Dissonance Calling

By Jo Ann Secor, Principal, Director of Interpretive Services


The incongruous is becoming the norm… and it’s exciting to behold!


When I started out in the cultural education field in the mid-1970s, everything was compartmentalized – curators devised stories, educators conjured up interpretive approaches and exhibit designers created the physical manifestation. Today, this process has thankfully become more akin to a rich, multi-ethnic potluck meal, with unintentional, delightful outcomes resulting from creative collaborations. Enter the powerful voice and added dimension of the user/museumgoer – the audience. They are no longer solely compartmentalized as “school groups,” “families,” or “seniors.”  We embrace blended families, visitors who have physical and sensory challenges, as well as intergenerational groups who now grace our cultural institutions’ doorsteps. We focus on being more broadly relevant and meaningful because of them and for them.


I was excited to learn of two very dissonant programs occurring in our cities. One is the creation of a preschool program in a senior citizen’s home in Seattle where young children and seniors teach, learn and explore the world together. The joy on their faces in the documentary video, Present Perfect, begs the question, ‘Why have we waited so long to do this?”



Preschool-retirement home program in Seattle, WA


The other project embracing dissonance is a city-wide program in Hartford, CT called Hartford Performs that employs dancers, poets and artists to use their vision of the world as a conduit to teach students biology, history, math and other subjects. After many years of decreased funding and lack of vision, the arts are making their way back into the classroom because they are seen as a way to create connectivity between the real and the possible, helping children make sense of the world.



A ‘Hartford Performs’ classroom


And, lastly, look at the phenomenally successful Broadway play, Hamilton, whose predominantly African American and Latino cast portray the lives of our Founding Fathers. It took a brilliant, searching mind like that of Lin-Manuel Miranda, who married his love of hip-hop, rap and Broadway show tunes with the story of Alexander Hamilton, whose life of struggle, strife, opportunity and perseverance resonated with Miranda, inspiring him to make history come alive in a relevant and vibrant fashion for young people and adults.



Lin-Manuel Miranda takes the stage as founding father Alexander Hamilton


These exciting mash-ups of seemingly disparate ages, interests and forms are leading us to new ways of viewing and understanding the world and hopefully – ultimately – conjuring creative solutions to some of the challenges we face on this precious and fragile planet we call home. Here’s a New Year’s toast to dissonance!