New measures

The dance company Project Bandaloop is unusual in that it performs primarily on vertical surfaces rather than on stages and other horizontal areas.  Past venues include El Capitan in Yosemite National Park, the Seattle Space Needle, and the exterior walls and negative spaces of the Massachusetts Museum of Modern Art. Last week the company launched a celebration of its 20th anniversary season with a performance on Oakland’s Great Wall.

When the company does perform indoors, which it occasionally does, it’s easy to measure the success of the event by traditional means.  They can count ticket sales and calculate revenue, just like any other performing group or venue might.  But when they perform outside, on the side of a building or a mountain, for assembled onlookers and passersby, where’s the measure of how well it went? I found a hint in an entry from the director’s blog the other day: “We are performing on a building in the manner we perform on tour, right here in our own hometown. Full theatrical production, live music, the works. I am so excited to share this with our local community. A homeless man named Harold, who has been watching us rehearse on-and-off since June said, “I can’t wait until Thursday. I have been waiting for this for months.”

As long as we’re interested in innovation, if we want better and better things for the future, we’ll also have to seek out new measures of success.  Learning and education are no exception.  We know what the traditional measures are – the scores and the neat handwriting and the college acceptances.  But how much do those things tell us about how things are actually going?  What do they tell us about how much closer we’re getting to what we actually want for children?