Sal Randolph, 2016

The phase of the lifecycle that we refer to as “encounter” is the context where a finished project is presented. Encounter occurs in person unless the work is a new media artwork intended to be experienced primarily on a digital device you have at home or in your pocket.

Alice Sheppard is a dancer and choreographer who attends to the complex intersections of disability, gender, and race by exploring the societal and cultural significance of difference. In an interview with us, Sheppard spoke about the importance of encounter in her projects:

It’s something I spend a lot of time working through, how [an audience] encounters the work. From the moment you enter the theater from the lobby we’ve already designed that encounter in terms of light, and sound…and the way you exit is also structured…That matters to me.

Sheppard continues by reflecting upon the social norms and spatial arrangements that make encounter impossible for many people, demonstrating the ways that sites of encounter impact who can access projects.

Wheelchair users have often noticed how ramps that give access to buildings are often around the back, or next to the dumpsters, and [are] often not designed aesthetically. They are seen as functional devices but are rarely integrated into the building. There’s a way in which this is discriminatory. It’s not enough to just get in the door. Separate is not equal; we know this from other contexts. It’s a question of how we enter the aesthetics of architecture. What is the social and cultural meaning of making an entry?

In her recent project DESCENT, Sheppard ensured that the space would be accessible to the disability dance community. In addition, the entire performance was made into an audio experience for people with a variety of impairments. Sheppard uses the capacity that we call “Understand (Art) Community,” defined as the ability to “ interact as an artist with other artists (i.e., in classrooms, in local art organizations, and across the art field) and within the broader society.” Sheppard understands the limits of the art community, which is often inaccessible to people with disabilities. Alice continually pushes the field of disability dance—and the field of art overall—to be equitable and innovative. See Chapter 9: Support for more.

Download the full chapter: Encounter as a PDF

Download Teacher/Facilitator Guides

  1. Future Project: Encounter (worksheet)
  2. Past Project: Encounter (worksheet)
  3. Historical Consciousness (worksheet)
  4. Looking at People Encountering Art (activity)
  5. Beholding a Work of Art (activity)
  6. Sensorium (activity)
  7. How the Site Informs the Work (assignment)
  8. Make a Project for a Person or Community You Know (assignment)
  9. Getting to Know a Site (assignment)