Caitlin Shill and Faculty Mentor: Kori Wakumatsu, Dance Department
Fine art is entering a new age, the traditional structures that have protected art for centuries are now becoming relics in the face of social, political and cultural upheavals. Over the last twenty years dance has transitioned into the realm of Fine Arts in the world of academia, however it is struggling to find substantial outlets in society while maintaining its integrity as a fine art. This project was centered on two Brigham Young University faculty in their established Onsite Mobile Dance Series, a dance company that has been serving the local arts community for over five years. This production series uniquely places dance as a fine art in a setting by which it relates to and supports the Orem and Provo’s arts community. On Site’s performances provide meaningful experiences for institutions and performing arts groups, while challenging the preconceptions of audiences and artists alike. It has tested and redefined the boundaries of fine art through producing site specific dance works. While also opening up an important dialog on community funding of the arts, and the cultural values that perpetuate the current standard.
This project encompasses a performance that occurred in June 2017, and one that will take place in February 2018. During the first performance in June as student assistant I took on an observation role, and primarily assisted in location preparation and operation of music. This experience enabled me as a student assistant to observe the concurrent collaborative artists and audience member’s experiences and reactions to the production. It became evident throughout the performance that site specicifc work constructively challenged the comfort zones of both the performers and audience members. Additionally, it provided local professionals the opportunity to reengage in their art despite lifestyles that are not conducive to performing on companies.
This performance successfully removed some of the physical and psychological barriers that traditionally separate dance artists and their audiences, enabling an experiential dialog to take place that would have otherwise been absent. This live dialog was generated by audience’s closer proximity to the performers, a more casual and familiar setting, and interdisciplinary collaboration during the performance. The performance successfully removed dance from its strictly academic setting, retained its intention and fulfillment as a fine art, and related it to a nonacademic community. The experience engaged the audience to think creatively through introducing the element of choice. In traditional concert structures the audience members attend an arranged and calculated performance. Every member of the audience experiences an untailored arts performance with no regard for personal pacing, or creative engagement of the audience. This site specific work allowed for the audience to choose their experience. They had to visually make decisions on which pieces to look at, which narratives to pursue and where to view the performance. Agency in art engaged the audience in a way that made them a part of the collaboration and deepened understanding and appreciation of dance as a fine art.
The process of producing a dance performance includes many intricacies and has no deficiency of limitations. Our society is saturated in capitalistic values which often deprioritize emphasis and appreciation of the arts. It was during the 2017 academic year that the Utah State Board of Education passed a law that has transitioned art courses in 7th and 8th grade education into minor roles1 , continuing the demoralization of dance as a fine art in the Utah arts community. A constant obstacle that On Site Mobile Dance Series has faced since its establishment is funding. This obstacle has opened up an essential dialog on how our society funds the arts, and the consequence this has on local arts groups. The effect of finance on the arts cannot be understated as it continually produces barriers to communal artistic pursuits and ingenuity.
While many academic institutions are generous in their funding of the arts, there exists a dramatic gap between the world of academia and surrounding communities. Universities are consistently able to provide funding for resident artists, however local communities often struggle to fiscally support the arts. In 2012, a year after On Site Mobile Dance Series was created, the National Endowment for the Arts published statistics which stated that a meager 6.7% of revenue for not-for-profit performing arts groups and museums came from local, state, and federal institutions combined.2 One of the greatest handicaps faced by local art institutions, including On Site Mobile Dance Series, is the limited funding from local and state levels. In the same report it states that, “roughly 45 percent of [not-for-profit performing arts] funding, in aggregate, comes from government and private sector contributions.”3 Art is being forced to follow funding. Performing arts groups such as On Site Mobile Dance Series that produce free concerts face restrictions regarding their work with the community. This season On Site had to limit its performances to institutions in Orem due to grant and funding restrictions. Observing this process as a student assistant was extremely valuable as the roles of networking, resourcing and scouting were all essential for producing a performance.
The landscape of American society and politics has undergone significant changes in recent decades sending ripples into local art communities. On Site Mobile Dance Series’ unique mission to place dance in nontraditional settings has successfully made dance more accessible to many audiences. Its emphasis on interdisciplinary arts and collaboration has engaged a cross-generational audience and preserved dance as a fine art in the Provo and Orem arts community. Through On Site’s unique approach to site specific performances it has deepened individuals understanding and experience with visual arts. Despite the various hurdles that frame producing fine art in communities, On Site is able to inspire audiences of over 250 in attendance consistently since 2011. Through their semiannual performances On Site Mobile Dance Series has successfully generated a unique movement that is increasing momentum as local artists are finding relevant avenues to engage the community.
1 Utah State Board of Education R277-700. The Elementary and Secondary School General Core.
2 Woronkowicz, Joanna, et al. “How the United States Funds the Arts.” National Endowment for the Arts, Third Edition, Nov. 2012, pp. 1., www.arts.gov/sites/default/files/how-the-us-funds-the-arts.pdf.
3 .Woronkowicz Joanna, National Endowment for the Arts, 2.