Why meet in person?

In a world of YouTube and WebEx, why do we choose to meet in person? And what does the answer to this question imply about the design and purpose of APAP?

Think about it: 20 years ago, coming to a conference would be one of a very few ways that that a presenter could find and book new talent. The same was true for agents who wished to exhibit their portfolios of artists and shows. A conference was a marketplace, with emphasis on place: being in the same place physically permitted the exchange of information, which allowed deals to be made and tours to be booked.

In 2011, I can discover more new music, dance, theater and other performing arts from the comfort and anonymity of my laptop than I ever could by being present in a conference. Indeed, as I review the events of the past few days at APAP, I conclude that I could have accomplished nearly all of what I accomplished via the internet: I can read Benjamin Barber’s political opinions, see clips of Natalie Haas and Alasdair Fraser, and send emails to presenters and agents.

It strikes me that this question isn’t confined to why we come to conferences. On Friday, Jim Fredericks, Executive Director of Britt Festivals in Medford, OR, and I discussed the fact that his younger audience members consider an iPod and a pair of earbuds to be acceptable substitutes to live arts performances. Why should they be concerned about experiencing music or theater in person?

Why do we convene? Continue reading

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A Crystallizing Moment

I didn’t start this process thinking of myself as an advocate. I’m an advocate for the arts, naturally, but I had never considered the possibility that I must necessarily be part of spreading the word on new ideas, practices and research in arts presenting. I’m still learning the ropes, aren’t I? I wanted to buy the book or read the blog, consult the experts, figure out how to do my job better and then go and do it. I still do, of course, but I’m beginning to see where the journey I started when I heard Ken Foster talk about his paper, Thriving in an Uncertain World: Arts Presenting Change and the New Realities, at last year’s conference has naturally led. The journey continued in the readings and workshops for the LDI Collaborative Inquiry over the summer and fall and on Monday got another bucket full of realizations and ideas when Ken, LDI and ELI members and other conference participants met to continue the discussion. Now I have realized that the journey must go beyond my inner monologue or my weekly staff meeting to dialogues with colleagues in my city, my region and beyond. In the past, I might have recognized that expanding the dialogue was a good idea, but now I understand it is part of the work.

A crystallizing moment came for me at the Annual Meeting on Sunday when,in an ad-oc poll, presenter members were asked to stand up and, as a laundry list of hypothetical cuts was read aloud, were asked to sit down if the cut that cause them to terminate their membership. I found myself sitting when professional development was mentioned. I don’t think professional development would have been the deal breaker for me a year ago.

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Art maker or audience member?

Photo by Alicia Anstead

During a thought experiment at Saturday morning’s scenario planning seminar, we tried to imagine a world in which the majority of the people that we now call audience members desired exclusively to make art themselves rather than observe others.

A world like this could dramatically change the role of the presenter and the professional artist, perhaps shifting both roles primarily towards educator and facilitator. I doubt that a “maker / watcher” dichotomy actually exists or that people are either on one end or the other. Nevertheless, it is interesting to consider the implications of serving an audience that is predominantly composed of makers—and worth noting that there may be more makers in the audience than we suspect. A recent blog post by Nina Simon describes how the Whitney Museum is trying to capitalize on the desire of its patrons to participate more actively. Perhaps this inclination towards hands-on participation has been latent for a long time and is now becoming evident only as social media and technology (ranging from GarageBand software to mass-produced beginner-grade instruments) develop.

So, if most people were to prize participation over observation, what would happen to the audience? Would it disappear entirely? Would concerts become workshops or forums? Continue reading

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What is APAP to You?

At the member meeting Sunday morning, there was a presentation on what APAP does for members, the budget allocations and the economic issues of increasing member fees. A sticky wicket of needs, demands, wants, with all the subtext that a large organization with growing pains in a fairly new field have to face.

Does this happen to other “mid-age” fields that have the choices/options of embracing the pushing demands of the youth in the field who want more or keeping to the demands of the status quo of the already established?

What business model or models or blend do we want to embrace? Or is there is new model? For years I have heard we must be run as a business. Then for-profit business started stealing from the flexibility and creativity of the arts and start-ups starting looking like theater companies. And we began to look like “top-down” bureaucracies where everyone pushes paper and no one goes to see performance. Are we office workers?

Work to live? Live to work? Or neither? Blend our lives into the arts and live and work and love and share and have friendships and together build a community that leads and raises the level of culture of our society?

What does APAP want to be? What do you want APAP to be?

Do I remember cutting the deal to get the artist in the hall or seeing the performance itself and seeing others being moved by what has moved me?

What do we as a field want to model for the next generation on how to lead in the arts? What is in place now? Or what we can create to lead the world forward on how to make empowered leaders from any position in an organization?

I spoke to many people after the member meeting. We all hoped for a better day. We all CHOSE this field against advice of family and dollars. We chose to live and work in one world and to sacrifice for the sexy and real and the emotional experience of the arts.

What did you choose?

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Early to Rise…

SYPartners asked groups at tables to plan for a "new" performing arts centers.

…But not early to bed. Friday night, I took the opportunity to enjoy an offering from Under The Radar. I was interested in so many of the pieces listed but eventually decided on the from UNIVERSES’ “Ameriville” at the Public Theatre. Described as a meditation of Hurricane Katrina, I found the piece to also be a meditation on how we relate to each other in this country. UNIVERSES is explosive, and I found myself talking with friend about “Ameriville” long into the night while sipping a double-chocloate beer.  Life was good!

And it got even better on Saturday morning. I was one of the daring early risers who attended the Plenary III session “See, Believe, Think, Act” facilitated by SYPartners. The description of a model for transformation was enlightening. So often we atteempt to think our way out of challenges. SYPartners invited us to take a step back and learn, not only listen but hear.

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18 Minutes

I found out today that there is an 18-minute delay before you can use your MTA MetroCard again.

There is a delay – who knows how long but I am positive it is longer than 18 minutes – in how the arts field can adopt, embrace and applaud new ways of looking at how arts are presented. Since Benjamin R. Barber spoke at the Opening Plenary, I have gone on a hero’s journey through what is the APAP conference (but not all of what APAP is to me; but more on that down the line) conquering meetings, fiquring out the puzzles of the Expo Hall layout, concentrating on speakers, laying out post-it notes. Not exactly Greek mythology heroism but my journey it is.

Some light, some treasure has been found. Mostly in the conversations with my people – thinking about our society and how it can change and grow with the input from the arts and artists. Light in the fact that someone, anyone is listening to the facts that the arts make an economic difference in society, that the arts make social impact, that the arts can move us in political arenas.

I spoke at the new class of the Emerging Leadership Institute earlier as an alumni. I am from the class of 2003, and ELI opened new doors for me to look at the world and the arts in a whole new way. It seems like 18 minutes ago. It seems like I can’t go back and use that experience again. But I can tell the new class what it is like to invest in the arts and reach and self-empower play roles in the “macro” or big picture of the arts in America.

The Leadership Development Institute I have been a member of the past year presented its work and findings to a full room, and I was inspired by the reactions and discussions that followed and have continued. I sat in at the SYPartners workshop and saw how the future can me shaped by us for us. And I sat through a bit contentious member meeting discussing the future of what APAP can and should be.

There is so much good we have, so much in our field to celebrate… maybe we do not have the 18 minutes.

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home for the leaderless community…

Photo courtesy Living Word Festival/Marc Bamuthi Joseph

In the hum of Friday morning’s soft snow, a quorum of invested parties gathered at APAP under the auspices of the National Endowment for the Arts to talk intersection…

…or intervention.

Specifically, Ann Rosenthal, Meklit HaderoKevin Duggan and I instigated a conversation about community engagement in arts presentation, which might seem redundant to some, and totally antonymous to others. On one side of the question, there may be some who say that arts presentation IS community engagement (duh) and that the fullest breadth of performance investigates and integrates a relationship between artist and social environment that leads forward towards the edge of both. On the other hand, it is safe to argue that the role of artist presentation is to initiate community engagement, but not necessarily to mediate it; that aesthetics drives commerce and commerce impels community, so that the deeper encounter with artist-presented work is best left to be reconciled in a curricular way by teachers, critics and docents, but not by the artists themselves.

The assembled panel, hand picked by Alison Loerke for our collective advocacy of community engagement best practices, made a series of arguments for deep, sustained, interactive relationships between artists and the communities in which they perform, so that ultimately arts presentation moves from polemics to reciprocity, from safety to safely risk. We talked Sekou Sundiata, student employment, environmental justice, and Freirean pedagogy, coming to consensus around the notion that the best art comes from artists, but the best artistic EXPERIENCES come only when there is a protracted relationship between creative minds (including arts presenters and curators) and the communities they serve.

Pretty dope, right? Continue reading

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Zoom! It’s a whirlwind at APAP.

A whirlwind day.

The meetings started, EXPO Hall was open, and it began–the process of articulating why the artists on my roster are a great fit in so many communities, and the process of discovery and active curation on the part of the presenters, one conversation after another. 

One of those conversations looped back around to Mr. Barber, and the issue of commerce vs delivery of arts in a not-for-profit setting. I agree that a paradigm shift of our value system is much-needed, away from the idea that all value is measured by the money earned. This idea is not opposed to good fiscal management—but it sets its support on the reasons the arts really mean something to us—they move us, they fill our souls with joy, they help us understand our world in ways we wouldn’t think about, they bridge peoples and cultures—we could go on and on with the values that are the visceral effects of going to a great performance. The value of the performance is not described by the value of the ticket. 

But I digress.

Some of the best things that happened today were completely unexpected meetings at my booth. Yes, I set up meetings, I contacted the people I wanted to meet with, etc etc. But some of the walkups, presenters curious about artists they were unfamiliar wth, made unexpected connections—and so the network builds. An agent friend of mine noted the same thing a few years ago: “I love this business. When you think you know it all, you are surprised…and it’s great!”

It was one of those days.

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Reuse, Recycle, Repurpose

I am just walking out of Plenary II in the Trianon Ballroom where for the last 90 minutes I have been listening to an array of artists, futurists and thinkers share their ideas around the conference theme: Vision 2021. Truth be told, I walked in a little late. I was involved in a final wrap-up conversation with the members of the Leadership Development Institute. The LDI interest session this morning was so filled to capacity that a few people looked in and unfortunately decided not to stay. I’m sorry they didn’t.  

The information shared in the session was worth staying for even if you had to sit on the floor. (Disclaimer: I was on the panel for this session and am entirely biased toward the brilliance of my colleagues.)  Luckily, I am not alone in my thinking. Building resilience and embodying mission are topics that are incredibily relevant to our field (as our session attendance suggests), and this workshop provided concrete activities participants could take back to their organizations.  As Jack Wright, an LDI cohort member from Celebrity Series of Boston, stated, “This is about becoming a leader no matter the level at which you work.”  Look for the full report in the future.

Now back to the Plenary II: As I listened to the speakers, I kept hearing the phrase “new ways to use.” We live in a culture that is often about the new and the next.  This plenary reminded me that we may well have all the tools we need at our disposal but are not using them to capacity. Too often, we lock ourselves into linear thinking which does a our creative field a disservice. 

For instance, during his PechaKucha-like lightning talk, Garry Golden discussed the internet evoling into a “Wisdom Web.”  This short turn of  phrase sent my mind on a wonderful journey envisioning new ways to use the Web for my work.

Wisdom implies more than information sharing and marketing, which is how most of us use the Web. Wisdom is transformational and spiritual, which is interstingly how we think about works onstage. What if we began to think about our Web pressence as portals of transformation? How would that affect the tone and content of our webpages and newsletters? Maybe you’ve thought of the Web this way before, but I hadn’t. Let the visioning begin.

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Knowing where you are by thinking about where you’re going

I just finished presenting and participating in the Bolz Center’s Professional Development seminar focused on a tool called “scenario planning.” Thanks to all of you who attended and contributed to the useful and stimulating conversation! Now I’m pondering Garry Golden’s PechaKucha-style talk about ways to think about the future. Are there overlaps? Yes.

Here are some key takeaways:

  1. The future is uncertain—that’s a truism, but it’s healthy to remember.
  2. By imagining possible futures (whether via quadrants or cones), we may be able to equip ourselves for dealing with uncertainties and achieving better outcomes.
  3. Imagining takes time (not always a lot of time) away from dealing with present crises. But time spent imagining the future can be productive and possibly transformative. Dwight Eisenhower said something like “plans are nothing, but planning is everything.” Looking to the future is both a planning process, valuable in itself, as well as a posture, a general attitude and method of operating that orients us more amiably towards the unknown.
  4. The session participants were quick to identify critical uncertainties in their worlds, ranging from impending changes in tax policy (related to philanthropy) to the predominance of mono- or multi-lingual groups in a presenter’s relevant population to the fate of Live Nation. There are many types of uncertainty and lessons to be drawn from them. What kinds of issues are critical and uncertain in your world?
  5. The secret with scenario planning—and with any attempt to look into the future—is that it’s actually all about the present. Ultimately, I think we can learn a lot about where we are by thinking about where we’re going.

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