Western World View: Connecting Artists & Opportunities (Part 2 of 2)

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Western Arts AllianceLast week we started our conversation with Tim Wilson, executive director of the Western Arts Alliance (WAA), hearing about performing arts trends he’s seeing and how the economic recession impacted programming. This week we’ll learn about WAA’s international outreach.

YPP: What are the trends in international work?

Wilson: Venues are still interested in programming international artists, but post-9/11 security measures have made visa issues more difficult. It’s a technical, tedious and mystifying process; tax laws can be equally challenging. Some agencies and presenters hire lawyers to manage all these details. There are many terrific foreign artists touring the U.S., but it’s become harder. I’m not sure about trends in U.S. artists performing abroad; in general the U.S. is rather weak in exporting our performing arts – with the exception of top-tier commercial artists.

YPP: Talk about your China outreach.

Wilson: We’re excited to welcome approximately 40 managers, programmers and festival directors from China at WAA’s annual conference this August in Vancouver. The performing arts business is very different in China, so a lot of education and communication is needed to build relationships. I think China represents a real opportunity for U.S. and Canadian artists in the long term.

Our outreach traces back to 2013, when we hosted a smaller delegation from China. We translated our conference guide into Mandarin and gave their orientation in Mandarin. (It’s helpful we have a Mandarin speaker on our board.) That success planted seeds, encouraging this larger delegation in 2015.

YPP: How will WAA welcome your Chinese guests?

Wilson: We’ve scheduled a two-day pre-conference symposium to provide an overview of the North American performing arts business. In 12 hours, we’ll cover everything from season planning and budgeting to marketing artists. We’re not trying to change their practices, but rather help them understand how the business works here. If they intend to send artists to the U.S. or bring U.S. artists to China, they need to understand our industry, including contracts. We’ve hired translators to help our guests navigate the conference; not all of them speak English. We’re making a large investment in our outreach, but we believe it will pay off in the long term as relationships develop into opportunities.

YPP: How is WAA fostering other international connections?

Wilson: Although we’ve had Canadian members for years, we’ve never met in Canada. We’re excited about opportunities in Vancouver; each conference strives to reflect the cultural resources and talent of our host city.

For indigenous, or native, artists interested in touring, we’ll host a symposium including WAA members and other Canadian professionals who want to work with such artists. Our steering committee also includes representatives from Australia and New Zealand.

We’re working with the University of British Columbia’s Museum of Anthropology, which has been lauded for involving indigenous people in their collections – including storage, interpretation and maintenance. In North America, UBC leads the way for museums working with indigenous peoples. At our symposium, indigenous musicians will even play instruments from the museum’s collection.

We’re really excited about this program. As with the Chinese, our intent is to bring indigenous artists together with presenters and agents so they can begin to know one another.

For more information on WAA’s 2015 annual conference, click here.


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