Join the Conversation: Co-Creating with the Public


Use the hashtag #ArtsFwd to join Howard and Virtual Summit participants from around the world for a conversation about this topic on Monday, October 21 at 11:00am EST. Learn more and register for the free Virtual Summit here

Professional and amateur. Artist and audience.

These are the divides that the majority of arts organizations have worked very hard to emphasize over their lifetimes. Now, after years of making that clear definition, arts organizations have begun to subtly minimize it. Why? Because the ivory tower approach is contributing to the decline in arts audiences and perhaps even future creators, abetted in no small part by the diminution in funding for arts education in K-12 public schools.

My most recent experience with such a blurring of lines was seeing The Public Theater’s “community Tempest,” which mixed a cast of a half-dozen professionals into a company of over 200 for a new musical version of the Shakespeare tale. At times the “amateurs” were obviously so (although never less than charming), at others they blended seamlessly into a production on a scale much larger than any U.S. theatre could have undertaken. It was a delight that sadly could only be sustained for three performances.

Join the conversation!

What I’d like to hear more about in the National Innovation Summit for Arts & Culture’s exploration of how arts organizations co-create with the public is how this kind of work can be sustained on an ongoing basis, and shift from being an intermittent undertaking into one that is part of the regular programming. I fear that some of these co-creating ventures are being initiated as new avenues of marketing (we will develop new patrons by allowing some of the community on our stage) or development (if we actively involve the community we can tap resources that wouldn’t otherwise be available to us). Is that viewpoint cynical? Perhaps – but I don’t actually hold it, I just worry about it.

I’d also like to hear more about how organizations will actually maintain these relationships. It’s not enough to invite them onto our stages or hang them in our galleries one time and think they’re ours for life. In what way will we not just look to our co-creating communities as future audience or donors, but sustain them as creators at their own level? In the meantime, how do we inculcate into our artists and staffs, who may have had extensive training and whose livelihood depends on employment by arts organizations, that their roles are in no way diminished or threatened by these efforts?  I also wonder whether we can reach a point where, as the title of this segment implies, we can truly co-create, instead of having the pros lead the public. Can we become so open that our community takes on the creative initiative that we aim to serve, and not just the other way around?

Join Howard and Virtual Summit participants from around the world during the Co-Creating with the Public Talk series on Monday, October 21 at 11:00am EST. Learn more and register for the free Virtual Summit here

Speakers in the Co-Creating with the Public Talk Series

Charlie Miller & Emily Tarquin, Off-Center Curators, Denver Center Theatre Company
It Takes an Audience: The Art of Creating Performances That Cannot Exist Without an Audience

Charlie Miller & Emily Tarquin are the Co-Curators of Off-Center @ The Jones, the test kitchen for the Denver Center Theatre Company. They lead the research and development of new theatrical ideas and curate unique audience experiences that expand the shows before, during, and after – inside and outside of the theatre. Now in its third season, Off-Center has been nationally recognized for its innovative approach and has successfully attracted hundreds of new audiences to the Denver Center. It has received numerous awards for its programming, including “Best Cheap Entertainment” and “Best Date Night” by Denver’s weekly independent paper, Westword.

Judy Koke, Director, Education and Interpretive Programs, Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art
From Expert to Collaborator

Judith M. Koke is the Director, Education and Interpretive Programs at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City, Missouri. Previously, Judy was Deputy Director, Education and Public Programming at the Art Gallery of Ontario, where she developed and implemented a pan-institutional program of visitor research, leading a cultural change to support data-driven, visitor-centered decision making. She was previously a Senior Researcher for the Institute for Learning Innovation, where she did a nationwide study of all IMLS-funded youth programs. She was also the evaluator at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science for seven years, where she managed visitor studies and evaluation.

Nan Keeton, Director of External Affairs, San Francisco Symphony
An Orchestra’s Mission to Inspire a Community of Music Makers

Nan Keeton serves as the Director of External Affairs for the San Francisco Symphony, where she leads audience development and community outreach for orchestra concerts, musical presentations, media projects, and curriculum-based education programs that serve over 50,000 children annually. Ms. Keeton joined the San Francisco Symphony in 2008 and oversees education, marketing and communications, government relations, patron services, publications, and the archives. Prior to joining the San Francisco Symphony, Ms. Keeton served as the Vice-President of Marketing and Business Development for Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts in New York City.

Howard Sherman is an arts consultant and writer. He has been executive director of the American Theatre Wing and the O’Neill Theater Center, managing director of Geva Theater, general manager of Goodspeed Musicals and public relations director of Hartford Stage. He is a regular columnist for The Stage in London, providing news and analysis of American theatre. He tweets as @hesherman and blogs at