The Magical Powers of Curiosity

I know I’m not alone in my passion for connecting kids to arts and cultural experiences who may not otherwise have access. It’s personal to me because it’s something I wish someone had done for me as a kid — and now I’m actually in a position to make an impact by creating those opportunities for others. It’s the mission of Situation Project — our 501(c)(3) organization that connects underserved NYC public school students with the amazing arts and cultural experiences their city offers.

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If you’ve attended an event hosted by Situation, you’ve heard mention of Situation Project. And the reason I always want to promote it is simple — our best ideas have often come from the shared passion and curiosity of others. There are so many people in our network who are already pursuing a similar mission in their communities or who have been wanting to take action but needed some support to get their idea off the ground.

Since we founded Situation Project, we’ve had the privilege of creating some pretty amazing experiences. We’ve taken over theaters for a day and had museums open their doors early for us. We’ve even had a Broadway show perform part of their show in an auditorium at a middle school in the South Bronx. So many of these ideas could have started and ended with “no” — and for good reasons! No big budgets, tons of union regulations, never enough time, questions like “is this going to sell tickets?” These experiences require a special group of people fueled by their vision, hearts, and unbound curiosity to continuously ask “what happens if” and make the impossible possible. To salute and celebrate their fearless passion, I would like to share the traits these amazing folks possess…

They don’t wait to be asked.

They ask the questions themselves. After a recent event we produced, the National Theatre went out of their way to ask us what they could do to support Situation Project. We learned that the National Theatre does work overseas to support education, and they granted us the opportunity to bring our students to Hadestown. So, within a few short months of them asking how they could help, over 300 students and teachers from our partner schools saw one of the hottest shows on Broadway.

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They act quickly.

Big ideas need urgency to become reality. So, when the team at American Son, a play with a strictly limited Broadway engagement, wanted to arrange for a group to see the show, they inspired us to think bigger and move faster than ever before. Because of the unique resonance that their play could have with the adults in our community, we worked with our partner schools to arrange for 50+ administrators from across District 7 in the South Bronx to attend the show. With the support of the show’s producers, we created a moment for this group to engage with the show’s themes directly through a talkback with the cast, creative team, and representatives from The Opportunity Agenda. With so many moving parts and such a short timeframe, this event wouldn’t have been possible if it weren’t for many people having big ideas and taking decisive actions.

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They navigate the headwinds.

They aren’t surprised by roadblocks, they expect them. So when SiriusXM decided they wanted to dedicate a day of service to our organization, they didn’t let the fact that they’d never done anything like this before stop them. They knew there would be hurdles to clear in order to bring middle school students into their workplace, but they worked with us to arrange for a Q&A session, studio tour, and lunch with their staff. They even surprised the kids, and the Situation Project team, by letting them go live on air during a show! And, because they let us film the experience, you can hear from their team directly about the impact that the day had on everyone involved.

They don’t sweat the small stuff.

Working with large school groups, particularly those in underfunded areas, often means working around a lot of unexpected challenges. When we bought out an entire performance of Blue Man Group to fill the audience with students, we were not expecting the school’s local subway station to be shut down for maintenance. Luckily, we work in a creative industry that always has multiple backup plans. Fast forward to hundreds of students running through Astor Place to make the curtain, and the production team kindly holding the house so our kids could see the entire show. A memorable experience for everyone involved.

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They are confident things will work out.

Time and again, we’ve seen the amazing results of starting from a place of “let’s see what’s possible.” So when we asked the team at The Play That Goes Wrong if we could send hundreds of students to see the show and give a select group a special opportunity to immerse themselves in the theater for the day, and they immediately said yes — we knew something great was possible. The experience that we created was the result of every person associated with the production — cast, crew, front of house staff, general managers, producers and many more committing to an idea that took them outside of their typical work day. The results speak for themselves.

They’re driven by more than money.

None of the people who make these things happen are driven solely by turning a profit. When we created our first Situation Project experience and brought the entirety of MS 343 to see Spider Man: Turn Off the Dark, the show’s team was so moved by our students that they wanted to build on the experience. They coordinated a field trip for the show up to the South Bronx where they met with the students, shared about careers in the theatre, and performed songs from the show on the school stage. It would have been so easy to shut that idea down by asking how it drove revenue, but the value was about so much more than tickets sold.

What’s amazing about this kind of creativity is that while it’s the catalyst for the experiences we provide, it’s ultimately the key trait we’re trying to instill in the young people we invite into our community. As much as we want them to appreciate great works of theater, the talent and discipline of performers, and the ingenuity of creative teams who make magic happen on stage eight times a week, what we want them to take from these experiences more than anything is the creative mindset that makes it all possible. And I know we’re going to be inspired by how they put that creativity into action.

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