I thought it was important to share publicly the underlying values which shape each year’s BEAT Festival. It’s the perfect time to post as we’ve had two very successful festivals thus far, and I’m currently in the process of building this year’s program. So, it’s fresh on my mind.
There is this notion in the arts of what a curator, or “impresario”, or executive producer, is. He/she works quietly, covertly vetting artists or groups, secretly contacts them, and then – voila! – a beautiful pamphlet appears which lists all of this wonderful work that has been brilliantly assembled for an audience. This might happen in some places, but that is definitely not how the BEAT Festival comes together.
As the Artistic Director, I hold many conversations with community leaders about artists/groups who we might consider and any other cool, performance happenings going on around the borough. Often, these individuals are involved in the ongoing discussions and eventual relationship which forms with the artist. I never work in a vacuum and invite input from all sides. This is not a solo process and relies a great deal on an informal committee, of sorts.
When determining the final slate of artists in the festival, there are three core values I follow:
Does “it” Flow?
I have a running list here of artists and groups who are based in Brooklyn (if you’d like to be on that list, fill out this form). Much of this has been developed from research, from recommendations or from you connecting with us. This list is only a start. If there are artists or groups who are of initial interest to us, I will usually reach out with an email inviting the individual to meet up sometime over coffee to learn about each others’ work.
Here’s where it gets interesting.
If this initial meeting request is met with enthusiasm and interest – we’re off to a great start, and the “it” begins to flow. If not, I usually move on. Brooklyn is filled with interesting and innovative emerging artists who are eager for a platform. This eagerness to participate is important to us. We want you to want to be in the festival. This excitement is key. Art is a labor of love, and we LOVE creating the annual festival. If you’d LOVE to be a part of it, that’s an awesome start.
This usually makes itself apparent when setting up an initial meeting or conversation – the mutual interest is clear. If that is there, then a flow begins to appear.
Does “it” Work?
The BEAT Festival is driven by various forces. Some of these are:
~ What is the space we’re working in?
~ What is the community we’re programming in?
~ What communities are currently represented by the festival and how can we expand this?
~ Do we feel a sense of connection to the artist?
~ Is there some concept or theme in the work which is intensely relevant?
There are more, certainly, but this is a great starting list. Often, we’re approached by communities or spaces who are interested in partnering with us. We usually jump at this possibility, as partnerships are much more rewarding than straight bookings – for many reasons.
So, given we now have a space to work with, what will work here? How can we incorporate live performance which reveals the location in a new and fresh way? What community is this in? How can the festival both reflect this community back to itself as well as show it something new? Can we create an event which will excite people from other neighborhoods to make the trip to see the show?
These questions are vital in determining what to present in a space. In fact, I will often speak with our partners and other local leaders to learn what other events have worked well there before, and model those programs.
Also, the BEAT Festival needs to be about more than just one or two Brooklyn communities. We’re interested in creating an annual event which is truly borough-wide. So, does the map of the festival place us in diverse communities, spread out geographically? This is a crucial question in determining “where” the festival will be, year to year.
In considering artists, does he/she/the group demonstrate a real interest in participating in the festival? Are we dealing with an agent, or the artist directly? We’re not against dealing with agents, and do understand their function. With BEAT, we’re usually working so collaboratively that there must also be a sincere connection with the artist, otherwise it usually doesn’t work.
Also, we ask each year’s artist to actively market their shows. Given that “Brooklyn” and “community” are such a big point of focus for us, we need the artists to reach out to their family, friends and communities to come to the shows. We’re not a huge organization, with a massive reach, who will fill the house for an artist (we’ll get there though). But, because each of the artists are local, and that we’re presenting locally, we ask each artist to promote alongside us to create the fullest experience possible for everyone.
Does the theme, or themes, within the work seem intensely relevant? Does exploration of these ideas cry out for expression? This is of great interest to us as well: the “very” contemporary.
All of these questions and ideas rattle around in my head when meeting with artists, or exploring a space or a community. Eventually, I am looking for as many intriguing combinations as possible, ways to feature amazing art in spaces which aren’t necessarily known for that, and for connecting contemporary work with as many people as possible.
Is “it” Fun?
This is the ultimate intangible, but we’ve seen over the last three years, that the most successful events we’ve created also happened to be the most fun to produce. If it excites us, says “yes” in big, bright, glowing letters, then we get really interested. If it feels like a struggle, like we’re pushing some massive stone up a mountain, like this performance really doesn’t want to happen and we’re forcing it to…then we’re not going to do it.
Let me make one important distinction here – YES, we work – and we work very hard. But unless fun and excitement are at its core, and that there’s a real “flow” to the process, then we’re not going to do it. Therefore “fun” is one of our leading criteria.
If a project comes to me which corresponds with these values, I will be very interested in presenting it as part of BEAT. Festivals should be fun, engaging and opening to the mind and spirit, they should connect people and activate spaces in new ways. They should be, in a word, “festive”.
We want people to look forward to the BEAT Festival because it offers this experience. I think we’re well on our way…
PS – The “featured image” was taken by the brilliant Stephanie Mei-Ling at our program last year on the plaza in front of the Barclays Center.