As I hear about capital projects that have gone bust from overambition and organizational stress rooted in conflicting views about how much it is possible to know in advance, it seems apropos to put this thinker’s conclusion forward, grounded in arts management as a lived experience:
“It is not a matter of saying analytically, ‘what are the requirements, how best they could be organized?’ This will usually bring into existence something tame, conventional, often cold. The science of theatre building must come from studying what it is that brings about the more vivid relationships between people.“ – Director Peter Brook
The science of theater building sounds like every project worth completing right now. MANY THANKS to John Thackara for including the quote in his excellent 2003 essay, The Post-Spectacular City.
Thackara’s essay is a useful grounding point for heady, interrelated discussions taking place in the emergent design worlds. Whether it’s culture hacking or creative placemaking, any good idea can go awry in a heartbeat of “too busy to care” or “too about-to-be-funded to care” about the internal logic of what we’re doing and how we’re doing it. There is also (ahem) what David Ehrenfield called the plain, old “arrogance of humanism” to contend with. It happens.
I attended a memorable speech Toni Morrison gave twenty-odd years ago at a conference in Washington, DC in which she made the point: ”there is no Golden Age.” We cannot with integrity hark back to periods in history which relied on slavery and other forms of oppression to organize the leisure time of its decision-makers to indulge in politics and the arts. That’s what I see today when presented with a set of Greek columns, for instance, in Chicago’s Millennium Park. A false harking back and a collective call towards inauthenticity – in other words, a spectacle. We cannot even hark back to the golden ages of our own respective movements, times when the inside circle of a given scene was very small (we were in it, of course!) and things were cooler.
However, I do believe we can achieve something golden in our work across sectors as we imagine things differently. These glimmers, these clues, are by definition ephemeral and provisional. They multiply out of concern for vivid relationships between people. We must make space for dialogue and co-dreaming. For the invention of new, shared meanings. As we muddle through figuring this stuff out, we must include ourselves. As we take responsibility for prioritizing individuals and interactions over tools and processes (wait, who’s manning the Agile Manifesto?), we supply others with useful models for differentiating the vivid from the bland.
Don’t we all want a taste of the post-spectacular? Something to carry our time spent in cities, theaters, and workplaces beyond the tame, cold and conventional? This is not something that will be delivered to us. It is something we must make.
Companies like Morning Star are figuring out vivid relationships at work AND figuring out how to succeed economically. Let’s study them closely, for inspiration and information rather than exact, cookie-cutter replication.
Meanwhile, we’ll walk across Millennium Park to another sculpture affectionately known by Chicagoans as “The Bean.” Here, a reflective surface views its viewers, reminding us of the absurdity of standing in front of a hunk of metal trying – alongside a bunch of strangers – to see something wondrous. It is simply the act of seeing that is wondrous, the public celebration of NOW, and the unrepeatable experience in the infinite reflections every moment brings.