APAP|NYC+ outlines its vision for the future in its first in-person conference since the Covid-19 pandemic
This January, the Association of Performing Arts Professionals (APAP) hosted APAP|NYC+ 2023, its first in-person conference since the Covid-19 pandemic, displaying a newfound vigour and desire to address the challenges facing the sector, both emerging and longstanding.
With over 3,000 people meeting in New York City over four days, the event tackled the themes of “community, commerce, learning and discovery” through a packed programme of panel discussions and informal gatherings which allowed guests to “network, learn, talk and listen”.
LET’S TALK COVID
Naturally, the experience of and recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic dominated discussions at APAP, with headline speaker U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer highlighting the devastating impact of successive lockdowns on the entertainment industry, the first to close and, in some cases, the last to open. Dr Maria Rosario Jackson, Chair of the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) and former APAP Board Member, similarly discussed her first-hand experience of being forced to reimagine opportunities and access to the arts across the U.S. at a time when traditional methods were simply not available. To some extent, the lasting scars of the pandemic were inescapable, informing every discussion about the current state and the future of the sector. Yet, the lasting message from most attendees was that the damage was not irreparable and that the community had learnt far more than it had lost from this experience. After all, if the Covid-19 pandemic taught us anything it was that a world without the performing arts was “duller, darker and in need of inspiration”.
Beyond the pandemic, APAP attendees were keen to address both the emerging and long-term challenges facing the sector. Numerous panellists touched on the longstanding problem of funding in the performing arts, highlighting decades of underfunding as well as the acute pressures of the current cost-of-living crisis. Ryan George, of the Tour Health Research Initiative, highlighted the intersection of financial and mental pressures that face artists during touring. He argued that the sector is now facing a mental health crisis amongst its touring professionals which reached crisis point in 2022, resulting in an unprecedented number of performance cancellations. Alongside a panel of experts, George explored the notion of “slow” or “green” touring as a possible solution to the evolving funding landscape, arguing that a slower, less demanding touring schedule would not only be more financially sustainable, but also healthier for artists and the planet.
The conference also considered the state of the sector in the eyes of young and emerging talent, with many attempting to envision the sector in 10 or 15 years’ time. The session “Stop Talking, Start Listening: Finding Common Ground with Young Arts Workers and the Future of Our Field” included a particularly interesting discussion of the stark difference in perspective of young artists beginning their careers and established talents at the height of their fame. Tariq Darrel O’Meally, from the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center, represented the feelings of many young arts professionals when she argued that “paying your dues” at the start of your career was an outdated notion that simply dissuaded talented artists from joining the profession. Instead, O’Meally called on the sector to address funding constraints and unlock opportunities for young, emerging talent.
EXPANDING THE DEFENTION OF “ART”
Across the event, speakers were keen to move away from the longstanding perception that the arts are a luxury, instead emphasising its integrity to the everyday lives of individuals and communities across the world. Rather than an experience reserved for the rich and powerful, Dr Jackson highlighted its quotidian nature, intersecting with universal themes, ranging from education and community to economic development and climate change. Whilst Dr Jackson praised the efforts of individuals across the sector who have worked to make the arts more accessible and draw in a wider range of audiences, she called on the industry to do more to highlight historically-underrepresented groups, including artists of colour, indigenous artists, LGBTQI+ artists and artists with disabilities. It was clear across the programme that APAP’s vision for the future is premised upon an arts eco-system that moves beyond limited, “highbrow” expressions to a more inclusive model.
After four days of wide-ranging and emotive discussions, the electric buzz that begun the conference had shifted to a gentler, more positive energy. Having addressed sectoral challenges head on, made space for new connections and imagined a thriving future for the sector, Lisa Richards Toney, APAP’s President and CEO, left audiences with one simple remark, “we are so happy to be back!”
APAP|NYC+ 2024 takes place from 12 to 16 January 2024. For more information, visit APAP (apap365.org)