APAP|NYC 2024: Celebrating the Dynamic Landscape of Performing Arts in the Post-Pandemic Era - CircusTalk

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APAP|NYC 2024: Celebrating the Dynamic Landscape of Performing Arts in the Post-Pandemic Era

The 67th annual conference APAP|NYC 2024 by the Association of Performing Arts Professionals will be held at Midtown Hilton in New York from January 12-16, 2024. Industry professionals worldwide and from all performing arts genres are expected to participate in the conference, and its accompanying performing arts showcases across New York City.

Beyond the annual conference, APAP is the primary national service organization for performing arts presenting, booking, and touring. Throughout the year, APAP supports professionals and organizations in the field, fostering a robust performing arts industry centered on commerce, community, and creation.

According to APAP’s President and CEO Lisa Richards Toney, the annual conference is described as the performing arts community’s “big tent,” encompassing professionals of all missions, functions, disciplines, and genres. Held in New York, the world’s leading performing arts city, this five-day event is where professionals convene to revitalize, reignite, and drive the performing arts sector forward.

In an interview, I had the privilege to speak with Jenny Thomas, the remarkably efficient Director of Marketing and Communications for APAP since 2013. Among her many talents, Jenny executive produces the award-winning podcast ARTS. WORK. LIFE. and spearheads APAP’s advocacy endeavors.

Jenny’s involvement in the arts predates her tenure at APAP; she previously served as Executive Director of a multidisciplinary arts presenting organization at the University of Utah and held the position of Marketing Director for an agency representing celebrity speakers. Her extensive knowledge and experience stem from a career deeply rooted in arts and culture, spanning from public radio to live concert promotion and from the Sundance Film Festival to PBS.

During our conversation, I was delighted to learn about Jenny’s deep involvement in the performing arts beyond her advocacy role—she’s actively engaged as the bassist for the Washington, DC-based band Mantagonist.

Jenny Thomas

Andrea Honis: As we experience the second in-person conference post-pandemic, do you anticipate conference attendance returning to pre-pandemic levels this year? Can you provide an estimated number of expected attendees? 

Jenny Thomas: APAP’s successful return to an in-person conference in January 2023 confirmed the power of our industry meeting face-to-face. Performing arts professionals demonstrated their enthusiasm by showing up at near pre-pandemic levels, and we’re on pace for a repeat at the 2024 conference and expect more than 3,000 attendees. We are a community that values convening a common space and meeting colleagues in the organic and serendipitous way that live events afford us.

AH: What will be the major topics and highlights that attendees can expect at the conference?

JT: Friday will be a day of welcome and reunion. APAP will host our topical industry forums and affinity groups during the day. (These are open to all; conference registration isn’t required, but an RSVP is.) APAP kicks off a host of welcomes and provocations during the Opening Plenary that afternoon, including those from drag queen extraordinaire Sasha Velour and Broadway star Mandy Gonzalez.

Saturday’s sessions are about adaptation and reimagination and will consider reimagined ways to present the performing arts. The impact of AI, changing marketing realities, new data on audience participation, and more. There will be a featured session called “Surviving and Thriving as a Field in Fractious Times,” where the stage will be set by Bryan Stevenson of the Equal Justice Initiative in conversation with New York Philharmonic clarinetist Anthony McGill.

Sunday is full of valuable “need-to-know” sessions as well as artist discovery opportunities. Vital topics include operational preparedness, safety and security, arts compensation, and a legislative briefing. New in 2024, APAP will host a Works-In-Progress Pitch Session. (Projects have already been selected, but presenters are welcome to attend.) as well as our first collaboration event focused on socially engaged work, called Discovery Roundtables: Just SEW. Featured on Sunday is a session on case-making where we ask, “Are the Arts Essential?” in a conversation with arts luminaries, led by PBS Newshour’s Jeffrey Brown.

Monday is about celebration and service with the return of the APAP Annual Awards Ceremony, now known as The APAP Honors. Monday is also Martin Luther King, Jr. Day in the U.S., so we are activating service through mentorship with the Mentor for a Moment Service Project and Mentor Exchange Live sessions. Monday will also feature an information-packed update on artist visa policies and practices, a session that aims to “reach the block booking utopia,” and a participatory workshop on social dance for joy and resilience.

This programming runs in parallel with the hundreds of independent performance showcases (more below) and the EXPO Commons, the world’s largest performing arts marketplace, both of which are synonymous with the APAP Conference.

AH: You mentioned the APAP Honors. This year’s Annual Awards Ceremony boasts an impressive lineup. For our readers unfamiliar with these awards, could you share insights into their mission and the selection process?

JT: The APAP Honors (formerly known as APAP Awards) celebrates and recognizes trailblazers and visionaries in the performing arts field. Since early as 1959, APAP has awarded honors that include the Award of Merit for Achievement in the Performing Arts, the Fan Taylor Distinguished Service Award for Exemplary Service to the Field of Professional Presenting, the William Dawson Award for Programmatic Excellence and Sustained Achievement in Programming, and the Sidney R. Yates Award for Outstanding Advocacy on Behalf of the Performing Arts.

In 2024, APAP will bestow its Arts Champion Award and its Spark of Change award for the first time. These new awards signal values APAP seeks to spotlight: the recognition of performing arts heroes from outside the field and the importance of innovation and courage, especially among early and mid-career professionals.

This year’s honorees are:

Seven-time Grammy winner and two-time Oscar nominee Terence Blanchard.

Game-changing dance and arts managers Lisa Booth and Deirdre Valente.

Lincoln Center’s Chief Artistic Officer Shanta Thake.

Nationally renowned arts researcher Randy Cohen.

Prominent arts philanthropists John W. Brown and Rosemary Kopel Brown.

Emerging dance artivist Ruby Morales.

Booth, who died earlier this year, will be awarded posthumously.

Earlier in 2023, APAP members were invited to nominate artists, agents, managers, presenters, producers, organizations, supporters, and other arts professionals whose hard work, dedication, and vision have contributed to the performing arts industry’s strength, impact, and resilience. Awards are voted on by a committee comprised of long-time APAP members and other luminaries from the performing arts world.

AH: While known as North America’s largest performing arts conference, this annual event is expanding internationally. Could you shed light on the participation of international attendees and how APAP fosters international cultural exchange?

JT: For some time, APAP has appealed to international artists and arts professionals as the premier industry gathering for those seeking touring in North America and those seeking to partner with North American organizations and entities. APAP’s collaboration around the launch of globalFEST in 2002, following the events of 9/11, and APAP’s long-running Cultural Exchange Fund and the Building Bridges program are testaments to that.

APAP’s role as the engine that fuels collaboration in presenting, booking, and touring hasn’t changed and continues to be reflected in our conference and year-round programming. APAP understands that the performing arts is an ecosystem and that what is happening in the world impacts the arts. The arts are of the world. To prove it, we have, to date, 24 countries from six continents represented among the 2024 conference registrants.

While our advocacy is U.S.-based, the impacts are global. Our current focus is on comprehensive ticketing reform legislation and federal policies impacting the administration of artist visas, and banning predatory third-party ticketing practices and deceptive websites and advocating for policies that support artistic exchange is good for all of us.

AH: Who are the highlighted showcase artists for this year, and what were the criteria or processes involved in their selection? 

JT: The beauty of APAP is that 99.9% of the showcases are independently produced by APAP members and not subject to a jury selection process, so attendees get to experience a diversity of artists like nowhere else. From circus to jazz to contemporary dance to opera, everything has a place at APAP. We have emerging artists and artists who are reinventing themselves. This year, we even have “Gangstagrass” and Inuit Soul Music. The performance showcases vary from a 15-minute set at the New York Hilton Midtown (the APAP|NYC headquarters) to an evening-length festival at Lincoln Center.

The one showcase APAP has produced since 1996 to support emerging classical music artists is the YPCA (pronounced “YIP-kah,” Young Performers Career Advancement) showcase at Carnegie Hall. The YPCA program has launched the careers of Grammy winners and nominees, including Gabriel Cabezas, Valerie Coleman, Tessa Lark, Parker Quartet, Pacifica Quartet, Imani Winds, and Eighth Blackbird. The YPCA showcase takes place on Monday, January 15, at 7 p.m. and is open to the public, although an RSVP is encouraged.

AH: How do you envision the mission and role of the conference evolving in response to the rapidly changing landscape of the performing arts?

JT: While APAP has always had a year-round presence, the pandemic demonstrated our value as the glue that holds the booking, touring, and presenting industry together. It feels like both a long time ago and just yesterday that it was March 2020, and our members were at our Zoom doorstep looking for answers. We didn’t have all the answers at the time (Who did?), but what we have is a welcoming community and the ability to bring people together in the room during a crisis or a celebration, to have real talk in real time (which is what we call our online member gatherings), to create opportunities, to discuss tough issues, and to see our collective way forward no matter how ambiguous or murky the future is. We are truly stronger together.

AH: There’s still time for last-minute visitors to register for the conference. Can you provide some guidance on how they can register?

JT: Registration for APAP|NYC 2024 is open now and during the conference (January 12-16, 2024). You are encouraged to register as early as possible for the best savings. There are also special artist rates and other discounts available. Learn more about registration rates here.

APAP|NYC is a members-only conference. If you are not a member, you can join APAP before you register. 

To learn more about the APAP|NYC conference, visit apapnyc.org.

Main Image: APAP members sing along with Choir! Choir! Choir! at the APAP|NYC 2023 conference. (Photo by Adam Kissick/APAP)
Andrea Honis
Founder and COO -United States
Andrea, Founder of CircusTalk, is a fifth-generation member of the Hungarian Eötvös-Picard circus family. Prior to CircusTalk, she worked in advertising and performing arts management. Before starting the CircusTalk project she was Assistant Producer at Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts’s family series “Reel to Real” in New York City. Andrea holds a BA in Business Administration and an MFA in Performing Arts Management.
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Andrea Honis

Andrea, Founder of CircusTalk, is a fifth-generation member of the Hungarian Eötvös-Picard circus family. Prior to CircusTalk, she worked in advertising and performing arts management. Before starting the CircusTalk project she was Assistant Producer at Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts’s family series “Reel to Real” in New York City. Andrea holds a BA in Business Administration and an MFA in Performing Arts Management.