As ever, this year’s 59th annual Association of Performing Arts Presenters (APAP) global performing arts conference, APAP|NYC 2016, will be held at the New York Hilton Midtown and the Sheraton New York Times Square, Jan. 15-19. Some 3,600 performing arts industry leaders, artists, managers, agents and presenters from the worlds of dance, theater, music, opera, family programming and more will attend conference sessions and visit the vast Hilton Expo Hall with over 350 exhibitors, and starting Jan. 5, view over 1,500 performance showcases of all types and genres at the hotel and venues throughout Manhattan and Brooklyn.
For the last four years the APAP conference has centered on a single-word theme, this year’s being Makers, in recognition of the craft and contributions of artists and all people critical to the process of making art and bringing live performances to communities worldwide. The 2016 program is thematically divided into “tracks” titled “Make Art,” “Make a Difference,” “Make Decisions” and “Make Money”; session titles include “Making the Arts Matter,” “Making Points of Entry–Models for Nurturing Participation in Arts and Culture,” “Making Art and the Evolutionary Process” and “Making Big Ideas Come to Life.”
“We are an industry of ‘makers,’ essentially: performing arts curators, producers, presenters, agents and managers,” says APAP president/CEO Mario Garcia Durham. “As such we’re innovators, instigators and entrepreneurs—a fact that is often overlooked. Making art is the main thing, but there are a lot of different things we’re making–including money. But that’s not the overriding reason for the conference—but we recognize the reality that the artist has got to make a living, and we’re unapologetic in wanting to support artists in doing so.”
Central theme aside, APAP|NYC 2016 will stick with the usual format, says Durham.
“We don’t want people to come to the conference and navigate new systems, but want them to know how it’s set-up and where everything is and where they’re going,” he says. As for this year’s sessions, he singles out the “Up Next! Artist Pitch Session,” which gives presenters and producers the chance to check out new works in development or recently completed–with artists themselves having five minutes to pique their interest.
Durham also notes that Jan. 18 is Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, and relates it to the session “Our Global Community: What is the Role of the Arts Presenter in a Community in Crisis?” The session deals with the global growth in conflicts marked by violence and destruction, and shows how arts organizations can play a leading role in preventing or dealing with cycles of violence in order to achieve and sustain greater community cohesion.
“Arts organizations deal with the same issues as others in terms of diversity and communities in conflict and crisis,” he says. “So we’re highlighting the message of Dr. King throughout the conference in presentations and quotes in projecting the consciousness of his voice—and seeing what we can do as an arts organization to add our voices to hopefully move forward and further the healing process.”
Durham invokes the protests in Baltimore last April following the death in police custody of Freddie Gray.
“During the heat of the riots, the Baltimore Symphony put on a free concert for everyone,” he says. “It was their way of trying to contribute to the quality of life and ease tensions by bringing an arts element to the whole mix of protest and civil disobedience.”
As for artists and presenters, Durham is particularly excited about 2015 Kennedy Honors recipient Rita Moreno, who has for decades opened doors for Latino performing artists while winning an Oscar, Emmy, Tony and Grammy. Scott Stoner, APAP VP for programs and resources and curator of the conference program, also looks forward to hearing Ahmad Sarmast, founder and director of the Afghanistan National Institute of Music (ANIM).
Sarmast was to present at last year’s APAP conference but was injured in a suicide bomber attack while his students performed at the French Cultural Center in Kabul the month before he was to travel to the U.S.
“Dr. Sarmast is known as the man who revived music in Afghanistan,” says Stoner. “ANIM allows opportunities for all talented Afghan youth regardless of gender, ethnicity or social circumstances to achieve their general education and specialist training in Afghan traditional and Western classical music.”
Stoner is also eager to attend presentations from arts leaders from Sweden and Ghana about points of entry and models for nurturing participation in arts and culture.
Other key artists and presenters include PBS president/CEO Paula Kerger; choreographer, dancer and executive artistic director of New York Live Arts Bill T. Jones, who is creating a new piece to perform at the opening session; opera singer Carla Dirlikov, who has founded the El Camino Project to promote cross-cultural ties through music, advocacy, innovation and education; actress/playwright Anna Deavere Smith, currently the artist-in-residence at the Center for American Progress, who uses live solo performance as a public medium to explore issues of race, identity and community in America; Tony-winning actress/playwright (for Fun Home) and daughter of a Holocaust survivor Lisa Kron; and Tony-winning director Bartlett Sher.
In addition to the conference, a dozen major performing arts industry forums and public festivals presented by leading U.S. and global performing arts organizations take place Jan. 5-19 in collaboration with APAP under the January In NYC partnership, to involve over 45,000 attendees and 1,500 performances along with professional development and networking opportunities. These include American Realness; APAP World Music Pre-Conference; APAP|NYC 2016, COIL 2016; Chamber Music America; globalFEST; Jazz Connect; The Joyce Theater’s American Dance Platform; New York ISPA 2016 Congress; PROTOTYPE: Opera/Theater/Now; The Public Theater’s Under the Radar and Winter Jazzfest.
New to the consortium this year is The Joyce Theater Foundation’s American Dance Platform, running Jan. 12-17.
“We’re very excited to be a part of January In NYC, and we couldn’t be more pleased to present American Dance Platform and its eclectic mix of companies, some well known and others on an exciting rise,” says Linda Shelton, executive director of The Joyce Theater. “Fortuitously, as the event coincides with Martin Luther King Day, half of the companies in this roster are led by African-American directors.”
The “incredible convergence of performing arts professionals and artists all gathering together in various places throughout New York in January” bodes well for the trade, observes Durham.
“It keeps growing and growing, and that indicates to me that creativity is still flowing,” he says, “and people appreciate the comfort of the (APAP) conference—the opportunity to see old friends–especially now with all that’s going on in the world, and we turn to each other, friends and colleagues. There’s something about the arts that speaks to the purity of life beyond words and touches us deeply, that people really treasure at these times.”
Durham concludes by noting that besides this year’s professional development program and its featured artists and presenters, he’s excited about APAP|NYC 2016 “exploring more ways to open access to the performing arts for new audiences within the U.S. and globally.”
“We are committed to the work of established and emerging artists, and allowing them maximum opportunities to present their work to audiences in the U.S. and around the world,” he says. “The fact remains that there still are many, many productions and performances that are completely out of reach of the great majority of Americans who would love them. It’s very frustrating and disturbing to me, and we need to keep the conversation active and allow more access for people who want to see things. I think demand for the work is there, but more barriers are put in place—financial and location—so that less can attend.”
Durham says that he’s seen free performances in “hot, hot summer weather, with people around the block and willing to stand in order to see something they can’t afford tickets for. It’s an area that’s really close to my heart: Give people the opportunity to see something and they will come—and produce a trickle down effect if they bring their children. It can impact adults and children greatly.”
The Association of Performing Arts Presenters is the national service, advocacy and membership organization for presenters of the performing arts. It is dedicated to developing and supporting a robust performing arts industry and the professionals who work within it.
“There really is no better way for those in our profession to connect with each other and bring the best of performances to their communities than to attend APAP|NYC,” says Durham. “This includes the experience of meeting face to face with so many colleagues in one place, the knowledge gained by attending sessions, and the exposure from visiting the Expo Hall and more than 1,000 performance showcases presented to live audiences that help presenters gauge what will most resonate with their own communities.”