Building Empathy By Making Every Voice Important

Recently, violinist Holly Mulcahy published an article chronicling her latest Arts Capacity program Walker State Faith and Character Based Prison. This was her ninth event at that facility, and it implemented a new approach to building empathy by making every voice important in a shared creative process.

In a nutshell, she and her colleagues introduced a real-time composition element to the program.

…we began with several pieces that ranged from 2 minutes to 9 minutes. We invited the audience to not only make note of their feelings and thoughts, but to also think about what elements in the music they would want to replicate because we would be using those elements to build/compose a new work right then and there!

I won’t spoil what happened other than to excerpt the following:

It was one of the most powerful moments of my career as it was combining a shared creative process, a communicative device without words, and an emotional impact that was palpable for all in that performance space.

Sharing the creative process tore down barriers because it involved and invited everyone into a musical world usually just occupied by musicians and composers. Everyone, musician or not, knows what they like. They know what makes them feel a certain way. And when offered a way to channel ideas into musical form it created an inclusive and very empathetic exercise. Every idea that was shared was incorporated without judgement. All the ideas were building blocks into one singular creation that represented community.

If that’s not enough to want to know more about what transpired, I don’t know what else would. It’s a short, but profound read.

Sharing Creativity Creates Empathy

About Drew McManus

"I hear that every time you show up to work with an orchestra, people get fired." Those were the first words out of an executive's mouth after her board chair introduced us. That executive is now a dear colleague and friend but the day that consulting contract began with her orchestra, she was convinced I was a hatchet-man brought in by the board to clean house.

I understand where the trepidation comes from as a great deal of my consulting and technology provider work for arts organizations involves due diligence, separating fact from fiction, interpreting spin, as well as performance review and oversight. So yes, sometimes that work results in one or two individuals "aggressively embracing career change" but far more often than not, it reinforces and clarifies exactly what works and why.

In short, it doesn't matter if you know where all the bodies are buried if you can't keep your own clients out of the ground, and I'm fortunate enough to say that for more than 15 years, I've done exactly that for groups of all budget size from Qatar to Kathmandu.

For fun, I write a daily blog about the orchestra business, provide a platform for arts insiders to speak their mind, keep track of what people in this business get paid, help write a satirical cartoon about orchestra life, hack the arts, and love a good coffee drink.

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