Sprinting to catch up with sports

by Jini Stolk

The recent World Cup (remember?) made me think again about the huge emotional connection people have to sports events, compared to the more restrained connection they seem to have to the arts.

Public vs. private enjoyment, you might say. The power of the crowd vs. profound internal impact, you might add.

But Nina Simon at Museum 2.0 and the folks at Arts USA have been writing about things we can learn from the World Cup about building energy and audience for the arts, and about the kinds of experiences that create pathways to more arts participation.

Nina Simon says that the sport of soccer has been enormously effective at expanding participation in the US among youth, creating opportunities for kids at any level of talent to participate and feel connected socially. “…soccer is developing a constantly-refreshing audience by creating opportunities for kids as young as four to participate in AYSO youth leagues. AYSO goes out of its way to include kids with different abilities, with “everyone plays” as one of its chief tenets.”

And larger youth leagues become stronger, leading to stronger college teams and stronger Olympic and professional performance. And all of that leads to more audience – at all levels of the game.

She calls for the arts to develop mutual respect, coordination, and collaboration among organizations that work at different levels of expertise, budget, and scale; to focus on developing both practitioners and audiences; and to offer a wider diversity of opportunities to engage.

In essence, she challenges us to eliminate in our hearts, souls and practices all vestiges of  “elitism,” whereby we place certain types of professional arts on a pedestal above all other artistic experiences. This is not far off some of the things Alan Brown has been saying about the wide variety of engagement with the arts that bring people joy and satisfaction.

And remember, as I wrote following a recent Olympics season, sports may very well be beating us at the art of telling stories. That’s a competition that I think we should be able to train for and win.



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