How MENU Works
In my last post, I discussed the AOMC’s starting points for creating barrish’s MENU project. Before we get back to those three main ideas that started the project, or address how the project conveys my current philosophy of arts and business working holistically, I wanted to give you a brief overview of what actually happens when someone participates in the MENU project. As it’s still in its early stages, this intake process and approach is still a work in progress. As I’ll elaborate more on in the next post, I’m getting the feeling that this might be a structure for process that we stick with across a few pieces. If that happens I’m sure the structure will continue to evolve and improve, but I’ve been really pleased with how it’s going so far. Take a peek…
After checking out the site, our curator-to-be fills out the request form to curate a showing. I get that info as an email in my inbox and (after doing my awesome we-got-a-curation dance around the living room) I set up a meeting with the curator(s), Lillie De (AOMC company manager), and myself.
The first meeting is a chance for us to really get to know the curator, and get a sense both of what they’re looking to curate and why. We usually start by asking them to talk about what drew them to the project, what they’re interested in. As with most of our projects, this one is predicated on the hope that we’ve created a system or opportunity that other people will have interest in – it’s been really fantastic to see that interest is indeed there, not just from people who have been long time supporters of the AOMC’s work (thanks mom and dad…), but also new faces from within and beyond our downtown dance community.
In addition to getting the broader view about why the curator is interacting with the project, there are a lot of basics to cover. We usually start with ideas about what kind of event they’d like to host – dance party, showing, installation, dinner party, etc. Then we move on to talking about their space—how many rooms, the layout, rules of the space, etc—and how they’d like to deal with the audience, both in terms of who the event is open to, and in terms of cost and cover charge. In talking about the basics of the event, we usually start to get a good sense of both the tone of the event and our audience. One of the things that’s been great about this project (and I’ll get into this more later) is that it brings us into close proximity with audiences that we’re not used to. Whether it’s a private party for the curator’s friends, or open to the public but not in NYC, the curator’s introduction puts us in close proximity with new and more importantly different audiences, with different tastes, preferences, expectations, and contexts.
After the “basics” are established, we get to hear what specific sections caught their attention and if they have other specific desires about the showing. They also have plenty of time to ask us questions – everything ranging from our intent with the project to questions about specific dancers to wanting to know more about barrish itself. We also talk about the project’s basic rate structure and packages. There’s so much to discuss! I’ve been using this form to keep us on track, and so far it’s come in really handy! As you can see, it’s kind of a Faulkner approach to curation – basically asking the same question (“what do you want your showing to be?”) in a million different ways, one after the other (“Event? Space? Sections? Tone? Place in process? Number of dancers?”) After the first meeting is over we’re always a’twitter with excitement – it’s thrilling to bring other people into the creative process, and a really new approach for us!
We try to set up a closely-following second meeting to actually see the space and get a tour of the layout. I’m someone who tends to make work very specifically for the space it will be shown in (and especially for this project!) so seeing the space is usually the point at which my creative mind starts buzzing the most. This second meeting is also a great chance for the curator to get to revisit their choices from meeting one, and let us know if they’ve changed their mind on anything or had their ideas develop more in any direction. Usually, the curator will have also had a chance to go back to the MENU site, and now has a little more certainty of what they’re interested in after being given that agency to decide in our first meeting.
After the second meeting I’ll start planning out a proposal for what we’d like to show based on the curator’s ideas and requests. For these first few curations (which we’ll detail in a forthcoming post) I’ve tried to submit two or three, as there’s usually a range of requests that the curator makes, and also a possible range that they’re able to afford. I see these first proposals as more of a base for discussion than any type of final decision – the exciting part of this whole project is that it brings the artist and the individual together in creative discussion, and merits compromise, dialogue, and idea-sharing. While the main point of the proposals is to agree on what sections will be shown, any additional add-ons like music or publicity, and the resulting final price, I also try to give a sort of walkthrough of what I think the showing will be at that point. For example, rather than just saying that we’ll show the sewing section of String Duet and then the score section, I might propose that the sewing section happens in a corner of the elevator as guests take it upstairs to the roof, where the two performers suddenly cut in front of them, and then lead them around to the side.
From there, we finalize what the showing will be—we try to include as many details about the evening, cover charge, invited guests, etc. as possible, but the most important thing for us at this point is setting what sections we’ll be performing. The budget for the basic package of the project ($200) includes 2 3-hour rehearsals specifically dedicated to the showing, and our matching micro-grant from the AOMC’s Fund for Sustainability affords us two more. That means we have a total of 12 hours in which to assemble the piece into the showing’s new order and relationship to itself, as well as address issues like arc and narrative and relationship, which may be new or different in this new order and arrangement. We are, of course, working on the piece more than these 12 hours to develop new sections and refine the finished ones, but these 12 hours ensure that we have time dedicated to preparing for the specific showing.
While we’re working on building the piece, we also star the AOMC’s PR machine – all curators get a dedicated blog post here about their curation process and desires, a feature in our monthly e-news, and can opt in for more PR like working with a publicist to get listings and reviews. We also start planning out the event on our end, both in terms of performance and in terms of the business surrounding it – Which VIPs need to be there? Are there any new donors that we’re curating? Are there artists that we want to work with who haven’t seen our work yet? What about potential curators to invite? All through this process, we’re still in dialogue with the project’s curator. We invite them to be as involved in the pre-production as they’d like, and at the very least, they’re getting the overview of what it takes to run the dancemaking machine. Hopefully they’re seeing what I experience – that through all the work and logistics to be addressed there’s a thrilling excitement and possibility of what the showing will turn out to be that makes it all worth it.
In the next post, I’ll look at the actual effects and benefits of this process, both in terms of the three questions I posed in Part I, and in terms of the supposed arts/business divide. We’d love to hear your thoughts!