While it seems for those who’ve lived in Manhattan for a while that the imperative of real estate development in Manhattan was exacerbated in the 12 years of the Bloomberg Imperium to the point that the arts have been pushed further and further out into neighboring boroughs, it’s still possible to see and listen to a diverse array of performers here. One great example of this is the Association of Performing Arts Presenters (APAP) conference, which takes place in January every year. While the primary focus of the confab is to unite in one place folks whose business it is to manage theaters, festivals and other venues all over the nation where live performances are staged, and accordingly there are many panels and presentations which address issues in that arena, the undeniable highlight of the occasion is the showcase performances by the musicians, actors, dancers, magicians and other live acts which give the arts presenters an opportunity to see which acts they may wish to book for their upcoming year. Many of these take place at the conference headquarters at the Hilton Hotel in Manhattan, but for the duration of the event many other venues host performers as part of it (both in Manhattan and elsewhere in the city), and one need not be an arts presenter to enjoy some of the acts.
A special annual feature of the conference is the Awards Luncheon, where outstanding accomplishments in several categories in the field are recognized, to honor the significant impact these leaders in the industry have had on communities locally and worldwide. APAP President and CEO Mario Garcia Durham notes that “the Annual Arts Presenters Awards celebrate the extraordinary talents and contributions distinguished colleagues and organizations have made to our field, to individuals and to society as a whole,” adding that “we honor their creativity, passion for and commitment to the performing arts on behalf of the greater good.”
The Awards are determined by panel of national arts leaders who convene each year, who arrive at nominations which result in four winners ultimately honored by APAP. For 2014 the Award of Merit for Achievement in Performing Arts went to the composer Philip Glass, who for over forty years has composed his distinctive soundscapes for a wide realm of endeavors, including films, theatrical productions, opera, chamber music, symphonic music and dance pieces. The William Dawson Award for Programmatic Excellence and Sustained Achievement in Programming went to Harlem Stage, which for 30 years has been a remarkable resource for performing artists. Led by Executive Director Patricia Cruz and Director of Programming Brad Learmonth, Harlem Stage’s unique focus has been to identify visionary artists of color and support them by commissioning, presenting—and increasingly in recent years—producing their vital work, which an emphasis on responsiveness to social and political conditions.
Artists who’ve been supported by Harem Stage include such legendary performers as Harry Belafonte, Max Roach, Sekou Sundiata, Abbey Lincoln, Sonia Sanchez, Eddie Palmieri and Tito Puente, as well as contemporary artists like Bill T. Jones, Vijay Iyer, Mike Ladd, Tania Leon, Carl Hancock Rux, Nora Chipaumire and Jason Moran. Besides being an incubator of talent, and a risk-taking community resource, in 2006, Harlem Stage opened The Gatehouse, completing a $26 million campaign anchored by the restoration of the historic West 135th venue (built in 1890) into a state-of-the-art, flexible performance, rehearsal and support space; the design renovation has been recognized with The New York Landmarks Conservancy’s highest honor for outstanding preservation, the Lucy G. Moses Preservation Award, and the New York State American Institute of Architects Design Citation for adaptive reuse.
The Sidney R. Yates Award for Outstanding Advocacy on Behalf of the Performing Arts was given to Robert L. Lynch, President and CEO of Americans for the Arts. A veteran of more than 38 years of experience in the arts industry, his motivation and mission has been to empower communities and leaders to advance the arts in society, and thus improve the lives of citizens. Among his achievements have been managing the successful 1996 merger of the National Assembly of Local Arts Agencies, where he had spent 12 years as executive director, with the American Council for the Arts to form Americans for the Arts. Under his 28 years of leadership, the services and membership of Americans for the Arts have grown to more than 50 times their original size, resulting in reaching audiences in over 2000 locations spanning 49 states and more than a dozen nations – with diverse constituencies ranging from Native American tribal gatherings to the U.S. Armed Forces in Europe to the President of the United States. Another key initiative has been the Americans for the Arts Action Fund, with its connected political action committee to establish arts-friendly public policy through engaging citizens to advocate for the arts and arts education. In addition to this, he also currently serves on the U.S. Travel and Tourism Advisory Board, a position appointed by the U.S. Secretary of Commerce, as well as on the Boards of the Independent Sector, the Arts Extension Institute, Independent Sector, and the University of Massachusetts-Amherst College of Humanities and Fine Arts Dean’s Council.
The Fan Taylor Distinguished Service Award for Exemplary Service to the Field of Professional Presenting was given to Michael and Theresa Holden of Holden & Arts Associates. From their Austin, Texas home the Holdens have operated their booking and management company serving performing artists and performing arts presenters for more than 30 years, observing that “real strength lies in artistic excellence combined with dedicated presenters who understand and support the creative process.” It’s a statement that could be made generally about APAP and its membership, and is well worth celebrating.