Popping in to a pop-up: How to enjoy new arts experiences

By Luann Jennings

During August 2017, Creative Waco is hosting a temporary “pop-up gallery,” Waco 52, at 712 Austin Avenue (two doors up from the Hippodrome).  Waco 52 had a blockbuster opening weekend, with around 1500 people stopping by between Thursday evening and Saturday afternoon.

If you weren’t one of them, I hope it’s not because you feel uncomfortable going to an art gallery. Here are a few thoughts that might make a new arts experience easier, whether in a gallery, theatre, concert hall or elsewhere.

Photo: Austin Meek looks at “Sleep Painting: Bach,” by Travis Tarver, at the Waco 52 exhibition.

It’s okay to like some things better than others. We’re all constructed differently, and we all have different tastes and experiences. Our job as viewers, listeners, and audience members isn’t to judge how “good” the work of art is – instead, focus on your experience and what’s coming out of it. I’ve equally enjoyed Broadway plays and high school plays, not because they were the same in objective quality, but because each one provided me with a different and valuable experience.

You’ll get more out of any work of art if you take some time to process it. This is true whether you’re standing in front of a painting or contemplating something you read or listened to or saw in a theatre. What comes through strongly? What else is there that unfolds more slowly? What does the piece make you think of or remember? What do you feel? Does it make you want to take any sort of action? You don’t have to deeply consider every piece of art you run across; but if you make a habit of really thinking or talking about works that attract or move you, you will build the “muscle” of appreciation and will get more and more out of each arts experience.

Experiencing art is always more fun with a friend. One of the main reasons people report for not going to arts events is that they don’t have anyone to go with. If you have a partner who isn’t interested, which of your friends might be up for a new experience? Who could have a good conversation with you about it afterwards? What else could you do that would enrich the experience even more? Dinner beforehand or a drink in a club with live music afterward?

Learning about an art form will help you understand it. When I met my husband Chuck, a jazz guitarist, I knew nothing about jazz. Sometimes when I went with him to a jazz club it sounded to me like each musician was playing a different song. But as I learned about the history of jazz, and what jazz musicians are doing as they improvise, I came to appreciate it. I don’t tune in to the jazz station when I get in the car, but I can listen to jazz today and enjoy it – and, more importantly, it’s caused me to hear all music differently.

Learning about artists will help you understand their work. Every artist is showing you the world as she sees it – and by looking through her eyes, you expand your own vision. If you like one piece an artist created, check out others. What ideas, colors, sounds, shapes, or images recur? What do the artist and others say about her work, and is that the same as what you see? What in the artist’s personal story is reflected in her work? What is it about this artist’s vision of the world that appeals to you or stretches you?

You won’t be the only “beginner” in the room. Come to a new arts experience with an adventurous spirit. There’s a reason why “play” is what we do with a musical instrument or in the theatre. It’s supposed to be fun! As you would in any social situation, watch what others do, and do the same thing. Ask questions. Artists love the curiosity of people who are new to what we do. If you’re not sure what’s available to you, do some research. Check Creative Waco’s Calendars page to find places to get more information. Also visit our Creative Directory and click through to the websites of organizations and artists that sound interesting. Many have email lists you can join or Facebook pages you can follow. Don’t assume that you can’t afford the arts. Many events are free, and some organizations have free or discounted admission on particular days, or for volunteers.

If you’d like to learn more about the arts, I’ll be teaching a class this fall on “The Arts in Our Community” through Baylor’s Continuing Education program. We’ll spend four class sessions learning about visual art, music, dance, and theatre, and we’ll get to hear from artists in those areas about what they do. We’ll visit a museum and attend a play and concert together, and we’ll have plenty of time to talk about them afterward.

The Waco 52 Pop-Up Gallery will also be holding some educational events. Follow Creative Waco on Facebook  to see announcements, or check the calendar on our website.

The gallery is open from 10am-6pm Monday through Saturday, and some evenings for special events, until September 2. In addition to the exhibition, we have a retail shop where you can purchase prints, postcards, jewelry, ceramics, CDs, books, and other products created by local artists. Stop by with your laptop or a book and work or relax with a Luna Juice, cup of tea or Pinewood Roasters coffee.

If you have any questions or suggestions, ask for a Creative Waco staff member while you’re at the gallery, or write us at [email protected]. We’d love to talk with you!

Luann Jennings is an arts educator and advocate who works with Creative Waco (our arts agency) and other local and national arts organizations. She worked as a theatre director in Atlanta for a dozen years before moving to New York City, where she enjoyed experiencing, learning about, and teaching others about all kinds of art forms. Chuck and Luann moved to Waco last summer, and they live at the Good Neighbor Settlement house in Sanger Heights.


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