Building the digital tools for collaborative art-making

by Tim Jennings

in MetLife/TCG A-ha! Think It Do It

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(Student designs for CTC’s production of Shrek the Musical, 2014; photo by Jamie Johansen.)

In the opening weeks of our project, we sought to investigate broadly the field of crowdsourcing, as well as successful models for creating art in a public, digital sphere. We looked at numerous models and examples, ranging from simple platforms for delivering arts programming (such as those used for distance learning) to more complex, interactive formats (such as that used by the website hitRECord).

CTC’s Director of Marketing and Communications, Darby Lunceford, and I then met with a group of experts in digital learning at the University of Minnesota, who suggested that the scope of the project be significantly narrowed for a ‘test’ phase. With this in mind, we began to discuss the possibility of focusing project efforts on schools participating in CTC’s Student Matinee program as a beta test for digital engagement strategies. While we believe we are still proceeding towards the goal of creating a community-wide platform for engagement and art-making, the project has been changed somewhat by the realization that we needed to focus on a smaller subset of our community for this initial planning phase. It is our hope that this change will ultimately enable us to implement a strategy that, when taken to scale, is more sustainable and relevant.

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(Student designs for CTC’s production of Shrek the Musical, 2014; photo by Jamie Johansen.)

Building on the learnings from these initial meetings, we engaged the talents of Jamie Johansen, a teacher and educational strategist at Highlands Elementary in Edina, MN and one of the creators of the original Kidcentricity program. Jamie’s role has been to provide guidance and insight on developing a digital model that will test the collaborative community art-making strategy in the classroom. Jamie also provided a connection to a staff person at Edina Public Schools with expertise in creation of Google site platforms utilized by many local public school districts. This staffer has been able to offer significant insight into the pros and cons of these platforms, as well as an idea of the time and resources needed to build one.

As part of this work, we have also been in an ongoing conversation about the artistic and educational content that will be a critical part of the digital platform. Early on, we identified the need for a set of digital ‘toolboxes’ to support community members in engaging with the work as it is being created. These toolboxes will include information on CTC (the stages, how the prop/scene/costume shops work, etc.) and the dramaturgical process, as well as on critical inquiry and how it can support the artistic process. Rather than just providing generic tours of CTC’s spaces and resources, we envision these toolboxes as a means to demonstrate—to students and, ultimately, the public—the theatrical and technical tools that can help to enact their ideas on stage. We will be working to plan and put together these toolboxes along with content that will explain the purpose and needs of the platform.

As our first large-scale effort to move programming into the digital sphere, this project has had a huge impact on the way that our organization thinks and talks about interacting with our audience and community. Separated from our Kidentricity project, we are now looking at ways to provide digital content for Neighborhood Bridges, CTC’s flagship arts education program in the public schools, and have begun initial conversations with Twin Cities Public Television—a leader in online education tools for young people— to assist us in developing an online curriculum model for use with their national educators resource group – a model that services over 50,000 teachers and educators with online science and technology content.


Tim JenningsTim Jennings is Managing Director of Children’s Theatre Company. Prior to joining CTC, Tim served as Managing Director at Seattle Children’s Theatre from 2008-2012, and Roseneath Theatre in Toronto from 2000-2008. Tim has produced work garnering 15 Dora Award Nominations (Toronto’s ‘Tony’) including seven wins. Under his joint leadership with David S. Craig, Roseneath also won two Canada Council prizes, two Chalmers Awards for new play development, and had a play nominated for the National Literary Prize of Germany (in translation). Tim sits on the boards of TCG, the Minnesota Theatre Alliance, and the Ivey Awards.


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The intent of the MetLife/TCG A-HA! Program is to enable theatres to dare to try new approaches to problem-solving artistic, managerial, production and/or technological challenges–to try things the organization doesn’t and couldn’t normally do. To learn more about the program, click here.