The Art of Hosting
Hosting is at the core of our work at MABELLEarts and we consider it an art form unto itself. We learned much of this from mentor Ruth Howard, the founding artistic director of Jumblies Theatre whose work has influenced community-engaged artists across the country.
Artful hosting is particularly important when you’ve made it a priority to involve traditionally under-served groups in your programming. MABELLEarts national project Welcome to this Place focused on working with a range of artists and organizations across Canada to involve newcomers to Canada in arts-based programming in urban parks and public spaces. There are many groups facing systemic barriers to participation in cultural activities and events and a key part of your job is to help them feel genuinely invited, welcomed and included.
1. Make it beautiful and exciting
MABELLEarts strives to weave beauty into every detail - from the art materials we choose to the food we serve and how we set the tables. This attention to detail requires being well-organized and prepared—especially when working in parks and outdoor places that are not necessarily equipped to create beautiful art. Working in parks has often meant creating a beautiful and fully-functional art studio literally from the ground up—a task that takes formidable planning and forethought. Detailed packing lists, workshop plans, an articulated order of events and lots of set-up time are all tools we use to achieve a beautiful outcome. The result is that participants feel they have taken part in and contributed to something worthy of their time and energy. Here are some key questions we consider when planning a workshop or event:
Describe the kinds of materials you plan to use.
Why have you chosen these materials?
How do you anticipate them impacting the process and final product?
How much of each material will you require?
Influences and Inspiration:
Are there specific cultural or artistic traditions that have helped inspire the idea?
Have you compiled any source material to help further articulate the idea or inspire activities?
How does your choice of materials impact or support your core idea?
Creation Process and Logistics:
How will new materials and activities be introduced as the process unfolds?
How will participants be oriented on how to effectively use the materials?
What (if any) safety concerns should be considered?
How should the workshop space be set up?
What else is needed, i.e.: easels or lapboards? Plastic sheeting for tables? Smocks? Brushes? Pastels? Etc.
Can participants take home the work they make?
Collaboration with Artists:
Will other artists be collaborating with you or advising you on this project?
If yes, what role(s) will they play?
Collaboration with Community Members:
Will participants focus on creating individual works?
What creative role will you play in collaboration with participants?
Will the members create individual pieces, a shared piece or a bit of both?
Are there any needs or constraints that participants may have that you should consider?
What will your role and artistic contribution be in shaping the final product?
Does the final product have an audience?
If yes, where and how will the work be shown/experienced?
What role will participants play?
-What is next life of object? Disposed? Hung? Anything to consider here?
What is the most appropriate form of documentation for the project, i.e.: photography, video, audio etc.
How can these forms document the process? The product
2. Introduce yourself!
When someone is new to your activity or event, make sure you introduce yourself, get their contact information and welcome them heartily. At MABELLEarts, community leaders play an important role in welcoming participants—going around to each participant to say hello. We use this moment of welcoming as a way to gather statistical information (something our funders require) provided our guest is willing to share their name and contact information, which is collected on a standard attendance form and then inputted into a database so we can keep in touch, provided we’ve been given permission to do so.
At the end of the day, all the planning and attention to detail will not prepare you for the many unpredictable aspects of making art in parks. Perhaps over 100 people of all ages show up to a workshop you anticipated 20 adults would attend. Maybe a local summer camp of 5 to 10 year olds drops by during your seniors painting group. These opportunities invite us to create on the fly - to find the unexpected beauty in the chaos.
Do you want more tools, tips and insights for creating your own community-engaged projects in public spaces? Visit Placing Parks to learn more and explore our project archive and toolkit! We hope Placing Parks helps you envision artful projects that bring people together in your local park!