By Dennis Scholl, Knight Foundation VP/Arts
Knight Foundation’s Random Act of Culture® program has been seen by over ten million viewers and we just completed our 345th live performance. I’ve watched dozens of them myself, knowing what was about to happen, looking forward to seeing the quizzical looks of the passerbys tuning to the joy of experiencing a spontaneous artistic performance. But I’ve always been “in the know” – until yesterday.
I flew to Boston to give a speech to the Boston arts community at the request of The Boston Foundation’s CEO and Knight Trustee, Paul Grogan. Paul has been very supportive of Knight’s national art initiative and its impact on community engagement. He asked me to talk about Knight Foundation’s initiatives and spend some time with The Boston Foundation’s dynamic new senior program director for the arts, Javier Torres.
With a few minutes to go before my speech, I was met in my hotel lobby by Naomi Parker, special assistant to Paul. She was there to escort me to the office a block away. We chatted on the way over, but as usual I was buried in my Blackberry. When we got to the large lobby of the office building I noticed it was incredibly crowded and I said to Naomi, “Wow, is it always this crazy for lunch?” I proceeded to the security desk and suddenly a beautiful acapella group began singing the Diana Ross hit “I’m Coming Out” directly to me!
I remained on my Blackberry, totally focused on preparing for my speech. Suddenly a four-person breakdance crew sprung into action, moving towards me wherever I went. I felt Naomi pushing me through the crowd. “H’mmm,” I thought, “that’s kind of aggressive,” but I remained unfocused on all that was going on around me. Until I looked up and found four female Taiko drummers hammering away on their giant drums, looking straight at me and pointing their mallets at me between beats. “Holy cow,” I said to myself. “Are they doing this for me? And are all these people here for this?”
Duh! – The sudden, albeit late, realization that the event was being staged for me, reminded me of the three stages unsuspecting audiences go through when witnessing a Random Act of Culture®
- First, anger – “Why is this intruding in my space?”
- Second, confusion – “What is going on here?”
- Third, joy – “Isn’t this glorious, surprising, and totally out of context!”
The performance closed with four choral singers singing the Hallelujah Chorus from Handel’s “Messiah” – the music that put Random Act of Culture® on the map, when it was performed by 600 choral singers at Macy’s in Philadelphia. At the end of the Boston performance a laughing Paul Grogan came out from behind a column. He knew he had totally surprised me and given me a dose of my own medicine!
Much thanks to the Berklee College of Music singers, Rainbow Tribe Dance Group, Status Quo Dancers, the Genki Spark Drummers, and the Handel and Haydn Society. And a big shout out to all the staffers at The Boston Foundation, who worked so hard to make sure that I got RAC’d. I’ll never forget it!