Polly Carl is the founder and director at HowlRound–an online creative hub for artists to share feedback, teaching, and vision–and a cyclist. Here, she discusses the ways in which theater is like biking, and what curators can learn from letting go of their own comfortable beliefs and start listening.

By Polly Carl at HowlRound:

And beauty in the theater has banked on a certain willingness for watchers to be relatively passive, anxious to see what has been curated for them for most of the first fifty years of the not-for-profit theater movement. But those pure watchers of the aesthetics of others are becoming more difficult to find. People will watch now but with a much greater investment in their own abilities to make the things that interest them. The world has changed. What was once considered active—watching a play in a dark theater—is no longer enough. Too many watchers are now makers and have higher standards for how they spend their more passive time in cultural institutions.

Theater is unlike cycling in both its propensity toward passivity and in its lack of accessibility. Biking is active and a large data set is likely to ride a bike sometime. But let’s be honest, theater and art making are things that privileged people tend to think about and are more likely to make and watch.

The biggest shock of curating and editing a journal that is community sourced (meaning the ideas and content comes from the community that pitches them)? Articles I love will sometimes get very few readers. Articles that have no impact on me, will get 10,000 readers. Huh? It’s happening again, others aren’t seeing things the way I do. But where that once caused rage, I now find it completely comforting.

Individually identifying the pure aesthetic and trusting we’re right about that can no longer be our focus for creating moments of transcendence. Instead our radical curatorial gesture will be to listen—to believe that transcendence comes in the sweaty involvement of the crowd propelling itself—a crowd with a deeply different sense of beauty from our individual curatorial knowing. This upsets a history of understanding how to define beauty in art.


This speech was delivered at ArtsCrush in Seattle, Washington on September 10, 2013.