John Cage | How to Get Started

A permanent installation that features a rarely heard performance by John Cage, and will evolve over time through participation from the public


Fields of Knowledge
  • Artistic legacies
  • Performance

Organizing Institutions

Slought, John Cage Trust


Laura Kuhn, Aaron Levy, Arthur Sabatini


Ken Saylor, Peter Price


Pew Center for Arts & Heritage, Samuel S. Fels Fund

Process initiated


Opens to public



4017 Walnut St
Philadelphia, PA 19104

On the web


Contact info

To schedule a recording: info@sloughtfoundation.org


75% Formal - 25% Informal

Slought is pleased to present How to Get Started, a permanent installation created in partnership with the John Cage Trust. This unique interactive installation features a rarely heard performance by John Cage, and will evolve over time through the participation it invites from its public.

John Cage's first and only performance of How to Get Started in 1989 was conceived of almost as an afterthought--a performance substituting for another that had been previously planned. In the performance, delivered at a sound design conference in Nicasio, California, Cage talks about the difficulty of initiating the creative process, and about improvisation, a subject about which he had long been deeply ambivalent. He proposes a collaborative framework in which sound engineers capture and subsequently layer his extemporized monologue, which consisted of ten brief commentaries on topics then of interest. This amounted to an experiment having to do with thinking in public before a live audience.

Twenty years after the initial performance, the John Cage Trust and Slought have created an interactive installation enabling the public to participate in its further life at Slought by adding their voice to the mix. The John Cage Trust turned to Slought for this collaboration in part because its range of projects has often referenced Cage and those he worked with or influenced during his long career. It is our joint intent that this installation will allow Slought to become a node of activity for artists, scholars, and others interested in Cage's life and work and ideas. Listen to a recording of the project collaborators discussing How to Get Started at the opening on November 13, 2010 (56 min) using the media player.

The project's website will become an evolving digital repository and archive for the recordings generated at Slought Foundation by invited artists and others.

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What You Can Do

1) Familiarize yourself with Cage's realization by visiting the website, attending the exhibition, downloading the instructions, or purchasing the project publication

2) Get out ten index cards and write down ten topics of interest

3) Practice extemporizing on each topic, in random order

4) Notice that Cage never spoke for more than three minutes on a single topic

5) Visit Slought Foundation and schedule a session


Curated by Laura Kuhn, Director of the John Cage Trust, Aaron Levy, Executive Director of Slought Foundation, and Arthur Sabatini, professor of Performance Studies at Arizona State University. Exhibition design by Ken Saylor, sound design by Peter Price, and exhibition graphics by Project Projects. Engineering of John Cage's recording by Chris Andersen, Nevessa Production. Photograph of John Cage by Loren Robare.

This program is made possible in part through the generous support of The Pew Center for Arts & Heritage through the Philadelphia Exhibitions Initiative. Support has also been provided by the Samuel S. Fels Fund, the John Cage Trust, and the Society of Friends of the Slought Foundation.

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Artist John Cage performs How to Get Started (1989), in which he explores the usefulness of improvisation and engages in an experiment with thinking in public, before a live audience.

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