Pentacle ran the Virtual Engagement Research Project (VER) in 2021-22 to learn about how virtual engagement has grown during the pandemic and impacted artists and their livelihoods. In partnership with three respected arts organizations - The International Association of Blacks in Dance (IABD), Movement Research, and New England Foundation for the Arts (NEFA) - and with funding from the Jerome Foundation, Pentacle engaged arts consultant Michèle Steinwald to be the project lead. During the project, we conducted research on virtual engagement with a number of stakeholders via an online survey and one-on-one interviews. Pentacle will share the research data with the field in the coming months to learn how to support artists in their virtual engagements in the future.
In response to the global pandemic and the shift of dance engagement to virtual platforms, whether “live” or pre-recorded, presentational or educational, the field has had to quickly adapt to new media. While the technology existed to facilitate virtual engagement before 2020, the newness of the format has resulted in a confusing marketplace, where artists and their presenter partners are operating without a clear sense of the value of this work or how to use it to engage with audiences.
Pentacle has been on the forefront of negotiating the new virtual engagement terrain with presenters and advocating for fair compensation for our Roster artists in their virtual work. Pentacle’s Director of Booking Sandy Garcia first proposed conducting a Virtual Engagement survey in summer/fall 2020 when many presenters were turning to this format. In the first iteration of a survey with just a small sample of Pentacle artists, we soon realized that it needed to be more inclusive of dance and theater artists who use virtual engagement in different ways and for different purposes. In order to reach a wider artist demographic, Pentacle sought out partners from several organizations who serve different constituencies. In April 2021, with support from the Jerome Foundation, we convened representatives from four partner organizations: IABD, Movement Research, NEFA, and Pentacle to envision the project and map out next steps.
At its first convening, the VER partners agreed to engage an outside consultant who could design the artist survey for the group and carry out the research. This led Pentacle to find and engage Michèle Steinwald, principal of 44 Arts Productive, whose expertise in institutional and performing arts project management fit the focus of the VER Project. Simultaneously, Pentacle engaged Dr. Scott A. Shamp, Associate Dean in the College of Fine Arts at Florida State University with a background in performing arts, to be a consultant and advisor for the project.
Research Project Goals
Pentacle’s goal for the project is to provide artists with vital information about the emerging virtual engagement landscape, so that they can garner adequate fees for their work, technical support, and the tools and resources they need to participate in and be successful in creating virtual works and activities. The survey questions are crafted by Steinwald in collaboration with the organizational partners and under the guidance of Dr. Shamp, to capture the essential information that will be most useful for the field.
Timeline and Launch
The VER Project got underway in the summer of 2021, with meetings between the stakeholders and the project lead to define goals and design the research activities. In fall 2021, Steinwald will conduct interviews with a small group of ten artists to gain multiple perspectives on virtual engagement. The initial information gathered from these interviews was used as a basis for designing the survey questions for the field.
The Survey launched in the winter of 2022 and was disseminated by the four organizational partners to each of their artist constituents. In the spring and summer of 2022, the survey results were collected and analyzed. The findings will be released and shared with the field in early 2023.
As virtual engagement becomes an established and permanent aspect of dance and theater offerings, Pentacle is committed to learning how it functions and works best for artists. The accessibility that virtual engagement provides also gives us an opportunity to deepen current audience engagement while addressing disparities in who gets to dance and gets to see professional dance. The insights that the VER project reveals, will be invaluable to bringing past inequities to light and avoid repeating the same injustices as the field moves towards greater reciprocity and support beyond the current pandemic and social reckonings.
The Virtual Engagement Research Project is supported by the Jerome Foundation.