Let’s get personal: The arts are reaching out in new and intimate ways

08/24/2014 4:00 AM

08/24/2014 9:00 AM

One afternoon in June, the residents of Kansas City’s West Plaza neighborhood turned their front porches into stages and brought bands in to play music for the public.

For the city’s first PorchFest KC festival, people sat on lawns, perched on curbs and stood on sidewalks to hear 70 acts spread throughout the neighborhood play everything from folk and classical music to rock.

Organizers were elated that the event drew people out of their houses — even the one guy who sat on his porch working away on his laptop while listening to the music playing all around him.

Listening to music on the front porch seems so throwback, like Andy Griffith strumming his guitar after supper for Opie and Aunt Bee.

But it’s very 2014 as musicians, artists and art organizations fighting for our attention find new ways for us to cozy up to the arts.

Think intimate experiences, as in concerts in your living room.

Think hands-on, as in becoming part of the actual creative process. Be a museum curator! Be a movie producer! Walk through the “Glass Labyrinth” at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art and become part of the art itself!

“The notion of the artist and the ivory tower is something that is going away,” Kickstarter co-founder Yancey Strickler said in an interview with the National Endowment for the Arts magazine.

“It’s a good thing because it keeps art at a distance, rather than art as something that we can relate to and something that’s a part of our lives.”

Getting up-close-and-personal is the premise behind any art walk, such as Kansas City’s popular First Fridays, where people visit galleries, meet the artists and shake their hands and sometimes even buy art.

Consider, too, this hot trend in the art world: The pop-up gallery. Away from sprawling art museums, these temporary exhibits springing up across the country take place in tiny, out-of-the-way places such as empty and abandoned storefronts.

Last year one popped up in an old car repair shop in Burlington, Vt., drawing a crowd of hipsters who munched on cookies while gazing shoulder-to-shoulder at the work of local artists.

Theater is getting homey, too. Kansas City’s new renegade theater, The Living Room, invites audience members to watch shows, staged readings and concerts while hunkered down on sofas.

If you prefer the comfort of your own couch, you could throw a home music concert. It’s more formal than having your friends over to jam and you can hire a band online from a website like concertsinyourhome.com.

No straining to hear the music over the din of a bar when the band is standing in front of your fireplace.

Billboard explored the trend last summer in a spread titled “House Music: Your Living Room Might Be Your Next Concert Venue,” noting the performances in front of tiny audiences “bring music to fans in the purest, most intimate ways.”

Six years ago in its last Arts Participation survey of Americans, the National Endowment for the Arts found that “a smaller segment of the adult population either attended arts performances or visited art museums or galleries than in any prior survey.”

Even those most stalwart of arts supporters — college-educated, of a certain age — were participating less than in previous years, and it wasn’t just because people were staying home in a bad economy.

The survey summed up the findings in one word: “Disappointing.”

It made particular note of the arts-consuming habits of millennials, those 80 million Americans born, generally speaking, between 1980 and 2000, the largest generation of consumers ever, according to Forbes.

You can thank the young and the technologically savvy, in part, for pushing the arts toward these more personal and personalized interactions with fans and patrons. Consumers want to get as close as they can get to the people creating their entertainment.

With music, more people are preferring “zero distance” between artist and fan, wrote Paul Resnikoff for Digital Music News in reviewing MTV’s research last year into music appetites.

Today’s fans expect artists and entertainers to be “constantly accessible,” especially on social media. Millennials, too, consider themselves “tastemakers” and yearn to be part of the creative process.

Was the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston listening? Earlier this year, for the first time, the museum invited the public to choose the works for a special Impressionist exhibit.

Fans voted online, choosing their favorite paintings from among 50 from the museum’s collection. (Just FYI, Vincent van Gogh’s masterpiece “Houses at Auvers” edged out Claude Monet’s “Water Lilies.”)

There’s now a new tour of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York called Museum Hack. The small groups are led by young art history buffs for their peers who emphasize enjoying the Met like it’s never been enjoyed before.

Wall Street Journal reporter Jennifer Maloney went on one of Museum Hack’s specialty tours for bachelorette parties.

“Most of the guards are friendly to Museum Hack guides, despite their sometimes-tipsy clients,” Maloney wrote. “One guard tipped them off about a painting with a pair of dogs in flagrante delicto.”

Alrighty then.

Can the art experience get any more intimate than that?

To reach Lisa Gutierrez, call 816-234-4987 or send email to lgutierrez@kcstar.com.

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