Several years ago, I saw Natalie Merchant perform in the meeting house of the Shaker Heritage Society in Albany, NY. It was one of the most intimate, intense, beautiful cultural experiences of my life. The room was filled, and she sang without amplification as she moved around the large hall. Everything about it was perfect.*
I am a huge proponent of collaboration. Sometimes, a great collaboration exists in the creating pairing of artist and space.
The cultural non-profit 4Culture in Seattle has an interesting program called Site(s) Specific, in which artists of all stripes can collaborate with historic sites to create new work rooted in a historic place.
This weekend, for example, musician Stephen Griggs will interpret the history of jazz in Seattle with the first of a series of musical and spoken word performances at the historic Panama Hotel Tea House.
Other projects in the series include a sculpture installation in a historic cemetery, a Butoh performance at a rail depot, and an outdoor theatrical production at a farm based on a hostage situation that actually took place at that farm.
One of the more intriguing projects is a partnership between a dance company that specializes in performing in homes and a historic house. The CabinFever dance company will perform in the Stimson-Green Mansion a piece titled “Heart Content.” It’s described as “a series of ‘choose your own adventure’ style performances – consisting of maps and stories handed to audience members upon arrival. Roving performances and installations will take place throughout the evenings within the mansion.”
Creative collaborations like this make sense. They cross-pollinate audiences and interests. From the perspective of the historic sites, I know there are always questions of staying on mission and doing a lot of work, taking risks and doing a lot more work for an event that may not translate into increased visitorship or donations or other easily measured benefits.
But I think the question is then how to make these collaborations work, what to measure, how to use them as a springboard for further community engagement.
*You can watch a conversation between Natalie Merchant and Shaker site executive director Starlyn D’Angelo and Anne Clothier here.