Friday, March 9, 2012

Notes from the Meeting of the International Society For The Performing Arts

Fiona Shaw delivering keynote address

Notes from the Meeting of the International Society For The Performing Arts
by Rebecca Singh (photos by Rebecca Singh)
Lately there has been a lot of reflection about Canadians “playing it safe” and non-resistance. Both in the House of Commons and in our theatres, which are kingdoms of their own, platitudes, nepotism, and kowtowing are being called out to be the order of the day.  
In January I went to the conference of the International Society for the Performing Arts in New York.  This year the conference focus was on “Art in Action” Here’s a quote from their website:

“In the past year, the world has witnessed profound social, political, and financial change.  What role have art and culture played – and might they play – in these developments, and how are they empowering community and changing society?”
I was able to attend this congress for the third time in a row. Each time I have found the most fascinating discussion goes on amongst this group of performing arts presenters from around the world. ISPA attracts some really big organizations, as well as the littler ones. Chances are if you are reading this, you’ve been in a member’s venue or seen an artist who was a member or represented by one. If you’re an artist, a student or otherwise “in the biz” and in the big apple in January next year, ISPA 2013 should be on your radar of things to check out. 
I took some notes. I hope they inspire you.
Rebecca Singh for Theatre Local

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Notes from International Society for the Performing Arts
New York Congress 2012
“Art sometimes waits for the catastrophe, and helps when it arrives. Theatre names the catastrophe.”
Moderator | Darren Walker (Ford Foundation, United States) Speakers | Ahmed El Attar (Playwright, Egypt), Mariano Pensotti (Playwright, Argentina), Zeyba Rahman (Festival of World Sacred Music, Morocco)

SESSION I | Artists and Political Change
Moderator: What are artists doing in places that are under going political change? What artistic activity is contributing to real change?
Panelists: India - Hundreds of people pouring into the streets to protest corruption, artists are singing, telling stories, encouraging the public to continue their protests.
In Pakistan - speaking out bravely, writing about what’s happening, making a lot of theatre and commenting on the times through their mediums, creating comics and laughing.
In the Mina region there is the Fez festival: Fez has become a beacon for artists in Morocco and other parts of the world.
In New York there was recently a Sufi Music festival which put Sufi and Pakistani musicians on the street in Times Square to inspire the local (New York) community and engender solidarity with New Yorkers in that community.
Ahmed: “Art and Culture is the motor for change. You cannot change society and how people look at their lives unless art and culture is a part of that.
All of our work was about different dysfunctions of society. Then we had a revolution, it was then that we realized how effective our work was. It just hit us then- the people who went down the street 5 or 6 years ago saying “Down with Mubarak!” - this environment created by these institutions and it’s artists helped create an environment to help people understand the change that we realized later. Now is the time to support art because I believe this is just the tip of the iceberg.”
Mariano: “In Argentina 10 years ago we had an economic crisis. We were in an extreme situation from 2001 to 2003. It was the first time in a long time that we went out to the streets. I had the feeling that in the 90’s we were much more asleep. It was the starting point for us as artists in Buenos Aires- we had to create work that addressed the reality of the situation; we began to create site-specific work, installations. The response from the public was great. It changes the perception of the audience to re-imagine their surroundings. It changed their perceptions and the way they looked at each other in the city.”
Moderator: “Lots of artists say that it really isn’t my job to change perceptions, my job is to create beauty, what is your response to that?”
We watch Youtube videos that Ahmed brought, the two clips are from Egypt, after the revolution:
-       A schoolmaster beating little girls with a stick
-       Cops beating and shoving about two grown men, taunting them by putting electricity to their earlobes, shocking them
Ahmed: This is the “new Egypt”, post-revolution. He explains he wanted us to see the clips to illustrate the job of an artist- to see life as it really is.
The outcome of these two situations (the videos were posted on Youtube) is as follows- the schoolteacher was taken into custody but sub-sequentially released and the case was dropped because the parents felt that it was the best way for their kids to learn.
The second video was meant as an example of “how things have improved” in Egypt.
Mariano: He says he uses technology as a narrative tool, his job as an artist is to build a story of a society that is different form the mass media and the dominant discourse.
Zeyba answers with two stories:
Pink Hijab Movement -
Muslim girls in Missouri started donning the pink hijab in solidarity with the breast cancer movement and to get Muslim women active in the cause and also to talk about the hijab.
Story of a political leader in India-
Four girls were drinking in a bar in India and were chastised by a political leader for disparaging Indian culture so they started a Facebook group and encouraged women to send pink underwear to his office. Men and women from around the world got involved and it has since become an annual event.
The panel was opened up to Q and A from the floor - What is the role of the artist post the “so called” freedom?
Ahmed: We should not be content with the little gains. He says- this is why, he says, he is not a political activist…
“I ask -why do artists in Paris and New York complain? They could be quite comfortable- but still- artists look at what’s not working, make people more conscious. Even in an ideal situation this (video) would still haunt me.”
The Great Debate

SESSION IV | The Great Debate
I just tweeted this one from @theatrelocal - I missed the results at the end of the conference- did yes or no win? I may never know…
The question is: Are there too many arts orgs competing for too few resources?#ispany12
The no’s are winning by a landslide #ispany12
The debate is starting to shift and get more sophisticated – we are talking about orgs not resources #ispany12
Good question- “Is it the failing of the leadership in arts that has led to too many organizations that compete for funds?” #ispany12
From the debate “we are fundamentally deluding ourselves if we believe more arts orgs makes more work” #ispany12
“If we can find more money to pay bankers who ripped us off we should be able to find more money for the arts” #ispany12
For more notes from the ISPA conference click here

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