insights bar

…And Then It Hits You

You are rushing through a New York subway tunnel to catch the B train but are stopped dead in your tracks by a billboard:

A man sits transfixed in an empty subway car, a stark outline against the orange seats. Through the car’s open doors, you see that a woman, stark in black satin, streams along the platform, trailing a wake of churning ocean. Above him is the familiar signage of the platform – and this message:

Vollmond[1] struck him at Atlantic Terminal.
Where did BAM hit you? Join us on Facebook.

A little further up the passage way another sign, stark in black and white, reads:

It can happen at a show. In the subway.
It can happen three days later,
When you are crossing the street.
It can happen anywhere, really.
The beauty is, it is different for everybody.
BAM may be theater, dance, music, art, film.
But that moment of impact, that’s why we’re here.
And at that moment, when it happens, you know it.

This is Brooklyn Academy of Music’s new marketing campaign – one that trades not on the pre-show hype and advance reviews, but on the lasting, unbeckoned power of a great performances – or visual revelations such as can occur facing a painting, the painstaking tesserae of a mosaic laid out centuries ago, or the solemn depths of the reflecting pools at the 9/11 memorial. Art as the sustained release of beauty, insight, longing, or hope.

These posters pack a wallop (on two occasions, other travelers have run into me, all of us staring, making sense, suddenly united by remembering). But the idea behind these images is even more arresting. That man, transfixed on the subway car, should make every researcher or evaluator re-think his or her toolbox. A post-performance survey or a post-test conducted during the last session of a residency will get at what registers right there, right then. But these tools can’t capture what incubates – what goes “BAM” three days (or two years) later. Nor can they x-ray the radiating map of associations over time. What we need are tools, along with ways to use them, that recognize and illuminate the long, associative lines of aesthetic experience – and re-experience.


[1] Vollmond is a dance-theater piece by Pina Bausch featured in BAM’s 2010 season. It features dancers and torrents of water that cascade, flow, and drench.

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One Response to …And Then It Hits You

  1. Erika says:

    Dennie – right on. I had the exact same experience in the subway seeing these ads. Being intrigued by them, and then remembering a few experiences that had that affect. Powerful – especially when in the middle of a usual busy subway. That’s the power of marketing and quality arts experiences working together!

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