5 Modes of Arts Engagement

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This Week: What are the different ways we interact with the arts?

Alan Brown of WolfBrown proposed that there are five unique modes of arts participation that vary based on the relative amount of creative control exercised by individuals.

For the first 50 years of the nonprofit arts sector, there was an assumption that audiences belonged in the observational mode – sitting quietly in a darkened theater, absorbing excellent content – while the inventive, interpretive, and curatorial modes were left to professionals.

Now, in this new era for the arts where the boundaries between organization and audience are breaking down, there is an increasing movement to create opportunities for arts participants to engage in all five modes.

Note: Brown and Jennifer L. Novak-Leonard have also expanded the thinking about this original model in “Getting In On the Act,” a collection of research findings published by the James Irvine Foundation in 2011. 

What are the five modes?

  1. Inventive Arts Participation engages the mind, body and spirit in an act of artistic creation that is unique and idiosyncratic, regardless of skill level.
  2. Interpretive Arts Participation is a creative act of self-expression that brings alive and adds value to pre-existing works of art, either individually or collaboratively.
  3. Curatorial Arts Participation is the creative act of purposefully selecting, organizing and collecting art to the satisfaction of one’s own artistic sensibility.
  4. Observational Arts Participation encompasses arts experiences that you select or consent to, motivated by some expectation of value.
  5. Ambient Arts Participation involves experiencing art, consciously or unconsciously, that you did not select.

Do you engage participants at your organization across this entire spectrum?  What are the benefits or barriers to doing so?

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