemporary art and its rather independent state funding (as in the Netherlands for example), a rising number of performing artists are graduating from new educational institutions, and freelance performing artists and other players as well as underfi nanced art institutions are competing for the same funds. Given all these aspects, there might even be the danger that spectators will turn into customers and performing artworks will be considered a service or a product. 

If these defi nitions become accepted, the relationship between the audience and the performing arts would be much more dependent and framed than a lot of contemporary performing artists envision it to be. 

Within this horizon, the task of ‘building new audiences’ could miss the attempt to acknowledge an erosion within society and maybe an erosion between society and the arts as well: an erosion of common values and collective concepts that have an impact on and regulate relationships inside society and between society and art.

One cause of this dissolution of stable relations, taken for granted for so long, could be a new precariousness: a powerful element of transformation that operates in the system of art in the same way as in the labour system. As working relations are less secure and more and more detached from individual relations and qualities, the responsibility of art funding is increasingly questioned. One is attempting to separate it from the concept of the common good and is imposing restrictions, as has already happened in some countries. 

There are several developments that respond to these weak relationships in the work environment as well as in private life: for example, a general desire to search for different approaches to togetherness within artistic practice - as concepts such as collaborative transdisciplinarity and collectivity are attesting. or the recent debate about the spectator as an involved and critical player within the art field. There is a sentence that explains what could be the real ‘power’ of the spectator in our age in curator Christine Peters’ text: ‘The emancipated spectator, whom the French philosopher Jacques Rancière considered an equal

partner in a shared and open space of experience, in which the boundaries between ‘those who act and those who look’ are blurred, is called upon again: in the liquid age of the 21st century, s/he should accomplish the work of art. And s/he is granted this right much more naturally than in former epochs.’

One of the most recurring desires that rises naturally from various texts in this publication should be seen from the same viewpoint – both in an explicit way, such as in the conversation with the artists Marko Milić and igor Koruga, or more implicitly, such as in the interview with the programmer Gil Mendo. it is the desire to create a community.

Community tends to disregard the economic aspect of the audience (number of spectators). it addresses the audience as an immanent factor of the field as it tries to grasp new ways of artistic practice.

Cate Canniffe offers concrete examples - although in a more popular frame – of how the British Council initiates projects that requireartists and organizations ‘to work with venues, local authorities and other partners to engage people who are not necessarily familiar with dance (or any other art form)’.

Art can show and practice other possible ways of being together, ‘different realities’ – as the critic wouter hillaert calls them in his text. These are participatory actions where all the players in the cultural fi eld, while sharing the same space and time, can redefi ne their interaction, their targets, their rules and their operations. This is a concrete act of creation that could lead those ‘temporary communities’ to a natural engagement, an enlargement of themselves and a reverberating effect on everyday life. Here we are. Our interest in this topic is based on this switch from winning audiences to creating communities.

Our survey starts questioning the fi eld itself – through the voice of seven players - about the relationship between audience and art that becomes, text after text, a

space of imagination for new practices and reformulated meanings for some overused words. We are trying to change perspectives – this can be summarized in the shift from ‘Creative Europe’ to ‘Create Europe’ - with the clear desire of being useful in a discussion that should change the focus from the audience as a consumer to it being an active partner of the performing arts.

This publication also follows a meeting realized by one of the apap co-organizers, Centrale Fies in Dro (iT) in september 2012, named ‘apap LAB: how to reach new

audiences?’ For this publication we have decided to focus more on the particular relationship between art and spectatorship, trying to underline aspects felt to be problematic which may lead to new positions. It is an investigation in the field of contemporary performing arts involving seven different players - in a sort of new EU commission – who stem from seven different European countries: two artists, Marko Milić and Igor Koruga from the project ‘Temporaries’ in serbia; a representative from a national agency, Cate Canniffe, Art Council England Dance Director; two directors from different art education institutions in the Netherlands, Barbara Van Lindt/DasArts and Gabriel smeets/sNDo; a curator, the German Christine Peters; a programmer, Gil Mendo from Culturgest in Portugal; ‘the’ audience, viewed through the eyes of the art group studio 5 from Austria; and a critic, wouter hillaert, working for De standaard in Belgium.

We are publishing their opinions through a juxtaposition of different points of view with the clear intention of confronting positions that sometimes lie far from one another. we consider this to be an appropriate way of presenting the complex panorama that we try to unveil in our survey of policies, marketing and true desires.