From crowdsourcing to mixing genres, APAP 2015 explores togetherness

The 2015 APAP congress will explore the notion of togetherness in the arts sector. It’s a highly relevant theme, as CEO Mario Garcia Durham tells Clare Wiley

The theme of APAP|NYC 2015, the conference that brings a great diversity of artists and cultural professionals to New York for several days of debate and networking is, rather fittingly, ‘Together’.

‘We have a conference committee composed of artists and administrators that we spend time with, brainstorming the ideas and themes that should guide us,’ says Mario Garcia Durham, president and CEO of the Association of Performing Arts Presenters (APAP). ‘The committee felt that even though ‘together’ is a very simple term, in our current times it encompasses the sentiment of our members who physically want to meet. Our entire industry is based, especially in this electronic age, on bringing people and artists together. As a theme for 2015, it’s all-encompassing and means a million things – in particular the desire to connect with other people on a one-to-one basis.’

APAP NYC 2014 Showcase- BodyTraffic © Gabi Porter  APAP
BodyTraffic, which performed during a showcase at APAP|NYC 2014 © Gabi Porter / APAP

As a concept, it’s especially apt at a time when crowdsourcing, crowdfunding and cross-disciplinary working are now norms in the arts world. The 58th APAP member conference – the world’s largest single convention of performing arts professionals – is likely to attract more than 3,600 people as audience members for around 1,000 showcases, 370 exhibitors, and dozens of talks and professional development sessions.

Speakers include Grammy Award-winning singer, songwriter and activist Angélique Kidjo; fêted public radio producer and host Ira Glass; American Ballet Theatre soloist Misty Copeland; Polaris Music Prize-winning Inuit throat singer Tanya Tagaq; and Tony Award-winning spoken word artist Lemon Andersen.

Garcia Durham is particularly looking forward to a talk by Dr Ahmad Naser Sarmast: ‘Dr Sarmast is creating a National Institute of Music in Afghanistan,’ he says. ‘He really wants women and girls to participate but it is a very difficult and constantly challenging arena. That ties into our conference theme well, because we don’t want his efforts to be isolated; we want to make sure that the thousands of delegates who come to APAP|NYC are aware that he’s doing this amazing work, and that his experience and knowledge will translate to the lives and work of other professionals.’

The wide variety of conference sessions on offer will address a multitude of industry trends and hot topics, including targeting untapped and more diverse audiences,working with artists to sustain those audiences, and using performance to make a social or humanitarian impact on individuals and their communities. Indeed, as an international organisation serving the performance industry, APAP is particularly well placed to identify the issues and challenges faced by the sector.

5 Minutes to SHINE at APAP NYC 2014 © Gabi Porter APAP
‘5 Minutes to SHINE’ at APAP|NYC 2014 © Gabi Porter / APAP

In January 2014, APAP held a think tank with an invited group of around 30 cultural leaders from the US and abroad. ‘We wanted to determine what the most pressing issues for each of them were at the time,’ says Garcia Durham, ‘and we identified seven main ones.’

The key considerations raised by the cultural leadership committee were as follows:

1. Demographic shift, and the ongoing transformation of the US into a majority/minority country, raising the issue of cultural equity in an urgent and profound way.

2. Globalisation in a world that is not just becoming ‘smaller’, but far more richly and intensely experienced, interconnected and interdependent.
3. The rise of a culture that places a monetary value on every experience, and which contributes to a world of growing economic disparity in doing so.

4. Economic and organisational paradigm shifts that demand more creative thinking around entrepreneurial business models, with alternative methods of revenue generation and innovative organisational design.
5. Rapidly changing technological innovations.

6. New relationships being both sought and developed between communities, artists and arts organisations, challenging the traditional transaction models that have tended to steer the presenting endeavour to date.

7. Leadership models grounded in the diversity of the population requiring a more collaborative, horizontal model of working, as opposed to the traditional, hierarchical, ‘heroic’ approaches prevalent in the past.

Again, Garcia Durham points to the importance of collaborative action: ‘The arts aren’t alone in facing these challenges, and we don’t have to solve them alone. It’s important to work with others in order to properly address some of these bigger issues.’

In the case of APAP|NYC 2015, this is already the case. The trade fair is just one of 11 conferences, festivals and other performing arts forums collaborating under the umbrella title ‘January in NYC’, collectively bringing more than 48,000 industry professionals, performing artists and cultural enthusiasts to New York City at the start of the New Year. It’s certainly a convincing case for making togetherness a key ingredient to progress.

APAP|NYC 2015 will be held at New York’s Hilton Midtown and Sheraton Times Square hotels, 9-13 January.