Margaret Hair: Lessons from NPAC
June 20, 2008
Steamboat Springs — Last weekend in Denver, thousands of representatives from performing arts organizations and disciplines came together to share ideas at the second quadrennial National Performing Arts Convention.
Those ideas were wide-reaching and sometimes controversial. And really, the diversity of what professionals in theater, music, dance, arts education and arts administration brought with them to four days of meetings, planning sessions, performances and discussions isn’t particularly important.
That’s not to say individual diversity and creativity is not valuable. Those two things are driving reasons for art to exist in the first place.
But more important than what these thousands of people had to say at a convention crammed with voices, is that these thousands of people care enough about what they do to come together at all.
There are plenty of things to fix when it comes to the performing arts in America. There’s the desperate under-funding, the sense that education in the arts is unessential, the search for an audience and the fight to stop shrinking, much less to start growing.
The most relevant question I heard – and the one I heard most often at an under-35 gallery mixer/show/networking function – is not new, and it wasn’t addressed in any formal convention events.
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It’s the question that gets at how and why people stay in the performing arts: How do you keep from selling out?
At first glance, that question is pretentious. Really, there’s no way to address the idea of “selling out” without coming off all high and mighty, especially when it comes to art.
But the basic idea behind that question is key to preserving real creativity, to fostering the kind of commitment to making art that’s necessary to make it feel important to everyone else.
It’s about not booking Broadway musicals to make ends meet at your avant-garde theater and not programming solid weeks of John Williams to sell tickets for your chamber orchestra – not because Broadway and John Williams are not enjoyable, but because they have nothing to do with your mission.
It’s also about staying with what you love to do, even if what you love makes you broke. There are plenty of people who do that in Steamboat, probably against all reasonable advice, because they believe the arts are important.
That kind of energy thrives in like surroundings, and that’s the biggest and best result you can hope for from bringing arts professionals from across the country to the same place.
While most of the goals of the National Performing Arts Convention will take years to accomplish, if they’re possible at all, that energy is the best chance the arts have for survival.
And it’s comforting to know there are so many people who stay with performing because that’s what they do, and because doing anything else would be giving up – it would be selling all of us out.
– To reach Margaret Hair, call 871-4204
or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.