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Chris Stuessy

How One Organization Hopes to Change an Industry

by Christopher Stuessy Monday, January 23, 2017

While the winter break officially ended as of January 16 for the MBAs at the Wisconsin School of Business, the first year students of the Bolz Center for Arts Administration came “back to school” during break for the opportunity to attend the 2017 APAP|NYC conference, held January 6-10, where we were able to engage in discussions about the state of the industry and network with fellow arts professionals. Association of Performing Arts Presenters (APAP), the organization that hosted the conference, is a national service, advocacy, and membership organization for presenters of the performing arts that is dedicated to developing and supporting a robust industry and the professionals who work within it. The annual conference is the world's largest networking forum and marketplace for arts professionals with over 3,600 attendees from all over the world and includes professional development sessions, live artist performances, and an impressive 3-floor EXPO hall.

As part of an ongoing partnership between the Bolz Center and APAP, the conference was the kick-off for the first year students as we participate in the semester-long Dawson Research Initiative, a project dedicated to furthering emerging research relevant to the field of performing arts presenting and connecting students with that research. It is an exciting time to be involved with this project as we continue a longitudinal study of a new program that APAP introduced in June 2015, the Leadership Fellows Program (LFP), that brings together mid-career professionals with diverse backgrounds from across the country to engage in thought leadership on the future of the industry.

"We want to shake people out of their usual way of operating. Our aim is to create a network of dynamic leaders who will ensure a strong and vital future for the performing arts presenting field." - Scott Stoner and Ken Foster, co-Founders of the APAP Leadership Fellows Program

A large part of our interaction with the LFP was through their first graduating cohort of fellows, who completed their 20-month program at this year’s conference. We were tasked with attending multiple sessions with the LFP cohorts in order to record feedback and document ideas as members discussed/presented their own perspectives on the current state of the industry and ways in which it could continue to make the greatest impact and adapt as we look towards an uncertain future. Questions were raised such as “What are major current trends affecting communities across the country and how do they impact the presenting field?”, “How does an arts organization become central to a community?”, or “What is the change we wish to see in our field?” that incited thought-provoking and intense discussion about ways in which everyone could engage to move the industry forward. Members of the cohort were encouraged to think in new ways about their role in their communities and about how the non-profit organizations can continue to be a force for positive change in our society.

While the intended focus of this year’s conference wasn’t necessarily about change, I believe that change played a substantial role throughout the 5 days as participants discussed how both the organization and the industry can continue moving toward more inclusivity and utility within communities. This was no more evident than in the fact that during their membership meeting, APAP decided to change their name to the Association of Performing Arts Professionals, signaling a step forward toward embracing a broader membership base. It was inspirational to be around members of the field that are putting ideas into action and while I can’t speak for my classmates, the experience invigorated me as I look towards summer internships and my future career within the industry.