Every single one of us at every age, at every stage of our careers has something to teach and something to learn. In the opening session, Conference Co-Chair and Director of Marketing and Communications at Hartford Stage Andrea Cuevas reminded attendees to have the mindset of both a mentor and a mentee and to “share and receive generously”. APAP’s “MLK Day of Service Project for Arts Professionals - Mentor for a Moment and Share Your Origin Story with Future Arts Professionals” on Monday gathered emerging and seasoned professionals into a mentoring space focused on interconnectedness.
We need to recognize that people are coming back to performances every day for the first time. As arts workers who have been back in venues for a while, we need to remember that each show is the first post-pandemic live show for someone, and that person is bringing so much with them and what it means to be next to someone in an audience. Shanta Thake, Chief Artistic Officer at Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts in the “Producing the Future: Shifting Tides in New Work Development” session stated “Our role is to make the case for live performance because now is one of the only times people are getting out. The urgency is so much greater.”
There is a mental health crisis among touring professionals. In the session “This Should Not Be Normalized: Mental Health and Strategies for Better Touring”, Ryan George of Tour Health Research Initiative shared statistics from a 2019 study from the Journal of Psychiatric Research, “34% of touring professionals reported suffering from clinical levels of depression, five times higher than the regular population. 27% reported clinical levels of anxiety. Only 8% reported attending weekly therapy, and 73% attended no therapy at all. 83% reported feeling overworked or some degree of burnout. 26% reported serious suicide ideation, six and a half times more than the regular population…. The statistics are not surprising, but they are heartbreaking. Support is the biggest thing we can provide.”
In the arts, we have accepted a lifestyle of burnout, and this must change. In the session “A Brutally Honest Conversation about Nonprofit, For-Profits, Government, Philanthropy, and the Arts”, Keri Mesropov, Chief Talent Officer at TRG Arts declares, “We have accepted a lifestyle of burnout. I have clients who don't even know that they are burned out until they are in the emergency room. We do it because we love the art that we serve. Love can be joyous and wonderous, but it can be fucking taken advantage of. I'm tired of that on this industry's behalf.” To which producer, artist, strategist Sharifa Johka added, “BIPOC folk, trans folk across this industry who have been doing this heavy lift and this idea of burnout… I don't think that I don't even think it's framed that way because it's been so normalized, this continuous exhaustion that is part and parcel to white supremacy. It’s part of the air you’re breathing.”
Presenters need to think like funders. Sharifa Johka continues that, in the performing arts ecosystem, presenters can leverage resources on behalf of the whole. “Sometimes we do not acknowledge the power that we have… We have folks across the country who are presenters who are the financial fuel around this ecosystem. … You, too, are funders. You have a relationship with artists that dictates how they live their lives, and I'm not sure if you're really clear about that being your role in this ecosystem, and how you actually effectively leverage that power in a way that keeps everyone in this ecosystem healthy.” Adding to this, in a session “Building More Equity in Contracting”, Sandy Garcia, Director of Booking for Pentacle asserts that you can leverage contracts in favor of more equitable, ethical terms, “if that clause doesn't work for you, change the clause.”
You can support pay transparency, parity, and equity for performing arts workers by participating in the Arts Compensation Project. In fall 2022, APAP with AMS Analytics launched a pilot of a first-of-its-kind, industry-specific initiative and tool that will gather comparative compensation and demographic data in the field. The session “A Look at Industry Pay: Piloting the APAP Arts Compensation Project” gave an overview for the project, data from the 67 presenting organizations that participated in the pilot study, and an invitation to join the next phase of the survey.
“Paying your dues” no longer applies. In the session “Stop Talking, Start Listening: Finding Common Ground with Young Arts Workers and the Future of Our Field”, Tariq Darrell O'Meally, Artistic Planning Coordinator from The Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center explains that “paying your dues” is “not the same equation [for younger workers]. We’ve lived through a series of financial crises, perhaps the end of the world. There are a lot of exacerbating circumstances. Running for seven days a week and not having savings and having to work three jobs at your job and then an additional one will change how people are feeling. If there’s not release or respite, and you’re like, in twenty more years, during the great flood, you will be ok, that’s a hard sell…. It makes it hard to lean in and show up.”
Boundaries are in. In the session, “Future Forward: You Can Do the Thing”, Leah Keith, Artistic Producer and Agent from Rhythm of the Arts, said the best advice she’s ever gotten is “Boundaries.” She explains, “Placing boundaries and really knowing your capacity…. There was a recent interview with one of the performers in the musical SIX, and they were saying they put 75% on stage. And there was a lot of push back on that from the industry, like ‘How could you not put 100% of yourself on stage?’ And actually, I don’t think any of us should be putting 100% out there, ever. Because we need that 25% for ourselves. At the end of the day, you have to take care of yourself because nobody and no organization is going to take care of you, so I encourage you all to work at your 75%."
The pyramid has fallen. Long live the circle! In the APAP Annual Member meeting, APAP President and CEO Lisa Richards Toney affirmed. “We are an ecosystem, and---presenters, agents, artists, producers, service organizations---are stronger together. When any one of us is not supported or not at the table, it impacts it all. APAP’s purpose isn’t to create a performing arts fiefdom, but to serve our people.” Artist, educator composer Daniel Bernard Roumain followed with MLK Day of Service remarks, “With the protests, proclamations and promises of the last year, the question before us all might be, how are you wanting to contribute to our field and our shared future in the arts?”
Nothing is possible without art. In the closing plenary, Chair of the National Endowment for the Arts Maria Rosario Jackson proclaimed, “None of the things that we aspire to as a nation ... are possible or durable without the arts. The arts help us make sense of the world, offer us different ways of thinking, feeling, and being. They're a source of inspiration and innovation they help us protect and advance our humanity and the humanity of our neighbors, and the arts are critically important to our well-being as individuals as communities and as a country.” Additionally, “Our concept of art and cultural engagement has to be expansive. It includes professional production for the consumption of art, but it can't only be limited to that. It must also include making, doing, teaching, learning, ... It has to include art as part of our daily, lived experience. We have to recognize that art process can be as important as or in some cases even more important than art product… The arts are intrinsically important, full stop.”