Go with the flow

This year’s APAP|NYC will see big names from outside the performing arts world join in the discussion to inspire leaders to push against their boundaries and make a difference. Maria Roberts reports

‘The run up to the election threw a whole load of new issues onto the frontline of political and social debate. It was a bitter and ugly fight,’ APAP’s CEO Mario Garcia Durham tells me over the phone from Washington. We are speaking the day before the Presidential election and there’s a twitch of nervousness in the air. ‘It seems we are in an apex and regardless of who leads, those troubles are not over,’ he adds. ‘We’re on edge.’

All this is woven through the schedule at the 2017 APAP|NYC congress (5 – 10 January 2017). This year’s theme and keynote address ‘MC (Makers of Culture) = FLOW: What is our role in affecting social change and resilience?’, will tackle the issues head on. On 6 January filmmaker and singer-songwriter Bree Newsome will join Ibtihaj Mario Garcia Durham at APAP|NYC 2016 Muhammad (Olympic sabre fencing medallist) and feminist Martha Gonzalez on a panel moderated by Robyn Archer, Australian singer, writer, artistic director and advocate.

Newsome made global news in June 2015 when she scaled a flagpole to remove the Confederate flag from the South Carolina state house grounds. She was then arrested and jailed for the weekend. Writing for Blue Nation (29 June, 2015,) she explained why: ‘We made this decision because for us this is not simply about a flag, but rather it is about abolishing the spirit of hatred and oppression in all its forms.’

Muhammad made history as the first Muslim American woman to wear a hijab while competing for the US in the 2016 Rio Olympics.

The keynote address will pose the question: ‘How can we cultivate, support and promote the value of this work in communities that are struggling against, or with, issues and conditions that undermine safety and well-being?’

Says Garcia Durham: ‘Harry Belafonte wrote a wonderful article in The New York Times. He’s a great activist, as well as an artist, he referenced the fact that there has been an ebb and flow of progress [from the work that was done in the 60s]. We are entering a time now when there is an upturning of the order. In that situation you can lose progress.’

He is referring to the article What Do We Have to Lose? Everything (7 November), in which Belafonte wrote ‘What old men know, too, is that all that is gained can be lost’.

Garcia Durham, too, is aware of the risks: ‘Right now many states in the US have made it impossible for women to get reproductive services or abortion, there are restrictions on the voting rights of minorities. Many have suffered the loss of these rights – you can’t count on ‘rights’ because they can be taken away,’ he says, with a hint of urgency in his voice. So, in the face of this, how can arts professionals push with the ‘flow’, work with the ‘flow’ and go with the ‘flow’?

‘The arts is not a one model to fit all system, so the best way of thinking about the critical arts community is to be as broad as can be,’ he explains. ‘That doesn’t mean endorsing the far right, or even the far left, but understanding that we are all involved in it. We are not necessarily political organisations, our role right now is to be truth tellers.’