Notes from International Society for the Performing Arts 2012

New York Congress 2012

I was able to attend this congress for the third time in a row. Each time I have found the most fascinating discussion goes on amongst this group of performing arts presenters from around the world. ISPA attracts some really big organizations, as well as the littler ones. Chances are if you are reading this, you’ve been in a members venue or seen an artist who was a member or represented by one. This year the conference focus was on “Art in Action” Here’s a quote from their website:

“In the past year, the world has witnessed profound social, political, and financial change.  What role have art and culture played – and might they play – in these developments, and how are they empowering community and changing society?”

I attended some of the sessions and since I always find them to be such a wellspring of inspiration, I am sharing my notes here.  I also tweeted some of the sessions live and used the hashtag #ispany12, it was the first time I’d tried that and I loved it, there was a lively secondary conversation going. I hope you enjoy this small snapshot of the sessions, and if you’re an artist, a student or otherwise “in the biz” in the big apple in January next year, ISPA 2013 should be on your radar of things to check out.


Rebecca Singh for Theatre Local

Fiona Shaw- "one of the finest actors working today"


“Art sometimes waits for the catastrophe and helps when it arrives. Theatre names the catastrophe”

Moderator | Darren Walker (Ford Foundation, United States) Speakers | Ahmed El Attar (Playwright, Egypt), Mariano Pensotti (Playwright, Argentina), Zeyba Rahman (Festival of World Sacred Music, Morocco)

SESSION I | Artists and Political Change

What are artists doing in places that are under going political change?

What is (artistic activity) contributing to real change?

India- Hundreds of people pouring into the streets to protest corruption, artists are singing, telling stories, encouraging the public to continue their protests.

In Pakistan- speaking out bravely, writing about what’s happening, making a lot of theatre and commenting on the times through their mediums, creating comics and laughing.

In the Mina region there is the Fez festival: Fez has become a beacon for artists in Morocco and other parts of the world.

In New York there was recently a Sufi Music festival which put Sufi and Pakistani musicians on the street in Times Square to inspire the local (New York) community and engender solidarity with New Yorkers in that community.


“Art and Culture is the motor for change. You cannot change society and how people look at their lives unless art and culture is a part of that.

All of our work was about different dysfunctions of society. Then we had a revolution, it was then that we realized how effective our work was. It just hit us then- the people who went down the street 5 or 6 years ago saying “Down with Mubarak!” -this environment created by these institutions and it’s artists helped create an environment to help people understand the change that we realized later. Now is the time to support art because I believe this is just the tip of the iceberg.”


“In Argentina 10 years ago we had an economic crisis. We were in an extreme situation from 2001 to 2003. It was the first time in a long time that we went out to the streets. I had the feeling that in the 90’s we were much more asleep. It was the starting point for us as artists in Buenos Aires- we had to create work that addressed the reality of the situation; we began to create site-specific work, installations. The response from the public was great. It changes the perception of the audience to re-imagine their surroundings. It changed their perceptions and the way they looked at each other in the city.”

“Lots of artists say that it really isn’t my job to change perceptions, my job is to create beauty, what is your response to that?”

We watch Youtube videos that Ahmed brought, the two clips are from Egypt, after the revolution:

–       A schoolmaster beating little girls with a stick

–       Cops beating and shoving about two grown men, taunting them by putting electricity to their earlobes, shocking them


This is the “new Egypt”, post-revolution. He explains he wanted us to see the clips to illustrate the job of an artist- to see life as it really is.

The outcome of these two situations (the videos were posted on Youtube) is as follows- the schoolteacher was taken into custody but sub sequentially released and the case was dropped because the parents felt that it was the best way for their kids to learn.

The second video was meant as an example of “how things have improved” in Egypt.


He says he uses technology as a narrative tool, his job as an artist is to build a story of a society that is different form the mass media and the dominant discourse.

Zeyba answers with two stories:

Pink Hijab Movement-

Muslim girls in Missouri started donning the pink hijab in solidarity with the breast cancer movement and to get Muslim women active in the cause and also to talk about the hijab.

Story of a political leader in India-

Four girls were drinking in a bar in India and were chastised by a political leader for disparaging Indian culture so they started a Facebook group and encouraged women to send pink underwear to his office. Men and women from around the world got involved and it has since become an annual event.

The panel was opened up to Q and A from the floorWhat is the role of the artist post the “so called” freedom?

Panelist: We should not be content with the little gains. He says- this is why, he says, he is not a political activist…

“I ask -why do artists in Paris and New York complain? They could be quite comfortable- but still- artists look at what’s not working, make people more conscious. Even in an ideal situation this (video) would still haunt me.”


Moderator | Ben Cameron (Doris Duke Foundation, United States) Speakers | Katharine DeShaw (United States Artists, United States), and Adrian Ellis (AEA Consulting, United States)

SESSION III | New Thinking for New Money

We start out with a talk about rise of online micro-philanthophy and the rise of social networks.

Katherine talks about her website- USA Artists Project  it’s like a Kickstarter or Indi-gogo but with vetted artists, they have only award-winning artists on their website. She explains they are trying to create a curated experience for the end user- this contributed to the average donation on their site is $125 as opposed to $25 for other crowdfunding sites that artists use.

Adrian speaks mostly about Lincoln Centre Jazz – They raise funds through:

1) contributed income – dependent on high-net-worth individuals

2) earned income- but it should be noted that commercial exploitation of intellectual property is tough (Album , DVD sales), a major asset therefore is your Brand. Sidenote: (A brand is a long term proposition- your first few forays must work to make a good brand.)

Adrian quickly gives some great advice and insight:

Ask yourself three questions:

  1. Do you have a commercially exploitable asset?
  2. Do you have the capital to invest in it?
  3. Do you have entrepreneurial capacity?

You need to be answering yes to all three of these to make a go of the opportunity- if you can only answer yes to two of them, it will fail.

It was a really interesting conversation and also a bit hard to take notes for but here are a bunch of links to innovative fundraisers that were mentioned at the session

Philanthropic Strategies 101-

“Help save us!”- is effective in the short term but fizzles out

Better is “join us in our success” “a philanthropically sound prospect” =success you can count on.

The moderator did a great job of keeping things on track so we had some time at the end to get this info.

There was supposed to be another panelist- Bruce Coppock who wasn’t able to be there but we were directed to check out an article he wrote called “A radical new revenue model for orchestras” which was published in Symphony Magazine and also possibly this update: Orchestras at the Crossroads

We were suggested to check out this: Berliner Philharmoniker’s Digital Concert Hall,

Check out- feast and sleuth, Trey Macintyre and company, Springboard for the Arts (using an agricultural model) USA Artists Project 


The Great Debate

SESSION IV | The Great Debate

I just tweeted this one- I missed the results at the end of the conference- did yes or no win? I may never know…

The question is: Are there too many arts orgs competing for too few resources?#ispany12
The no’s are winning by a landslide #ispany12
 The debate is starting to shift and get more sophisticated – we are talking about orgs not resources #ispany12
Good question- Is it the failing of the leadership in arts that has led to too many organizations that compete for funds? #ispany12
From the debate “we are fundamentally deluding ourselves if we believe more arts orgs makes more work” #ispany12
“if we can find more money to pay bankers who ripped us off we should be able to find more money for the arts” #ispany12
Moderator | Eugene Downes (Culture Ireland, Ireland) Speakers | Olga Garay-English (City of Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs, United States), Jennifer P. Goodale (Asian Cultural Council/Trust for Mutual Understanding, United States), and Katelijn Verstraete (Asia Europe Fund, Singapore)
SESSION V | Cultural Diplomacy: A Matter of Tact

That which we call a rose…

Cultural diplomacy

Cultural exchange

Cultural diverse city

Cultural development

Cultural citizenship = how the artist or government expects or desires some degree of culture

Reality check:

“Art is political”

“We as funders support the artist and the work that they do”

“We in the US criticize often other countries for becoming more to the right, but the truth is that the same thing is happening here”

“It is also happening in Europe there are drastic cuts in funding.”

“What happens is that the larger cultural institutions survive, and the smaller, more daring ones, don’t.”

Cultural literacy

“One of the problems we have is people have no clue as to what the touchstones of culture are.

The lack of appetite and interest in other cultures is really endemic. How do you distill that sense of global interest and pride? I think that it is so absent and it’s how we were brought up. For people who are engaged in the performing arts, that that’s a real challenge for us, to instill a sense of global pride and interest.

I am often criticized by constituents for devoting any time and energy towards international work because it takes time away from local development. So it’s always a struggle for me to parse out how much time and energy to put into that type of activity.”

“There is a lack of trust in investing any kind in any kind of foreign experience:

Rupert Murdoch run newspaper “Sunday Times” did an exposé on page 3 to expose the Irish taxpayer spends €90,000 to send artists on “holiday”.”

Debate is also about language – you shouldn’t have to speak XY or Z language well, in order to benefit from funding.


Institute Français has now created as an arms length organization like the Goethe Institute to be arms length and protect the autonomy of the work


“The key is using culture and the arts in a much more organic and developmental way for the benefit of the long-term”- Graham Sheffield


Detail of the Hudson Theatre