Art Attack! Random acts of culture
Organized 'spontaneous' arts events seek to win over a younger crowd.
Flash mob, art mob, flash crowd, public intervention, or just random acts of culture. Whatever the name, these spontaneous gatherings – facilitated by Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube – are hot among the mobile, hyperconnected, and commitment-averse social-media generation.Skip to next paragraph
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And they are now the latest darling of more traditional cultural institutions who are working to remain relevant in the new media environment. Opera companies, dance troupes, and theater ensembles are all looking for ways to get out of traditional spaces – and into the larger public's face.
Whether it's a spontaneous rendition of Handel's Hallelujah chorus amid a busy shopping day at Macy's, or thousands of dancers simultaneously executing the same choreography in multiple far-flung cities,or a clutch of actors suddenly morphing into vampires in the middle of a hungry lunchtime crowd – all caught on video and posted online – artists are trying to break old habits and startle, surprise, and seduce new audiences.
As these artists try to see themselves in new ways, they also hope these unexpected encounters will allow audiences to see them with new eyes.
Art institutions across the board are trying to shed what Opera America president Marc Scorca calls "an edifice complex." Partly fueled by declining audiences, he says, but also responding to a deeper need to reclaim the kind of central cultural relevance that such venerable institutions as the ballet and the opera once had in a community, these groups are struggling to break free of traditions that make them seem either outdated or nonvital.
IN PICTURES: The Art of the Americas Wing at the MFA
This impulse fits a larger cultural current. "The old elite cultural divides are breaking down," says Clarke Mackey, author of "Random Acts of Culture: Reclaiming Art and Community in the 21st Century," a work detailing the rise of participatory culture over so-called "expert culture" – largely "fueled by the power of Web 2.0," he says.
Young people weaned on the new technological tools that let them create a feature film for a few thousand dollars or score a symphony with a few clicks of a mouse have little appetite for the sort of passive spectator behavior demanded in hushed recital halls or remote downtown opera houses.
"They want the sense of newness and immediacy and engagement in cultural experiences that they have in the rest of their life on Facebook and Twitter and their cellphones," says Mr. Mackey.
More than once over the past nine months, shoppers at the Orlando Fashion Square mall in Florida have had their routine enlivened by the sudden appearance of dancers pirouetting and swinging past shops and across busy food courts. Organized through e-mails by the local chapter of USA Dance, the most recent event in November featured dozens of couples descending on the mall and launching into choreographed steps.
"The goal is just to show people how much fun dance can really be," says chapter president John Davis. He caught the flash-mob bug, he says, from an online video showing a crush of dancers executing a Viennese waltz in a train station.