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APACA’s 2017 conference invites the Outside, In

Richard Watts

Tired of waiting in the wings? APACA’s 2017 conference invites you in by focussing on connections, not transactions, and shifting the national performance agenda.
APACA’s 2017 conference invites the Outside, In

Ilbijerri Theatre Company presents at 2016 PAX. Photo credit: Alex Sibbison.

Workloads and limited budgets, the urgent cycles of grant applications and acquittals; the day-to-day challenges of working in the performing arts often constrain us from the big picture.

Sometimes it’s easier to bunker down and focus on what’s immediately in front of us rather than raising our heads and peering over the parapets at the wider world.

But if the arts are to remain vital and responsive, then as arts workers – whether independent producers or the staff of a major performing arts centre – we need to break out of our silos and consider the broader frameworks within which we live and work.

A valuable opportunity to do exactly that is offered by the annual Performing Arts Exchange (PAX) and Conference presented by the Australian Performing Arts Centres Association (APACA).

Entitled Outside, In and hosted by The Concourse, in the Sydney suburb of Chatswood, this year’s PAX and Conference builds on some of the ideas discussed at the 2016 event held in Melbourne.

‘One of the key things that is unique about our event is that there’s consistency in the curation and the programming – we don’t have a different artistic director or curator programmer every year. So we can ask, “Where is this leading us?” and look to the future by building on what has happened the previous year,’ explained APACA Executive Director, Rick Heath.

One of the highlights of last year’s conference was a keynote speech by British cultural entrepreneur Lord Andrew Mawson OBE, in which he stressed the importance of thinking outside the arts and collaborating with colleagues from other sectors, including health, education, housing, and business.

‘This year we are continuing that conversation by saying, “Who are the other partners? How are we going to work with other people and what are the conditions that need to be in place to enable that?”,’ Heath said.

Book now for the 2017 APACA PAX and Conference

Alongside a case study examining a collaboration between Polyglot Theatre, community group Beyond Empathy, Rumbalara Football and Netball Club in Shepparton (VIC) and the Boomerangs Rugby League Club in Moree (NSW) the 2017 conference program also includes the keynote address, ‘A Culture of Participation’ by Mikey Weinkove, a specialist in bringing diverse and unusual audiences together. Additional sessions will discuss cultural protocols, working with local government, securing corporate investment and unpacking the important issue of unconscious bias.

‘We’ll be looking at the things you’re not even aware of before you go into a partnership. How is that going to impact your thinking and how do you undo that unconscious bias so that you are open to opportunity?’ Heath explained.

Robyn Archer returns in 2017 as the PAX MC and the conference ‘Thinker-in-Residence’. Photo credit: Alex Sibbison.

While the conference runs over Wednesday 23 and Thursday 24 August, the two days prior will comprise the Performing Arts Exchange, featuring more than 60 pitches and presentations.

The PAX program also includes professional development sessions, opportunities to see live excerpts of work and full-length performances, and multiple networking opportunities. It’s a valuable opportunity for artists, arts managers, programmers and other industry professionals to connect with and learn from one another.

‘One of the things we’ve been working on for a long time is building  the connection between the makers and the presenters,’ Heath said.

Instead of producers pitching their work and a quick show of hands as to which presenters are interested before the business of grant writing and tour planning is embarked upon, PAX is focused on building connections between the disparate sectors of the broader arts ecology.

‘PAX is a starting point – it’s a jumping off point, a place where people are connecting. And the way we like to think about it is as a relationship, not a transaction. That’s the fundamental difference between PAX and almost any other market in the country.’

Heath, who has worked at APACA for 10 years, takes great delight in watching the sector’s evolution in recent years.

‘There’s no longer a sense that presenters are going to an arts supermarket and saying, “I’ll have one of those, and one of those, and one of those. Tick, tick, tick, there’s my program.” Our presenter members are being far more discerning about what they buy and why,’ he said.

Presenters – who make up approximately 40% of PAX and Conference attendees – these days very much see themselves as arts organisations in their own right, Heath continued.

‘They’re not just venues that pick up a work from somewhere else and deliver it to their audience. They are place makers. They are curators – to some extent – of the cultural identity of their communities.’

Facilitating that conversation between presenters and producers, and broadening the conversation so that it includes artists, administrators and the many others who make up the broader networks within our sector, is what the APACA Conference and PAX is all about.

‘Ultimately it is about connection,’ said Heath. ‘For years now our agenda has been to develop a shared understanding between producers and presenters – between everybody – so that there are less silos and less us and them. And I think the more that we can have that shared understanding, the greater the opportunities are to work together.’

The 2017 APACA performing arts conference and performing arts exchange, Outside, In runs from 21-24 August at The Concourse, Chatswood. Visit www.cvent.com/d/b5ql3m for details. 

About the author

Richard Watts is ArtsHub's Performing Arts Editor and Team Leader, Editorial; he also presents the weekly program SmartArts on community radio station Three Triple R.

The founder of the Emerging Writers' Festival, Richard currently serves on the board of literary journal Going Down Swinging and on the Committee of Management for La Mama Theatre. He is a former member of the Green Room Awards Independent Theatre panel, a life member of the Melbourne Queer Film Festival, and in 2017 was awarded the status of Melbourne Fringe Festival Living Legend.

Follow Richard on Twitter: @richardthewatts

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