Notes from International Society for the Performing Arts 2015

Dear Friends and Colleagues,

I was able to attend the ISPA congress for the sixth time now. I have taken great pleasure in presenting my notes to you afterwards and this time is no exception. This year the conference focus was on “Dynamic Leadership: Creating the Future” Here’s a quote from their website:

“Leadership. As generations shift and true global worldviews are realized, both the concept and practice of leadership in the arts evolves in new and surprising directions. What does it mean to lead today? As artists, organizations and a field, are the performing arts trending ahead or lagging behind? What are the best practices and the next great ideas? .

I hope’ll you enjoy this quick dip into some the conference, I captured the ideas and phrases that rang in my head and I present the pictures the and sounds that show the exploratory nature and the diversity of some sessions.  I only wish I could have documented them all. Once again, if you’re an artist, a student or otherwise “in the biz” and in the big apple in January of next year, ISPA 2016 should be on your radar of things to check out.

Peace and love.

Rebecca Singh for Theatre Local

New York Congress 2015


KEYNOTE ADDRESS | David Henry Hwang

On failure:

“We all want success but the fact is that if we are not having failures from time to time, we aren’t taking risks. In terms of moving forward as an artist, failure is incredibly important and so I’ve been very vocal about talking about my failures.”

“The audience is almost never wrong. The audience is an organic entity that is incredibly smart.”

“Opening is the saddest day of my life… But you can’t rewrite one play for the rest of your life.”

“If you’re fortunate enough to have a long career it’s not always going to go well.”

On change:

“The role of the artist in needing to be entrepreneurial inside the institution has grown in the past 20 to 30 years. We’ve become more “cultural workers” than the “crazy artist” of the past. It used to be that a poet could give a reading completely drunk but now that’s kind of bad and I think that’s okay.”
“We went through a period of culture wars around ethnic representation and then it got kind of quiet but now I think it’s heated up again. It feels to me like we’re facing a new kind of zeitgeist Earth-shift in this country. In 10 to 20 years Caucasians will become a minority, and I think things are going to get worse before they get better and we’re seeing the ripples of that: the culture wars about who is in charge. I think in terms of arts integration, those that will be at the vanguard are ones who figure out how to deal with this; those that figure out diversity. There no roadmap here, we are all struggling to figure this out and that’s why it feels so precarious and unsettling.”

“I feel like it’s harder to get started nowadays then when I started, when I started things were expanding. I don’t think it’s good that the value of a work has increasingly been related to how much money it’s making. I believe in an ecology of theater were not everything needs to make money.”

On being cynical:

“In order to be an effective artist I have to enjoy what I’m doing I have to believe it’s making a difference to someone.”

On leadership on an international level:

“Be aware. Find what you are passionate about. Find out how you can be helpful. When your privileged enough to be in a position of visibility and influence find something that you like to help out with.”

Oregon Shakespeare Festival is “A huge aircraft carrier making the most profound shift in America today” Lark Play Development Centre is also doing interesting things.



Sriram Emani presents a regional update
Sriram Emani



Moderator | Philip Bither (Walker Art Center, United States) Rika Iino (Sozo Artists, Inc., United States), Gabriel Prokofiev (NONCLASSICAL, United Kingdom) and Shoshana Polanco (La Teatreria, Mexico)
Audiences members line up to ask questions

SESSION I | Independent Artists: Bridging the Gaps

Some of the most ground-breaking artists today are the independent creators building bridges between institutions, genres, and audiences.  Look around and you’ll find orchestras collaborating with DJs, ballet companies dabbling in fashion, and participatory arts festivals in the desert.  In this session we’ll engage directly with some of these artists as well as presenters, exploring what inspires them and what makes specific projects successful across the globe.

Moderator | Philip Bither (Walker Art Center, United States)

Speakers | Rika Iino (Sozo Artists, Inc., United States), Shoshana Polanco (La Teatreria, Mexico), and Gabriel Prokofiev(NONCLASSICAL, United Kingdom)

Artist/Producer Gabriel talks about how frustrated he was that there were no young people going to (classical) shows and so he started doing do-it-yourself events. “The early stage development is in the hands of the artist until they create buzz- and then the institutions take it to the next level- as opposed to the institution creating it.” “You have to be DIY in the beginning then hopefully you’ll find yourself working with bigger teams.”

Manager Rika talks about how the conversations she has with her clients are to help artists create charitable organizations as survival strategy rather than contract negotiation insight. For that she suggests people just Google the info she spends her time on other things; “How do you communicate the value of new work that no one has ever seen and the answer is video. We spent an incredible amount of time producing and editing video  with a company that does that.”

How do you know to ask for something when nobody has seen it?

You have to see work in order to program it but it leaves a dilemma if you aren’t coproducing or co-commissioning: how will you see the work?

On the topic of commissions- Presenter Shoshana talks about the importance of long-term relationships not only to take the first risk but also the second and the third and that that builds relationships as well as community.

Gabriel- “We need more more performance spaces, more chances just to do the repertoire and not be holding onto the preciousness and over-organization of the Premiere.”

Shoshana- Our artists are artists are our ambassadors- they’re not only breaking the rules and creating trends in their home country but they are spreading seeds that’s why co-commisioning is so important across borders if you feel you are part of this global family.

Panel agrees we are in a new era of constant hybridity. Moderator notes this is a challenge for performance spaces. Rika suggests the audience is smarter than that and doesn’t process based on category anymore. Shoshana agrees, “I think we worry more about that than the audiences.” Someone mentions “I find it exciting when I leave a performance and still don’t know what the genre is.”

Panel- It’s important to find your community. It’s easy to carry on as if you own in your own bubble but it’s important connect too. Prokofiev- “We are lacking people who are driving forces bringing together people in different mediums.” Rika says “bigger institutions deserve applause for creating smaller spaces.”

Shoutouts: Yerba Buena Centre, Oberon, Global Streaming Concerts, Patreon


Limor Tomer, Concerts & Lectures General Manager at The Metropolitan Museum of Art introducing Ethel
Performer with Ethel


Limor Tomer of The Metropolitan Museum of Art speaks sagely about the state of the arts and responds to vcomments in the last session about getting the younger demographic out:

“I don’t think the problem is the buildings, the problem is the vision, the leadership… Even the ostensibly slowest institutions can turn themselves around and relatively quickly with good leadership… I really don’t care about the younger demographic. Some of the most rigid close-minded people I know are part of the younger demographic. I’m interested in the curious demographic and curiosity doesn’t come with an expiry date.”



Regional Update for Japan




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SESSION II | CultureTrack: A New View of Cultural Consumption

Preparing your organization for the audiences of the future can seem a daunting task.  While nobody has a crystal ball to tell the future, we now have ample research on the four key generations participating in cultural activities.  In this session we’ll hear from Arthur Cohen and 15 years of study and then join experts about the shifting motivations, attitudes, and barriers brought on by the multi-generational work force, as well as what future audiences will seek.

Moderator | Arthur Cohen (LaPlaca Cohen, United States)

Speakers | Allegra Galvin (Quarterhouse, United Kingdom), Tisa Ho(Hong Kong Arts Festival Society, Hong Kong), Shelton g. Stanfill(SgS Ltd., United States), and Carolyn Warren (The Banff Centre, Canada)

Arthur Cohen is the force behind Culture track: which looks at attitudes motivators and barriers affecting audiences. Check out the videos on his website, they are far better than notes!

Some interesting thoughts from the panelists that came up:

-Pre-war demographic are looking to be with people not like themselves- where are they in your planning?

-If you have food service in your facilities, it’s not a service it’s an opportunity to deliver a cultural experience.

-People are seeking entertainment, and enlightenment -in that order.

-The cultural consumer is first and foremost a social creature.

-When you’re marketing to millennials you’re marketing to a group, they travel in packs.

-Marketing idea- The theater makes two versions of their best set and then the audience can take a picture in the lobby with the actors. Ask the audience to put on put it on their Facebook pages.

-“Winning by hosting”- Give a home to a community that could otherwise never afford to be in the space.

-How can cultural institutions think of themselves as producers, presenters, and broadcasters?

-Broadcasting is a “call for discovery” broadcasting is a “tool for discovery”.

-In Canada 71% of performances are being viewed on television screens.

-Instead of looking at cellphones as a nuclear weapon that must be disarmed in the lobby think instead the technology has the ability to be an ambassador and a connector.

Sheldon: “We have to be successful subversives because that’s what the arts are.” Regarding the prewar generation- “We sang the songs and dance the dances of our parents. Beginning with the boomers, children have their own income or control to bees exploited by corporations. Before now, nowhere in history did children have enough disposable income to purchase their own culture.”




Leon Caren and Bas Morsch present “We are Public”
Kacie Hultgren

SESSION III | New Tools for a New World

It seems like almost every day there’s a new app, new tool or a new social media platform changing the way we work.  With so many new technologies it’s hard to know which ones are worth our limited time and resources.  That’s where we come in.  This rapid-fire PechaKucha-like session will introduce you to some of the most exciting new tools being used by artists and leaders in the field today.

Speakers |Leon Caren (We Are Public & Subbacultcha!, Netherlands), Dede Flemming (The Do LaB, USA), Kacie Hultgren, (PrettySmallThings, USA), Felix Lajeunesse (Felix & Paul Studios, Canada), Bas Morsch (We Are Public & Subbacultcha!, Netherlands) and Stéphane Rituit (Felix & Paul Studios, Canada)

Moderator | Tim Brinkman (Watford Colosseum, United Kingdom)

We Are Public is a new cultural membership in the Netherlands. Audiences are able to attend unlimited events for €15 per month membership fee. 15 editors select the works that will be available and present the offerings to the members to chose from via online editorial content. Diverse groups of members essentially pay for each other’s tickets resulting in a win-win for presenters and audience.

Lightning in A Bottle: What is a transformational music festival? It provides a platform for people to create unity and the worlds they want to live in. It includes music classes, workshops, life painting, large installations, and participants can come into it by taking part in rituals and bringing their family and children.

Kacie Hultgreen gives an excellent presentation and demonstrates the ways that 3-D printers are used to create models for set design. 3-D printers are to soon to become the norm. The best example is the Enable Project which shows how to make low-cost prosthetics.



Rachael Maza
Rachael Maza, Tim McHenry and James Early

SESSION IV | The Great Debate: The Artists’ Voice

Perhaps the most energizing format to engender a dialogue occurs through debate.  In this session we’ll engage in two different and yet related topics that explore artistic leadership. Over the past year, these two topics have received hot public debate and we now want to bring the debate to ISPA with you as the ultimate judges!

Speakers |  Elizabeth Bradley (Tisch School of the Arts, USA),James Early (Smithsonian Institution, USA), Rachael Maza(ILBIJERRI Theatre Company, Australia), Zingi Mkefa (Arts Journalist. USA)

Moderator | Tim McHenry (Rubin Museum, United States)

Guastavinos | 


Moderator Max Wagner, Odile Gakire Katese, Armando de la Torre, David Codling (British Council, United Kingdom)
What the Arts Move Session



SESSION V | What the Arts Move: The Dialogue Continues

Join in the conversation we began in Bogotá!  Following ISPA’s inspiring international congress, we will continue the conversation of the performing arts as an agent of social change.  What enables some arts leaders to think locally but act globally? How are these leaders navigating complex political issues, and what can we learn from them? Join as we continue the journey that began 8 months ago and 3,000 miles away.

Speakers |  David Codling (British Council, United Kingdom), Odile Gakire KateseArmando de la Torre

Moderator Max Wagner (Staatstheater am Gaertnerplatz, Germany)

Odile: “I come from a memorial country everywhere you go there are memorials. Women know how to grow life.”

Armando: “With kids in Columbia we don’t have the right to talk about forgiveness because it’s too individual, too personal. So I think with arts we can move forward not just look at the conflict, and that takes it to another level.”

David talks about how you present arts with an effort to try to heal. David talks about the developmental agenda which distorts the work; “There can be there is a pressure to respond to social agenda because that’s where the money is but that sometimes takes away from the work.”

Armando: “I like the statement that the art shouldn’t be seen as a magical tool. The main role of the artist is not to be a social worker. But the main function of art is to express and not to feel, and not to feel in conflict with that.”

Odile: “I learned not to have any complex with that.” She does not want someone to rewrite her script but it is one of the ways that artists in Rwanda survive. “I ended up saying ‘In agriculture they grow the food they got. What do we grow? We grow human beings.’ I believe, and maybe I’m wrong, -there is no art for art sake. We always want impact.”

David: “Broadly speaking- the work that I’ve seen is always seeking something- to ask questions -when it’s done for something else, or as a painkiller, it doesn’t survive; it doesn’t succeed as well. Social change takes a long time.”

Moderator to David from British Council: “Is there a danger of colonialism in your work?”

David: “Yes I think it’s something we have to be aware of, our own recent past is wanted imperial adventure. Our work needs to help Britain understand it’s own past.”

Moderator: “How does this work and social change change you?”

Odile: “I hope I’ve become a better person and more patient because I was not patient and I was very aggressive but hopefully it also has made me become more creative.”

Armando: “Social change in arts has really changed my perspective personally. I’ve tried to understand the frame of perceptions in life because there are many ways to look at things”

David: “Questions are more important than answers and there’s almost always a power relationship that needs to be born in mind.”

Moderator: “Is investing in social change a part of dynamic leadership? Is taking part also a part of dynamic leadership? If yes this was an important panel for you.”


Bora Yoon



Butshilo Nleya
Butshilo Nleya presents a regional update on Zimbabwe



Butshilo Nleya gives a touching and hilarious update on his wonderful festival. It’s excellent to hear such positive news from Zimbabwe! He leads the audience in a traditional cheer:

Check out his festival here:

Become a supported by liking the Facebook page: and connecting with Butshilo via the festival website to help in whatever way you might be able to.


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SESSION VI | (Re)Emerging Disciplines: Leading the Way

Circus and puppetry have a long stories history but in recent years, along with experiential arts, have become cutting edge and leading the ars in terms of design, techologt and audiences. As they become mainstream, will they become just that? Join us as we explore what’s next for these exciting forms.
Speakers | Tilde BjörforsJoel IvanyI Made Sidia
Moderator | Monique Martin


Conclusion of Congress




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