Would you stop and listen? Or would you walk by too?

Posted by Americans for the Arts, Apr 27, 2007 3 comments

The occasional street performer is a part of the cityscape of most urban areas, but can art transcend the monotony of our daily commute? Washington Post wanted so see whether commuters at one of the District's busiest metro stations would stop and make time for art in their lives. Specifically, they placed Joshua Bell, violin virtuoso, who two days before filled Boston's Symphony Hall at $100 seat, could rise above the din of the daily grind. The full article can be read on the Washington Post website, written by Gene Weingarten (April 8, 2007) Pearls Before Breakfast, (reader beware: it is LONG, but worth the time).  It came to my attention through the Emerging Leader listserv, where it created quite a stir.

  • Are we cultured to think that "art" only comes with an admission ticket?
  • If we are to make art more accessible, does more need to be done to challenge people's assumptions about where art does and does not occur?
  • How have some cities have cultivated public's perceptions of street art better than others?
  • What does this piece say about us as individuals, artists, art enthusiasts and a nation of arts participants (or potential participants). And, what does it say we need to be doing, but are not?

I contacted Gene Weingarten and he replied, "Yeah, this story went international.  The Times of London did their own version (same result); I've gotten literally thousands of emails from around the world." 

Where did this story take you?

3 responses for Would you stop and listen? Or would you walk by too?


corrinn conard says
May 12, 2007 at 6:07 pm

This article just amazed me. Well, I guess I should say, it amazed me, but did not surprise me. What are we being taught in this country about "living"? I mean, really living! Living is too short to stop for beauty? Our jobs are too important to notice genius?

As parents and educators, we need to teach each other (and ourselves) how to live - breath, observe, appreciate and embrace - live.

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May 12, 2007 at 6:46 pm

I wonder if the result would have turned out the same at the end of the day instead of at the beginning. I have to say, if I was on a schedule and had a commitment, I would have a hard time justifying being late or missing my train. If it was on my way home, I'd definately stop and listen.

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Franco says
May 24, 2007 at 11:33 am

I'd walk by. Why do you think they make iPods? We have places to be.

This story doesn't prove anything except people don't have time to stop and smell the roses at any given hour of the day - but is that a new or newsworthy story?

There's no real story here. For example, this article doesn't consider the people that were listening to music on their personal music players (maybe even a Josh Bell recording??). I love classical music but as Bernstein used to advocate, it's the daily bombardment of music, the over-saturation of input that numbs us to music effects and teaches how to tune it out. Besides, I know plenty of professional musicians that don't think so highly of Josh Bell, $100 tickets or not.

I think, as an arts community, we have to do better than glorifiying every self-pitying story that encourages us to stand around and shake our heads at how unappreciated we are; these tactics won't convince legislators, or CEOs, or the general public that the arts should be held in higher esteem... but it might convince them why shouldn't; it might show them that the arts are really outside of society and they won't get anything more from promoting them than a couple of odd glares from people who don't have anything better to do than stand around and listen to street performers.

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