Hosting, guesting, and ghosting in Arts Management
Arts managers tend to focus on our role as host. But we are just as often, or even mostly, visitors in the worlds in which we work
We are so honored that
you are here, they said.
We know that this is
your homeland, they said.
The admission price
is five dollars, they said.
Here is your button
for the event, they said.
It means so much to us that
you are here, they said.
We want to write
an apology letter, they said.
Tell us what to say.
Gwen Nell Westerman, “Dakota Homecoming”
The words “host” and “guest” are distinctive in the English language. But their origin and their presence in other languages are not so far apart. In Latin, hospes can mean host, guest, stranger, or foreigner. The French word hôte can mean both host and guest. Arts managers tend to focus on our role as hosts, as welcomers, and gracious stewards of the spaces where art takes place. But we are just as often, or even primarily, visitors in the worlds in which we work.
Certainly, you are a host when formally assigned responsibility for an organization or a place – a gallery, theater, museum, or community space. As a host, you are guided by centuries of social, moral, and religious directives to offer shelter to strangers and to provide food, drink, and protection from danger. But no matter how long you have held that formal role, you are also a guest in the organization, the community it serves, and the planet that holds them both. The work, the community, and the planet all existed before you and will continue after you. You may hold a position of authority, but you're also passing through.
Further, the same centuries that established conventions of hosting also included conquest and colonizing – of land, of people, of cultures. These violent acts subverted and often inverted the designation of host and guest and continue to do so today.
For these reasons, Arts Management demands equal skill and intention as both host and guest. Unfortunately, our conventional practice and training have emphasized the former while mostly ignoring the latter.
Cultural historian Bethany Hughes suggests the word “guesting” for the practice of being a visitor (Hughes 2019). While Hughes focuses on visitors to indigenous people or land, this framing can be essential in many contexts. She writes:
Guesting well demands healthy relationships that invite respect, reciprocity, generosity, listening, conflict resolution, boundaries, and joy. Guesting is practicing reciprocity in the interest of generously supporting your host.
In thoughtful and empathetic Arts Management practice, hosting and guesting demand generosity, humility, and durable commitment to healthy relationships. And while your title and your training may suggest you’re the host, it’s essential to hold the truth that you are always hosting and guesting. Anything less can leave you ghosting the relationships you claim to value.
From the ArtsManaged Field Guide
Function of the Week: Hosting & Guesting
Hosting involves inviting, greeting, and supporting those who enter your circle; Guesting includes acknowledging, honoring, and listening in the circles where you are a guest.
Framework of the Week: Adequatio
Adaequatio is a philosophical principal by E.F. Schumacher asserting that the understanding of the knower must be adequate to the thing to be known. In other words, we can only understand things that we have a capacity to understand. To know more and deeper things, we need to become larger and deeper in our ability to observe.