The INDY takes pride in holding the line for deep, serious arts criticism in a fast, click-driven world that threatens to make it an endangered species. But criticism is changing—for the better—as the cultural hegemony it was built upon erodes. As a range of previously neglected or suppressed artistic and critical voices enter the fray, the age of dispassionate authority is waning, and the age of invested perspective is dawning. As a progressive paper, our job is to advance by careful but persistent degrees, to update and refine journalistic standards without hastily abandoning them. But if we could leap ahead to where we see criticism going, rather than pushing just ahead of its curve, what might it look like?

Enter The Commons Crit, a collaboration between the INDY and The Commons at Carolina Performing Arts, a new residency program and festival envisioned and spearheaded by CPA postdoctoral fellow Alexandra Ripp. Trained as a critic and dramaturg, Ripp is also the primary editor on Commons Crit writing.

The Commons offers residencies and performances for three local performing artists or groups that were selected by a review panel of local artists, scholars, and curators, both institutional and independent. The residency portion (May 7–29) provides the performing artists with free studio space at CPA’s CURRENT ArtSpace + Studio; work-in-progress feedback sessions with one another, CPA staff, and invited guests; and written responses by embedded writers, to be published in this special section of the INDY throughout the rehearsal and development process.

It all culminates in the Commons Festival (May 30–June 1), featuring full public showings of the work developed in the residency alongside public workshops and events designed to foster dialogue about performance and criticism in the region. The festival takes place at CURRENT; tickets will be available next week at The Commons website. After the festival, each embedded writer will moderate a post-show discussion with the audience. A second writer, who has not been embedded in the process, will also write a response after each performance, in order to provide a critical counterpoint.

The Commons Crit doesn’t just aim to treat criticism as an art form. It also tests several hypotheses about criticism: It should not always be beholden to a coverage model; critics should have the space and freedom to experiment; critics and artists are allies, not adversaries; process deserves as much attention as product; and subjects have valid ideas about who can authentically understand, respond to, and represent their work as they conceive it. Underlying all these premises is the belief that art and criticism symbiotically serve the public interest and have value deeper than entertainment and commerce.

Traditionally, the work of art happens in private, and then a critic sweeps in at the end to pass judgment. Traditionally, critics are expected to write in certain models, for certain ends, and are selected primarily for their expertise rather their cultural perspective. But what would happen if the critics were chosen with input from artists about whom they were trying to reach? What if the critics were along for the whole ride, focusing on the gestalt of labor and experience, not just the commercial and aesthetic merits of a finished product? What if they had equal investment in the creation and “success” of the piece? What would that do for artists, audiences, readers, and critics?

The Commons Crit, partitioned off from our regular criticism, is an attempt to find out. We don’t know exactly how it’s going to go. But, judging from the beautiful writing already coming in, we’re excited to find out. Look for it in this section starting tomorrow morning and proceeding through the climax of the festival.

The 2019 Commons artists are Eb. Brown, Daniel Coleman, and Joie Lou Shakur; Justin Tornow; and Megan Yankee. The Commons Crit writers for 2019 are Victoria Bouloubasis, Michaela Dwyer, Stephanie Elizondo Griest, Don Holmes, Danielle Purifoy, and Chris Vitiello.

A note on ethics: The INDY had no role in selecting in the artists included in The Commons, though it did help to select the writers and conceptualize the critical-writing side of the project. The writers are being paid for their work via CPA. Neither the INDY nor arts editor Brian Howe received compensation of any kind for hosting The Commons Crit, and the project will not influence our regular coverage decisions regarding CPA.

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