One Thousand Words on Conferences

Sorry for all the work related posts recently. Sometimes it seems like I don’t have time to think about much else! I mentioned in Sunday’s post that I attend a conference in New York every January. People always ask me what that conference is like, so I thought I’d write about it. (I’ll get back to the more interesting topics tomorrow, I promise!)


After switching my bus to arrive in NYC a few hours earlier, I started this year’s conference with lunch with a colleague and a “special interest session” (workshop) titled “Marking Artistic “¢ents” in this Economy.” I was thrilled to discover that many nonprofit arts organizations are discussing partnerships with for-profit promoters and other businesses as a way to survive, an idea my organization has recently embraced.

I also attended the “Opening Plenary.” Although I’m sure many participants found the speaker’s talk inspirational, it was a bit too theoretical for me and I left unmoved.

Friday evening I attended a showcase by a band called Lost in the Trees at Joe’s Pub and then went to the Warwick Hotel for some jazz and classical music. I then returned to the conference hotel and was very disappointed in the in-house “showcases” (short performances). Usually there is a lot to pick from, but I decided to skip the Eagles cover band and a salsa group and went to bed instead.


Saturday started with an early session called “Bright Spots: Positive Changes in the Arts.” In all honesty, I had gone to in the wrong room. But I’m glad I did! The speaker was the program director at the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation and he was very engaging. He explained that, in short, a “bright spot” is an action that someone takes that allows them to thrive while others in the same circumstances struggle. The panelists then called people to the stage for a discussion of bright spot practices.

After that session I went to see David Dorfman Dance at the Baryshnikov Arts Center. Although my organization does not present much dance, I always enjoy this company’s work because it is visually interesting and accessible. And I love watching the choreographer’s Puck-like presence on the sidelines. He radiates pure joy in the dance!

I then had meetings with several agents and dinner with colleagues. After dinner, a friend and I went to see American Idiot. I really enjoyed this show. Although a little frenetic at first, it was all top-notch. As an added bonus Billy Joe Armstrong, the lead singer from Green Day, was in the show. The place exploded when he walked on stage.


After breakfast with my conference room mate (who was my apartment mate back in college so we had a lot to catch up on), I helped lead a meeting of arts presenters from my region. This meeting is always a challenge because of all the different sized organizations and personalities in the room. This year the meeting was a little over-orchestrated, but a lot of information was disseminated and folks had time for some casual networking too. I then attended a forum on the future of the organization that hosts the conference

That afternoon, two of us ventured to Brooklyn to see a one-man show called, The Interminable Suicide of Gregory Church. Despite the distractingly cold temperature in the theater, I was enthralled. It is hard to describe but somewhere in the middle of telling us how he conceived of the show, it became the show. Plus the theater under the Brooklyn Bridge, so that added to the coolness factor!

From there I traveled beck to Joe’s Pub for GlobalFest to see performers from Honduras, France and Mali and more. My favorite was a duo that played cello and kora. It was beautiful to listen to and it was apparent that they shared an exceptionally close friendship too. It’s amazing how that translates on a stage.

The evening ended back at the Hilton showcases where I caught a little bit of the traditional Irish group McPeake and a wonderful set from two of my personal blues favorites, Eric Bibb and Guy Davis.


The fourth day of conference-going started with a session led by one of the foremost experts in arts presenting: Kenneth Foster. I took pages and pages of notes based on the discussion of his paper “Thriving in an Uncertain World: Arts Presenting Change and the New Realities.” I especially enjoyed a conversation about strategic planning vs. strategic thinking and how arts organizations can stay nimble in the face of a constantly changing environment.

A flying taxi ride took me back to Joe’s Pub for Funk It Up About Nothing, a hip-hop retelling of Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing. The performance was highly entertaining and quite clever, but I had hopes that it would be appropriate for my organization’s school series, which it was not.

I then had lunch with a friend from graduate school. We discussed his new non-profit which helps performing arts organizations with environmental initiatives. I hope to work with him to get grants for LED lighting and to institute other green practices.

After seeing three of the Young Performers Career Advancement artists at Carnegie Hall, including a highly entertaining marimba player from Canada, I attended “Adam and Anthony Live at Town Hall.” This performance was purely for my own enjoyment. As a self-confessed “Rent-head”, it jumped at the chance to see two of the original cast members in concert. They performed original music, rock covers (including their Rent audition songs) and numbers from Rent.


Breakfast Plenary with speaker Azar Nafisi, author of Reading Lolita in Tehran. I could have listened to her all day. This was easily the most inspiring session of the conference.

It’s hard to describe the experience, but that’s what a trip to the arts presenter’s conference in New York looks like! It’s exhausting and exhilarating and stressful and fun and crazy!


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