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There was an article in The New York Times’ arts section this past Sunday that I only just got around to reading—but have become completely enchanted with. The story is about pop-up arts performances that are occurring in cities around the country, courtesy of the Knight Arts Program, which is part of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.
The video above (which, by the way, has been viewed 31 million times) gives you a sense of what it’s about: unsuspecting shoppers/coffee drinkers/diners are caught off balance as seemingly “normal” people suddenly burst into song in the middle of a public space. The people, of course, are professional artists—opera singers, symphony musicians, and the like—who give a high-quality performance to a charmed audience. The upshot? Excitement, a feel-good vibe, on-the-spot contributions, and that holiest of holies, increased ticket sales for conventional performances. Everyone lives happily ever after.
To their credit, mainstream performing arts organizations are making use of the flash-mob concept, something that’s been growing in popularity over the past five years. Whether or not you believe that arts audiences can be boosted with a quick fix like this one, it’s hard to deny the appeal of bringing really good art to potential consumers who haven’t yet had the opportunity to discover that they like it. That’s the long term payoff, but to me at least, the biggest plus is the delight factor—adding an unexpected arts experience to someone’s quotidian routine.
The Knight Foundation doesn’t operate in Washington, so don’t expect to see these mini-performances occurring in this city anytime soon. But how cool would it be if someone else initiated it here? Imagine: you’re shopping for kale at the Dupont farmers market when suddenly a soprano with the Washington National Opera pipes up with a romantic aria. Or you’re perusing shoes at Tyson’s and realize, looking to your left, that the entire Washington Ballet is doing jetes and pirouettes near the food court.