Rise of a region

Asia Pacific is leading the performing arts world in jobs, economic impact and new venues. Association of Asia Pacific Performing Arts Centres (AAPPAC) chair Douglas Gautier tells Andrew Anderson what we can expect from the Asian Century.

Carnegie Hall, Sydney Opera House, Royal Albert Hall – ask anyone anywhere in the world to name a famous arts venue and these are sure to be the most common answers. But will North America, Europe and Australia still rule the roost 50 years from now?

Perhaps not. A 2015 study by global professional services provider Ernst & Young found that 33% of the revenue and 43% of jobs in the performing arts sector are in the Asia Pacific region – more than either Europe or North America. Furthermore, the region is adding venues at a radical rate. 50 years from now it could be Beijing’s “Giant Egg” rather than Paris’ “Palais Garnier” that is considered iconic.

“When you look at what the performing arts are worth, both in terms of economic benefit and jobs, you’ll see that we are ahead of every other region,” says Douglas Gautier, chair of the Association of Asia Pacific Performing Arts Centres (AAPPAC). “Any international arts organisation that wants to remain relevant has to embrace Asia Pacific output.

“There’s a lot of confidence here, in terms of infrastructure and the work that’s being produced. Until recently, we were constantly looking over our shoulders to see what North America and Europe were doing. Now there’s a belief in what we’re creating here – what you will find is a more assertive and confident Asia.”

Gautier has led Adelaide Festival Centre (AFC) as CEO and artistic director for the last 12 years; before that he spent 25 years working in Hong Kong, including a stint as Hong Kong Arts Festival’s executive director. When it comes to what is happening in the Asia Pacific perfoming arts arena, he’s the expert.

“It’s a boom region right now,” he asserts. “There are so many new centres being built and many organisations springing up to serve the infrastructural as well as the programming needs of these venues; audience attraction, placemaking, marketing, ticketing, technology and philanthropy, it’s all taking shape.”

That’s good news for Gautier’s AAPPAC. Established in 1996, it now represents the demands of 46 centres, as well as 33 ‘business circle’ members. And, adds Gautier, that number will soon rise.

“We’re expecting it to increase and that we’ll see our membership go over the 100 mark in the next three to four years. That includes venues as well as business circle members such as agents, software suppliers, architects, festivals and performing arts organisations.”

AAPPAC’s gradual growth (it has added seven full members in the last two years) is thanks to its active approach to recruitment.

“All of our board members, whether they’re working in China, Korea or New Zealand, are strongly involved in recruiting,” he explains. “That is particularly true when we go into a new market. When our conference went to Guangzhou last year, my deputy chair Liu Ying (director of the city’s Xinghai Concert Hall) was very active in promoting the benefits of membership to arts centres in China.”

And it’s not only arts centres AAPPAC is looking to snap up: “Our business circle is bringing in a lot of other new members. Artist agents can place clients with centres across Asia Pacific as well as all the associated festivals; software suppliers can find clients that need ticketing, scheduling and other solutions; architects can work on new centres or old ones that are being modified; performing arts groups are interested in performing at our venues; and, increasingly, independent festivals are looking for venues or are interested in co-commissions.

“I’d add to that list placemakers: either bottom-up placemaking where artists are involved, or top down where you’ve got governments or authorities designating the precincts. The head of the Global Cultural District Network, Adrian Ellis, is an example of that second type, and he’ll be speaking at this year’s annual conference.”

AAPPAC’s annual conference, which this year takes place in Auckland (19-21 September), is a microcosm of its mission. Hosted by Auckland Live – who manage a clutch of spaces in the city centre – confirmed speakers include Simon Draper (executive director, Asia New Zealand Foundation), Gaurav Kripalani, (festival director, Singapore International Festival of Arts) and Alison Friedman (artistic director of performing arts, West Kowloon Cultural District Authority).

Aotea Centre, home of the AAPPAC 2018 conference © Auckland Live
Aotea Centre, home of the AAPPAC 2018 conference © Auckland Live

“It’s a place where we can sit down and compare what is happening in our spaces and in our industry,” says Gautier of the conference. “There is no question that the role of cultural centres is changing in terms of engagement with audiences and artists, in terms of mixing and blurring genres, and in terms of issues and how artists and programmers are responding to them.”

Session titles to reflect these concerns include ‘The value of festivals to arts centres as a mechanism to reach a diverse audience’, ‘Performing arts centres as anchor organisations within the development of cultural districts’ and ‘Current programming trends and priorities in venues and festivals in the Asia Pacific region’. Keynote speeches, venue visits and a cocktail reception, meanwhile, provide a counterpoint to the discussions.

“We have to make sure the spaces we are setting up will remain relevant for the 21st century, for both audiences and artists – this programme is part of that effort,” affirms Gautier.“It isn’t a question of going out and getting a bunch of Western companies to fill our venues anymore; increasingly we’re asking ‘what have we got ourselves that can fill that role?’”

And, he adds, the knowledge sharing continues beyond the conference: “Our members explore these topics on a bilateral basis. So, one centre will go to another and say ‘I like what you’re doing in terms of open spaces, can we come and have a look?’ That sort of exchange happens under the umbrella of the network and is something I am encouraging.

“Arts centres are not static organisations,” he continues. “They have to change and respond to new demands from audiences, artists and communities. We have to pull the membership together to work on reciprocal learning like this wherever possible.”

Delegates at AAPPAC 2017 © Xinghai Concert Hall
Delegates at AAPPAC 2017 © Xinghai Concert Hall

Speaking of which, Gautier has a new project for 2018 that he is excited to announce: “Our members are responsible for over 100 large festivals, which all commission and programme new work in dance, music, theatre and cross-genre disciplines. At the moment, there’s no Asian organisation representing all these festivals and, because of our position, we can fill this role.

“At this year’s conference we’re introducing a pitch session where works that are up and running can be introduced to other members, as well as new ideas looking for commissioning partners. We want to build a network in Asia that encourages the creation of work and allows it to be performed in more than one place.”

This network, he says, will expand on informal partnerships that are already forming. “There are many examples of works that have been put together by three of four centres. Right now, for example, at AFC we’re looking at a piece of work that will be created in partnership with Tongyeong Concert Hall in Korea and Adelaide Symphony Orchestra, which will be performed in both centres.

“Let’s be conscious of the work that is existing and boost it to the next level through a touring network. And, just as important, let’s look at the step before – getting multiple arts centres to come together as contributing partners, all with skin in the game. There’s no question that once this network gets going it is going to grow exponentially.”


This article is an extract from a feature in IAM issue 14 volume 9. To subscribe to the magazine and read the full story click here