The date: January 17, 2011.
The place: Utrecht, a lovely and historic small city in the Netherlands, about half an hour from Amsterdam
My host: Kunstfactor, the national organization for the development and promotion of the amateur arts in the Netherlands.
The event: Het Grote Coachbuffet, a moderated dialogue and conversation — complete with three course meal — on the subject of artistic coaching.
Artistic coaching? What’s that? For starters, it’s a phenomenon that’s very big in Europe but has no equivalent that I know of in the United States. That is what I told the crowd of 150 when Ruben Maes, the event’s lively moderator, called me up on stage to offer a stateside perspective on a discussion about the ins-and-outs of how arts professionals can help amateur choreographers and theater directors refine and realize their visions. The closest parallel that I could think of was the program that San Francisco’s Margie Jenkins has developed, pairing established choreographers in mentorships with their emerging colleagues. But mentoring, I learned, is somewhat different from coaching, which is much more project-specific.
A few minutes later the conversation turned to community-based art. Listening in courtesy Sandra Jeurninck, my unflappable translator, I found myself on contrastingly familiar ground as the questions emerged: What is the higher value: to strengthen community or to make effective art? When does community arts practice cross the line into therapy, and where does responsibility lie when it does? What happens t the relationships an artist builds in developing a project once the project is over? The pressing issues in Dutch community-based arts had a very recognizable ring.
My primary platform for being at the Coachbuffet was Liz Lerman’s Critical Response Process, and during my time on the dais I had a chance to talk through the steps of the process and the ways that its principles address the goals of coaching. This topic was also the focus a workshop that Kunstfactor organized earlier in the day for choreography coaches, a group that proved to be engaged and receptive as we used the process to respond to a solo choreographed by Soosan Gilson and danced by Dido Mirck.
The day was a blast, and I’m grateful to Kunstfactor’s Jolanda Keurentjes and Marian van Miert for their cordial hosting and excellent coordination of my visit. Dank u wel, Kunstfactor!