Curatorial and Art Criticism students meet Continuum in The OCADU Project

By Jen­nifer Waring

This piece from the Pub­lic Engage­ment Com­mit­tee describes a project mount­ed in Toron­to by Con­tin­u­um in 2011, when I was Artis­tic Direc­tor. It’s not a pre­scrip­tion for oth­ers to fol­low (though any­one is free to take up the idea) but rather a quick sketch of a fair­ly sim­ple project that broke bound­aries and some rules, and for those rea­sons got some notice. It also illus­trates that when you ven­ture out­side nor­mal prac­tices you have to com­mu­ni­cate clear­ly, because it seems that peo­ple will either remain stub­born­ly with­in the old men­tal ter­ri­to­ry, or feel­ing lib­er­at­ed will project onto the project things that aren’t actu­al­ly there.

Continuum’s OCADU project was an exper­i­ment in trans­fer­ring prac­ticed ways of per­ceiv­ing from one art form to anoth­er. Fourth year stu­dents in Crit­i­cism and Cura­to­r­i­al Prac­tice at OCAD Uni­ver­si­ty, were asked to pro­gram a con­cert and also to write the notes for the works. Fif­teen (pri­mar­i­ly young) peo­ple, intense­ly involved in visu­al art, lis­tened to thir­teen record­ings from Continuum’s reper­toire, and then made cura­to­r­i­al deci­sions about music and wrote notes – guides for oth­er lis­ten­ers. And they did this through lis­ten­ing alone – they were express­ly told not to do any addi­tion­al research. The pieces col­lec­tive­ly cho­sen were per­formed on a reg­u­lar Con­tin­u­um series con­cert (a wel­come col­lat­er­al effect being the oppor­tu­ni­ty to remount works, giv­ing our loy­al audi­ence a sec­ond hear­ing, the musi­cians a sec­ond whack, and help­ing to advance the idea of “reper­toire” in new music.) I chose the best “lis­ten­ing notes” of the OCADU stu­dents to use as pro­gramme notes – and since there were so many inter­est­ing notes, there end­ed up being three dif­fer­ent sets of pro­gramme notes. These lis­ten­ing notes ranged from metic­u­lous descrip­tion to sur­re­al stream of con­scious­ness; they all illu­mi­nat­ed some­thing about the pieces, much about the con­nec­tions between music and visu­al art, and also much about the indi­vid­ual writer. (Check out a con­cert pro­gram – PDF.)

What need­ed to be com­mu­ni­cat­ed bet­ter? The fact that it was called “The OCADU Project” primed some peo­ple (those who didn’t read beyond the title) to expect music played along­side a dis­play of art. So maybe it need­ed a dif­fer­ent title, or maybe it need­ed to be described in more ways more often. (There’s noth­ing wrong with pre­sent­ing music with visu­al art. But the aim here was to engage young peo­ple in lis­ten­ing and think­ing through writ­ing and mak­ing pro­gram­ming deci­sions.) Dif­fer­ent pro­gramme notes float­ing around the hall? I had hoped that peo­ple would swap pro­grammes, read their neighbour’s, maybe even ini­ti­ate a lit­tle save ‘em, trade ‘em. But, in spite of the direc­tions writ­ten in the pro­gramme and my instruc­tions from the stage, peo­ple most­ly just read what they had picked up at the tick­et table. If I were to run this project again (Con­tin­u­um came close to get­ting fund­ing to run it with a class of 300 phi­los­o­phy stu­dents every year for three years) I would sup­press the urge to wade into the audi­ence and swap pro­grammes for peo­ple – rather, I would just try to be clear­er. Then I would run the project reg­u­lar­ly so that peo­ple got used to the idea.

In just this one small project, fif­teen stu­dents wres­tled with what they were hear­ing, com­mit­ted their thoughts to writ­ing, and then half of them came to the con­cert. And the rest of us found out how they per­ceived a musi­cal expres­sion that is so famil­iar to us that we may be deaf to some of its mean­ing, or at least its effect. I think it’s worth repeating.

For more details about this ini­tia­tive, con­tact Jen­nifer War­ing at


We’re always on the lookout for more success stories!

If you have heard of or par­tic­i­pat­ed in an ini­tia­tive you have found par­tic­u­lar­ly inspir­ing sur­round­ing the issue of pub­lic engage­ment, please con­tact Louise Camp­bell —


Direct link: Cura­to­r­i­al and Art Crit­i­cism stu­dents meet Con­tin­u­um in The OCADU Project
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