The theme this month at the CRB is “Audience.” Many museums and arts centers have an institutional narrative. The narrative often reflects the collection a museum holds or, if the institution doesn’t have a collection, the ideas and values associated with the artists shown, exhibitions presented, and programs offered. The narrative typically helps to communicate the mission of an institution. An institutional narrative does not speak in one direction; it is responsive to context—history, geography, the social demographics of a place.
With this attention to place, there is an inherent sense of reciprocity in the concept of audience. Any institution, like any dance, music, or theater performance is precisely that: a performance for the public realm. Institutions, like people, behave. They have character. An institution’s performance therefore conforms to humanity’s innate need to respond to others. Indeed, institutions react to the presence of others, whether the actual existence of a nearby community or the ephemeral audience radiating around an institution via social media networks. And like dance, music, and theater—does the performance exist without the reciprocity of an audience? One who runs an institution must comparatively ask: does an institution exist without the reciprocal company of others?
The question of audience vis-à-vis institutions naturally leads one to consider community. Who is addressed by an institution and to whom does an institution speak? What do they—the community—have at stake in what is spoken? These are important questions for us at CRB, as with many institutions, particularly today as material culture and immaterial ideas disperse into the world through different points, from the screen of a phone to the space of a contemporary arts center. And so as CRB develops, our attention to this question will filter through every facet of our activity, from the public programs to the private seminars. Analyzing and continually refining the narrative, how we speak and with whom is part of our ongoing curatorial research.
This month we draw on a selection of publications to think about audience. The 2017 publication The Absent Museum: Blueprint for a Museum of Contemporary Art for the Capital of Europe serves as a departure point for this inquiry into the reciprocal relationship between audience and institution. With that book in mind, we have identified eight titles in the CRB inventory that provide complementary and divergent ways for getting even closer to the important role arts institutions have in speaking with—not to—their audiences.
James Voorhies, Chair, CCA Graduate Program in Curatorial Practice