I’m here in Denver for the National Performing Arts Convention, an event bringing 4,000 artists, organizations, businesses, and patrons together for a conversation about collaboration and advocacy. Despite a rather harrowing trip here (my plane was delayed some five-plus hours due to weather conditions around New York), it’s an exciting and somewhat overwhelming feeling to be a part of this. My nametag lists me as being from “Music with a Capital M,” but I am unofficially here as a current business school student and a future grantmaker. So far, I’ve let my anti-social tendencies get the better of me a bit (I already spent an hour catching up on email at lunch), but I’m looking forward to getting into my networking groove as the conference wears on.
Some thoughts from the first few hours thus far:
- The Colorado Convention Center is enormous. It takes up a double- or triple-size city block, and most of it is being used in some way or other by this conference. Interestingly, the Center is located right across the street from the Performing Arts Complex and has clearly woven art into the permanent design of the space. There’s a giant sculpture of a bear leaning threateningly against the outside of the building, and other sculptures nearby. One of the restaurants in the exhibit hall is called “Sub Culture.” There’s a sound installation of people laughing on the downward escalator that gets louder the further you descend—very subtle and cool. I’m generally not a person who gets caught up in convention center mystique, but I have to admit this is an impressive creation.
- The exhibit hall has a fun but sort of hokey setup that’s modeled after an actual street map, in an effort to evoke the ideal “Arts Town.” Tables are given “addresses” like “905 West 5th Street” which corresponds to an actual location within the hall. It’s cute, I guess. Some of the exhibitors really went all-out, though, like this lighting company and a two-floor costume/lighting/sound/scenery exhibit that was the United States’ entry into the Prague Quadrennial.
- The opening convocation featured a speech from Dana Gioia, who reported that the Interior Subcommittee had recommended an NEA budget for next year of $160 million, which if approved would represent an 11% increase from last year. Still way too little, but you have to hand it to Gioia (seemingly one of the few competent appointees from the Bush administration), who despite years of right-wing leadership and economic turmoil will leave the NEA in a much stronger position than when he started. Addresses by Anna Deveare Smith (who is awesome) and Bill Rauch followed, and Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper (what a great name!) capped it off with a honkey-tonk piano performance before his speech.
- There’s a definite political edge to this conference, and a palpable excitement among the attendees about recent developments in the news. Perhaps not surprising given the deep-blue political leanings of most artists, but I’m a bit surprised at how much it’s come up in the opening session. The collectivist worldview in evidence is in stark contrast to the pro-competition ethos in my other life.
- Still at the opening convocation: in the middle of the Mayor’s presentation, actors come up from the audience and begin a performance of scenes from Shakespeare, in English and Spanish, sandwiched around a modern dance routine juxtaposing ballet-esque moves with two breakdancers, all accompanied by video scenes of Denver in the background. A little cheesy, but…damn, I love that they’re integrating actual art into this thing! Solo trumpet performance? Check. African choral music with hand percussion (sung by middle-aged white men, of course)? You got it. Okay, but now we’ve got more theater and this is starting to drag on a bit. Gotta know when to fold ‘em, guys. Ooh, but serious lesbionic flirtatiousness on stage! Scandalizing! Never mind, carry on. Back to Romeo & Juliet and it ends with the Mayor reciting the closing lines of the play. Wow—not what I expected!
- Consultant Eric Booth, who played a role in putting the conference together, calls NPAC a “structured improvisation.” Word.
That’s it for now, will have more later!
“Food is always at the intersection of art and community.” – Bill Rauch.