Western Way: Connecting Artists & Opportunities (Part 1 of 2)

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Western Arts AllianceEstablished almost 50 years ago, the Western Arts Alliance (WAA) began as a booking conference but has evolved over time to become a service organization that helps connect performing artists or their representatives with venues in the western U.S. and Canada. We visited with executive director Tim Wilson recently to learn more about WAA’s activities and his perspective on the performing arts.

YPP: What trends are impacting your organization?

Wilson: Technology is changing our conferences. In the old days, we called the exhibit area the “resource room” – it was the one place during the year you could get information about artists. Videotapes and press kits were available to plan and promote your season. I remember attending Arts Presenters and shipping a box of videotapes back to my office.

In today’s internet age, those resources are available online, which is easier, cheaper and more efficient. Our resource room has evolved into a commons area designed to facilitate connections: meeting, sitting, talking, etc. Artist managers typically have a small pop-up display, some collateral material and a computer. Other networking events are also held.

YPP: What role do talent agencies play?

Wilson: There are a handful of large agencies, maybe ten, that represent many artists. Then you have mid-size or boutique agencies; many of these have been forced to make tough decisions about their roster since the recession. They want to support their artists, of course, but need to rebalance to suit today’s market. There are a few self-managed artists. Some have no choice; others choose to represent themselves and are really good. It can be difficult for some artists who self-manage to develop a thick enough skin to handle rejection well.

YPP: Does WAA have any sister organizations?

Wilson: In the U.S., Arts Midwest serves the central region; Performing Arts Exchange serves the south and mid-Atlantic. Nationally, the Association of Performing Arts Presenters (APAP), holds their big gathering every January in New York City.

YPP: What trends do you see in programming?

Wilson: Presenters are doing fewer events and selecting more conservative or “safe” programming. The recession hit arts organizations very hard – recovery is a long, slow process – so boosting attendance is vital. The A-list artists with well-known brands are still doing quite well, as are many smaller artists. Smaller artists often have fewer restrictions and lower fees, which means less risk for presenters. It’s the mid-tier artists who are having the hardest time. They’ve attained a certain level of success and need particular fees to cover themselves and their company or ensemble.

Next week: Wilson describes WAA’s international activity, including outreach to China and its first conference to be held outside the U.S. For more information on this conference, click here.

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