The Association of Performing Arts Presenters has exercised a high degree of adaptability in a 53-year history of anticipating and responding to changes in the performing arts. The capacity to imagine creative strategies, coupled with the organization’s continuing stability, has positioned Arts Presenters to serve the ongoing needs of members far into a future where the performing arts continue to thrive and nourish the hearts and minds of individuals and communities.
Our story begins in the 1950s, when college and university concert managers directed their interests toward the educational role of the arts and the unique issues related to professional performing arts on campus. In 1957, a group of these presenters left ISPAA (then known as the National Association of Concert Managers) and formed the Association of College and University Concert Managers (ACUCM), which was officially incorporated and granted nonprofit, tax-exempt status by the IRS in 1969.
During the 1960s and 1970s, the presenting field was expanding beyond the university, and many other presenters shared common purposes with university organizations. In 1973, ACUCM changed its name to the Association of College, University and Community Arts Administrators in recognition of this expanding field. Over the next 15 years, the membership grew and diversified as the presenting field expanded. By the mid 1980s, colleges and universities no longer dominated the membership, and the Association’s spectrum expanded. In 1988, the Association changed its name to the Association of Performing Arts Presenters. The membership now includes presenting organizations; regional, state and local arts agencies; service organizations; producing companies; artist managements; booking agencies, and individual artists, among other performing arts professionals.
At the beginning, membership in the Association helped define the field of presenting. For the first time, presenters with kindred jobs had a forum through which they could exchange information and ideas. In the late 1970s, the focus of Association activities shifted slightly to provide a greater emphasis on the business of presenting, with workshops and publications on marketing and other business issues. The Association also became involved in advocacy efforts during this period.
In the mid 1980s, in conjunction with the Values and Lifestyles Study, the organization also began to encourage members to take a more active role in community life, beyond simply bringing artists to the stage. Toward the end of that decade, another change occurred: Although still committed to helping members develop sound business practices, the Association devoted greater attention to artistic and philosophical concerns shared by presenters, artists and managements.
Membership in the Association was 29 in 1957; by 1966 it had increased to 275, where it remained for several years. As of October 2008, Arts Presenters had 1910 organization and individual members, including: 792 presenting organizations, 532 artists/agents/managers, 105 presenting support organizations, 19 vendors, 27 consultant members, 232 individual associates of members organizations, 181 students and 22 honorary life members.
In the early years, the University of Wisconsin in Madison housed the staff. Fan Taylor, who was the presenter at the Wisconsin Union Theater, served as executive secretary without compensation for much of her 24-year tenure. Bill Dawson succeeded Taylor in 1971, first part-time and then full-time until 1986, when Susie Farr became the third executive director until her departure in 1999. Jon Durnford briefly became interim executive director, and Sandra Gibson was President and CEO from 2000 until 2011. In 2011, the board of directors appointed Mario Garcia Durham as President and CEO.
Arts Presenters is financially solvent and has maintained a small cash reserve. Just before Gibson came onboard, the organization underwent its first formal long-range planning process. As a result of this work, the Arts Presenters moved its headquarters to Washington, D.C. and undertook a number of new initiatives, including the creation of a Professional Development position on staff, development of a new quarterly magazine and assumption of a more visible role in advocating for presenters’ issues at the national level. Arts Presenters became a member of the Performing Arts Alliance (formerly American Arts Alliance) in 1988. Since then, its role as an advocate for presenters’ issues has increased substantially.
During the 1988 planning process, the mission expanded to include providing a public face to the celebration of the richness represented by presenters, presenting organizations, artists’ managers and artists, and required an added emphasis on increasing awareness of the value of the field as a field, while continuing to provide information and training for presenters and other performing arts professionals.
In 1989-90, Arts Presenters administered the National Task Force on Presenting and Touring the Performing Arts, and oversaw publication of An American Dialogue, the report from that 18-month study. In 1989, by the Lila Wallace-Readers’ Digest Fund selected Arts Presenters to administer a major re-granting program focused on audience development. A planning process undertaken in 1991 reinforced the importance of the fundamental priorities for Arts Presenters, such as advocacy, research, and initiatives in cultural diversity, and suggested the need for some others, particularly in organizational governance and visibility for presenting.
Through all of these activities, Arts Presenters made a commitment to become more inclusive and become a more active participant in the global arts community. Since 1993, Arts Presenters has increased its cash reserves and established cash reserves and investment policies to achieve greater financial stability. In 1998, the Wallace and Readers Digest Foundation turned over administrative duties for the Arts Partners program to Arts Presenters.
Early in 2001, Arts Presenters launched a year-long national field assessment of the key issues and opportunities facing the performing arts presenting field. This exploration of the challenges that lie ahead for performing arts and presenting in the areas of leadership, diversity, globalization, technology, sustainability and audience development received generous support from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation. Findings from a national study of the presenting field conducted by the Urban Institute were used to create a briefing paper for a series of 12 national and regional forums with professionals, funders and other supporters. This information was critical to Arts Presenters’ strategic planning and commitment to supporting the work of performing arts presenters and their affiliated colleagues. Arts Presenters collected the findings in the position paper Towards Cultural Interdependence.
Concurrent with the national study on the presenting field, the Board of Directors initiated a strategic planning process which consisted of several components:
- The in-depth survey and analysis of the performing arts field conducted by the Urban Institute led to the creation of a position paper on cultural interdependence;
- A Communications Audit and Membership Study that examined member attitudes about the field and quality of services and programs provided by Arts Presenters;
- Board of Directors retreats that initiated the planning process and outlined a broad strategic direction;
- A series of staff retreats and analyses of programs and services.
SPG & Associates were retained in August 2002 to bring together the various pieces of the strategic planning process to create an integrated blueprint for action.
In 2002, the Board of Directors approved a five-year Integrated Strategic Plan. To respond to the dramatic shifts in the field of performing arts presenting today and to act as leaders connecting artists and audiences, the board identified the following four goals for Arts Presenters at a June 2002 retreat.
- Advance the Field of Presenting
- Expand Knowledge/Shape Thinking/Increase Participation for the Performing Arts
- Ensure Sustainability of Performing Arts
- Promote Global Cultural Exchange through the Performing Arts
To achieve these goals, the Board identified three important areas:
- Financial Growth and Sustainability
- Integrated Communications
- Increased Capacity of Programs and Services
In January 2006 and in preparation for the 50th anniversary and next phase of the association’s development, Arts Presenters began to set the stage the next 50 years. The Roan Group, Inc. conducted a 15-month strategic review, a comprehensive assessment and discovery process rigorously focused on the details of the organization.
The review’s findings, strategies, and recommendations presented options for action and a work program for the next decade and beyond. Some recommendations are in the process of being executed, and others will be achieved over time. The Strategic Review was intended to better prepare Arts Presenters to increase its ability to build capacity in individuals, sustainable presenting organizations, a more effective field and a robust and vibrant presenting and touring community.
A Strategic Review Working Group informed and guided the process, which was designed to be independent of the Board of Directors and the association’s management. The Working Group and the Board met and collaborated in two work sessions, but it was the Working Group – chaired by former board member and manager of Kronos Quartet, Janet Cowperthwaite, and President of the National Black Arts Festival, Stephanie Hughley, as well as board members – that endorsed an Info-mediary Committee to investigate Arts Presenters current and future organizational, informational, strategy, and infrastructural needs.
The 10-month discovery process included: 54 hours of in-depth interviews, three Working Group meetings and an Info-mediary Committee meeting (committees included Board and at-large members), and 12 hours of member meetings (Conversations with the Field) in eight cities , including forums at three regional presenting conferences.
The Conversations solicited feedback on draft findings from the review process and identified current challenges and opportunities facing the presenting and touring field. More than 200 people working in the presenting and performing arts fields – representing large, small and mid-sized organizations and companies from every region of the country – gathered to express concerns and hopes about our field. The questions that provided the most resonant answers were:
- What opportunities and challenges do you face?
- What do you need and want to work more effectively?
- What learning objectives should Arts Presenters champion?
- How could the mix of programs and services shift to create more lasting value for your time and money?
- How can we strengthen other networks and organizations that deliver value to you?
- How can Arts Presenters re-design its programs and services to deliver a year-round capacity building agenda for its members?
Members and the wider field reflected upon and discussed marketplace, political, social and economic shifts, as well as strategies for Arts Presenters to meet operating needs and advance sustainability in the field. Members received greater detail on the review findings and proposed recommendations for the association to consider at the Annual Membership Meeting in January 2007.
The Roan Group presented the draft Strategic Review report to Arts Presenters’ Board of Directors in April 2007. The Board earmarked recommendations for immediate action and formed groups to discuss short- and long-term plans. In October 2008, the Board of Directors and staff outlined the strategic issues and goals for three to five years, and the Board resumed the planning process in March 2009. Several months later, Arts Presenters adopted a three-year Strategic Framework for 2010-2012 and a three-year professional development plan.