Jaamil Olawale Kosoko: Thoughts on building audiences for performance in Philly and NYC

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By Roger Lee for The Dance Journal

Jaamil Olawale Kosoko is the definition of a 21st century artist. His work transcends the genres of performing, visual, and literary arts. This creative chameleon’s work also spans across  Philadelphia and New York City.  Jaamil is currently the Co-Director of Kate Watson-Wallace | Jaamil Kosoko | anonymous bodies and the Producing Associate at New York Live Arts. Jaamil caught up with The Dance Journal and shared his experiences working in Philadelphia and New York simultaneously and creating art for diverse audiences in both cities.

“I don’t believe that anything is new, but I do believe that ideas can be creatively re-imagined and re-contextualized to create a different outcome, perhaps one that is more connected to the present moment” says Jaamil. He approaches his performance work and curating from a historical context. Jaamil digs deeply into history and asks the imaginative question “what if this happened instead?” This sets the foundation for some really innovative, creative work that resonates differently with each audience member. It gives them a personal connection to Jaamil’s work.

With a mixture of different historical references, props, costumes, and lighting, each audience member is bound to find at least one part of the abstract work to connect with. They may end up connecting with one of the diverse artists featured in Jaamil’s work. He takes the time to select just the right artists for each project. “There is no one prescribed way to select an artist,” admits Jaamil. “I think it’s a mixture of personal mission, vision, creativity, instinct, and inspiration. Also, both parties must be equally invested in the work.” The artists Jaamil selects are always invested in his work and this commitment is bound to resonate with audience members.

The experience of audience members is very important to Jaamil. “I don’t think one can enter this field without considering the audience.  The viewer is the life-blood of the work,” he says.  The audience members are what take the hard work of rehearsal and turn into live art. According to Jaamil, “It’s not art until it is seen.”

So what has been Jaamil’s experience creating work for audiences in Philadelphia and New York City?

“There are some amazing artists in Philly. I really enjoy feeling the sense of community and support from Philly artists,” says Jaamil. “It’s a great place to make work.” He sees New York audiences as very outgoing, experimental, and open to trying out new artistic experiences.

“The hard part, particularly in Philly, is getting people to see your work.”  He has performed in Philadelphia since moving here 8 years ago. While audience members have come and gone, Jaamil still struggles to build audiences in the City of Brotherly Love. One of his solutions for the city’s dwindling performing arts audiences is to develop strategic partnerships with other groups. “It’s any opportunity to share audience and resources to realize a show,” says Jaamil. In a rough economic economy, sharing resources and audiences has definitely become a popular strategy used throughout out the performing, visual, and literary arts field.

Jaamil also suggests taking the time build an authentic relationship with audience members. “It takes an equal investment from both the audience and artist. It is a relationship,” he argues. After experiencing low audience turnout for his shows, Jaamil decided to take direct action.  “I took this as a clear signal that it was time to re-strategize my process for creating work as well as the platforms I use to show my work,” he admits. “All of these signals have led me to more of a visual art aesthetic of presentation where audience have free license to observe and move as they see fit.”

Jaamil also spent a lot of time analyzing the notion of popularity and how it translates into selling show tickets. “I am not popular (nor do I want to be), but it seems that in order to fit into the American framework of success, one must be popular to move a certain number of units or tickets,” he explains. “Dance Place in D.C., C.E.C. Meeting House Theater in Philly, Kelly Strayhorn Theater in Pittsburgh, and Joyce SoHo and Dance New Amsterdam in New York City are the few presenters who have taken a risk with programming me with my own evening.” Jaamil tries to always use these venues and platforms are ways to create new opportunities for other artists.  Almost always, I use these platforms as a way to create performance and creative opportunities for other artists.

So what does Jaamil have happening in Philly in early 2013? He is closing out January with a performance in Falls Bridge, a new movement, improvisation, and performance festival by Curt Haworth and Nicole Bindler. Falls Bridge brings together the improvisation, performance art, and University of the Arts communities for performance, movement exploration, and collaboration. Jaamil will then spend the spring performing with anonymous bodies. They will perform at Scratch Night at Philly Lives Arts in March and collaborate with Team Sunshine at Christ Church Neighborhood House in May. For more news and upcoming events for Jaamil Olawale Kosoko, please visit his social media pages. He loves hearing from audience members and have an open dialogue about art, learning, and life.

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