June 8, 2020Anne Choe
An exclusive event. There's such an allure to those words. It evokes this feeling of anticipation and expectation. As soon as I'm invited to an exclusive event, I start to plan: What am I going to wear? Who am I going to go with? Who am I going to meet? What is the best version of me that I'm going to present in that moment?
But that feeling of newness and unique presentation is no longer available in the pandemic.
The arts are a place of novelty. Going to a performance is a once-in-a-lifetime, unique experience that you will have with a group of strangers. The specialness embodies all the things that you do as a part of the event. Where are we going to eat before we go to the theater, the ballet, the concert venue? Who is the person or people I'll to sit next to when I go to this event? How are we going to talk about this shared, exclusive experience when it's over?
But the arts have also been a place of exclusion and those barriers prevent many from attending. How am I supposed to behave when I'm in this space? Am I wearing the right thing? How do I know when I'm allowed to tap my foot, turn to the person next to me and comment, move or cough (coughing in public is barred officially BTW), or applaud when I'm compelled to?
The conflicting nature of our exclusive events shows up in much of the work we do as arts administrators. At JCA, we work with many arts clients to manage events through an event and management software called ArtifaxEvent. When building a new event in Artifax, one has to check a box that indicates how the event will be defined. The default is “Public.” Among users, there has traditionally been a lot of discussion around the name of this field, because "Public" implies unfettered invitation. This is juxtaposed to a member’s only event, an exclusive event, a chosen audience that is restricted. There has been a requirement for further nuance in the software: Public public, Public private, Private private, or just private.
Whether public or private, as an arts organization, you nonetheless need to plan for it, schedule it, execute it, and communicate to others that it is happening. Artifax is lovingly democratic. It is unconcerned with who is going to be there and highly focused on the fact that it has to happen. It prioritizes the process, and allows the organization to define the audience.
So as arts organizations consider reopening their doors, how are we going to “define” this idea of an event? In a post-COVID-19 world and amidst the anti-racism movement, is there an opportunity to redefine "exclusive?" Can we be exclusive in a way that is anticipatory and special (an event that a person will look forward to and plan for), but not "excluding"—the thing that makes one feel unwelcome and anxious about the experience?
Reopening after the lockdown, we also have an opportunity now to say to the "Public": You are invited to an inclusive event. Come and share this once-in-a-lifetime experience with me—a stranger—that would not be the same if you were not there. Come and enjoy this precious thing that we have all been yearning for—the opportunity to gather, commune, reflect, and savor music, theater, dance, and art. What we have all so dearly missed. Create an exclusive event, for everyone.
I invite you to be a part in creating an inclusive event and many more to come.
As arts administrators, we know that it takes planning, coordination, and communication to put on an event. ArtifaxEvent can help you do that and from your home! If you have questions about how Artifax can work for your organization, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.