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Art Imitates Life

Recently, the American Conservatory Theater (ACT) of San Francisco announced their purchase of a small run-down theater in the blighted Central Market neighborhood. City officials have thrown everything but the kitchen sink at this area that just won’t seem to yield to revitalization.  And although I’m thrilled to once again see the arts play a catalytic role in the renewal process, what I’m more eager to see is not so much how the space affects the neighborhood, but how the neighborhood affects the space.

As I see it, there are a few methods by which art can be “released” into a community. The “if-you-build-it-they-will-come” approach has been a staple of cultural planning for decades, giving rise to numerous grand arts facilities that have seeded cultural districts and other touristic attractions. A subtler (but just as effective) approach is to release art into a neighborhood through a variety of smaller conduits and settings. Here, artistic activity plays a supporting and cohesive role in the community and takes cues and inspiration from the extant cultural infrastructure. The idea is that art can and should incorporate elements from surrounding environments while still remaining relevant, appealing, and excellent.

One of the main reasons I took interest in ACT’s transaction is the versatility of the space. It is characterized by ACT management as a space that will not only be intimate, but will also operate in the intersection between theater, cabaret, and laboratory. My colleague Alan Brown just authored a paper titled, “All the World’s a Stage,” in which he discusses the increasingly important role of setting and space in cultural participation. I could not help but evoke Alan’s conviction when I first read about ACT’s purchase, in hopes that their newest theatrical setting will exploit some elements of the gritty neighborhood in their productions and the physical space of the theater. I believe this small facility can both aid in the restoration of the surrounding neighborhood, and stimulate the evolution of theatrical settings.

Oscar Wilde famously said, “Life imitates Art far more than Art imitates Life.” Perhaps an antagonistic sentiment to the great, late poet, but in the case of ACT’s new performance space, I certainly hope that art will imitate life.

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2 Responses to Art Imitates Life

  1. Meghan says:

    Well said, Kyle! Bravo!

  2. Brijet Myers says:

    Wonderfully written article Kyle!

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