Brisbane gets ready for APAM 2016

Established in 1994 by the Australia Council for the Arts, Australian Performing Arts Market (APAM) is Australia’s cultural shop window for the world. Taking place 22-26 February, 2016 sees the biennial industry event return to Brisbane for a second time, partnering with What The Festival (WTF) for four days of connections, culture and conversation.

‘There’s a real buzz about the place,’ says APAM executive producer Zohar Spatz over Skype. ‘The programmes are going to print, the puzzle pieces are coming together. Since it only happens every two years it is nice when you can finally deliver it.’

APAM’s 2016 programme is an eclectic one, spread over four venues centred around Brisbane Powerhouse. Some shows have a powerful message, like Imagined Touch by Deafblind, which takes the audience inside the experience of those who cannot see or hear. Others such as ILBIJERRI’s Lush Life, telling the life story of jazz singer Wilma Reading, celebrate the joy of music.

Then there’s the charming oddness of kids’ show Creature, which makes use of 3D projections to create an animal world. And this year those shows will have more reach than ever before, thanks to the WTF [festival] partnership.

‘We’ve integrated the events together. Rather than APAM and WTF running side by side as they did in 2014, there is now a greater assimilation,’ says Spatz. ‘So works sit in the showcase but also have public season afterwards. It gives delegates more interaction with the public and it gives artists the opportunity for a public facing season, so all of their hard work gets used twice.’

A big part of the presentation will be the works of Aboriginal, Torres Straits and Māori artists and artworks. First Nations groups from Australia, New Zealand and North America are using APAM as a gathering point this year, something Spatz is proud to support.

‘There will be an exchange session before APAM for First Nations people from New Zealand, Australia and North America,’ says the executive producer. ‘This is the first time that APAM has been utilised for this gathering and we’re incredibly excited. There’s a range of Aboriginal, Torres Straits and Māori artists in the programme. Djuki Mala is bringing their dance, storytelling and pop music show, which fuses contemporary and Yolngu culture. Black Arm Band showcased in 2014 and they are back with a work in development. Northern Rivers Performing Arts (NORPA), an indigenous group, will present Three Brothers.

‘There is a wide breadth of work and the fact that North American First Nations representatives are coming makes it extra special. These artists will also play a big role in both the opening and closing ceremonies.’

At this point we have to address the elephant in the room – the funding cuts that have hit Australia’s arts sector hard in the last 12 months. While some of the cuts have been reversed, will they have a negative impact on APAM and the possibilities for Australian companies to tour? ‘It has been a tough time but I think touring will not be affected,’ answers Spatz. ‘International touring is such an important part of keeping our small to medium performing arts sector alive, it is a real market for Australian companies. Luckily touring funding has been a bit more secure, and many relationships are already in place, so I think we will see a lot of companies back on the road in 2016.’

As for APAM itself, Spatz thinks the experience of 2014 has made a massive impact on the 2016 event. ‘We learned a lot from the first time. Delegates won’t have to travel as much as they did, they will be shuttled from door to door so they don’t get overloaded with logistical details.’

There will also be far more exchange events – 20 in total – many of them based at Sofitel Brisbane Central.

Says Spatz: ‘Three mornings of the five they’ll take part in an exchange of idea, dialogue, booths, conversations and networking experiences without even leaving the hotel. ‘Then at Brisbane Powerhouse we begin with what we’re calling The Low Down, where industry consultants will explain how to make the most of APAM, and we’ve also got a BBQ by the Brisbane River – it’s a gorgeous location. Plus all the usual speed dating and other exchange events you’d expect from a showcase.’

These networking and introduction events are increasingly important as APAM draws an ever more international crowd. Between 180 and 200 international delegates will attend, including representatives from Belgium, Canada, Chile, China, Columbia, England, Finland, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, US and Singapore.

‘There’s a five person delegation through the Korean foundation, and groups from China and Japan supported by the Australian embassies there. 40 per cent of the international attendees get help with their travel from us, through bursaries.

‘Many of these delegates are in key positions to build connections and long-term touring opportunities and exchange, so we need to have them here. It may take a year or two for the idea to come to fruition, but so many do. We saw so many wonderful results in 2014 and I expect to see even more this time around.’