By Ariel Schwartz, Senior Editor, Co.Exist
Flash mobs--those groups of people that gather in public places and, say, stage a mass dance performance of Michael Jackson’s "Thriller" or ride the subway with no pants on--once were surprising, even delightful. But what if these pop-up performances were used for a good cause, like making people aware of the cultural organizations in their cities? The Knight Foundation’s Random Acts of Culture program pulled it off 1,000 times over.
Over the past two years, the foundation has worked with arts organizations in eight U.S. cities (Akron, Ohio; Charlotte, North Carolina; Detroit; Macon, Georgia; Miami; Philadelphia; San Jose, California; and St. Paul, Minnesota) to bring seemingly spontaneous performances to malls, farmer’s markets, office building lobbies, train stations, and elsewhere. "These are interesting ways to connect communities to culture." says Dennie Scholl, VP of arts at the Knight Foundation and creator of the Random Acts of Culture Program. "As society changes and we get deeper into our digital lives, we tend to move away from the ways we entertained ourselves previously."
The idea for the program came to Scholl after watching this YouTube clip, featuring a guy behind a counter at a marketplace in Spain singing an operatic aria to a woman selling coffee beans (also in on the performance). Other performers come out of the crowd and begin to sing with them. The crowd grows, and at the end, one of the singers holds up a sign (in Spanish) saying "You thought you didn’t like opera?"
Now that the Knight Foundation has provided what Scholl calls "the seed capital" for these Random Acts of Culture, virtually all of the arts organizations involved plan to keep them going. "It was a social venture capital investment," says Scholl.
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Knight Foundation supports transformational ideas that promote quality journalism, advance media innovation, engage communities and foster the arts. We believe that democracy thrives when people and communities are informed and engaged. For more, visit www.knightfoundation.org.