The Association of Performing Arts Presenters‘ 47th Annual Members Conference concludes today after a busy weekend here in New York City. Careers may not be made or broken during the four-day event, but a lot of business does get done at this yearly industry booking party when more than 3,500 performing arts professionals gather at the Hilton to meet with artists and their representatives, discuss the issues and concerns that face the field, and just generally network and socialize with their colleagues from across the country.
This year’s event was built around the theme “Embracing a New Era: Creativity. Courage. Choices.” To help attendees navigate the myriad events scheduled over the four-day conference, they were broken down into five “tracks”—Art and Politics, K-12 Education, Classical Music, Hip-Hop, and World Music. The classical music track specifically sought to “celebrate the artists, composers, and scholars who are infusing classical music with vitality and bringing to it a 21st century context.”
Playwright Tony Kushner as the featured speaker ensured a capacity crowd at the opening plenary session. Kushner spoke at length about his work and personal politics with John Killacky, program officer for the San Francisco-based Arts and Culture. Playing to the assumed politically liberal crowd, Kushner covered a range of hot topics, including the “appallingly dangerous level” of public funding for the arts and the NEA‘s “catastrophic” decision to no longer fund individual artists. Despite the seriousness of the topics he covered, Kushner got repeated laughs by pointing out obvious inconsistencies that affect the field, such as the fact that a reviewer for the Times eats at a restaurant at least three times in case the chef is having an off night but goes to the theater only once before embracing or condemning a show. He also noted the irony that the new NEA program to promote the arts across America features William Sheakspeare, “who, of course, is not an American.”
Far from being pessimistic, Kushner said that even though there is a tremendous crisis in this country, “despair is the lie we tell ourselves. We’re all still citizens of a democracy…[and] there is a great deal in this country that is magnificent.” He fell short of endorsing a specific presidential candidate, but spoke frankly about his dislike of the Bush administration’s policies and urged the audience to not be complacent but to get involved quickly while the situation could still be turned around.
Regina Carter, Daniel Bernard Roumain, DJ Spooky, and Samuel Adler were among the composers and musicians who spoke to delegates as part of the “Artist Voices” series. In addition, John King and Vijay Iyer covered the latest developments in experimental music and multi-media opera. Nonesuch Records‘ partnership with the new Zankel Hall was highlighted as a case study in innovative, mutually beneficial collaboration.
“The State of Classical Music” was one of many “Burning Issues” panels assembled to tackle hot issues in the field. Moderated by the AMC‘s own Executive Director Richard Kessler, this one approached the topic from a decidedly forward thinking perspective. Panelists included violinist/composer Todd Reynolds, concert pianist Navah Perlman, presenter/curator Limor Tomer, and composer/journalist Greg Sandow, who did their best in the three-hour time slot to cover an array of concerns plaguing the industry. Lest things get too pessimistic, Kessler also took a moment to steer the conversation towards celebrating some if its successes. Among the highlights of the wide-ranging conversation, the panelists and attendees discussed why classical music has lost its definition; the need for presenters to embrace the music they are passionate about and not institute programs and marketing strategies out of fear; the continued strong enrollment in conservatories across the country and the changing roles these musicians will need to be prepared to fill; the need to engage audiences in dialogue to both understand their needs and open their eyes to new experiences; the potentials of education efforts for both children and adult audiences; and the evolution of the performance experience from tradition-bound performance practice to a more comfortable experience for today’s American audiences.
There were also scores of exhibitors on hand in the hall showing off their artist rosters and industry related services. Hundreds of performers presented showcases of their work hoping to attract the attention (and available booking dates) of presenters.