MANY THANKS to the Association for Performing Arts Presenters for the exceptional professional development provided at their annual conference, the largest gathering of performing arts professionals in the world., and to the   Jazz Journalists Association.   Since I believe narrative intelligence is something to be shared, here are my experiences, themes, and action steps extracted from APAP 2012.  The conference I had is different from the conference you or anyone else had.  Each individual’s experience is a sea of stories inside stories floating among larger stories.  Here is a view of mine.

Please note that I did not group notes according to specific sessions attended but according to how I will use the information in my work going forward.


Narrative Discourse AKA “everything worth saying might have already been said, but how are people saying it this year?”

    1. Textbook and traditional approaches are OUT, but the arts can’t seem to ditch them because we want collective legitimacy as a field, so we must continue to ask WHY they are being used in specific instances.
    2. Hybrids are IN (among artists, presenters, commissioners, residency partners).
    3. Flattening power dynamics is IN.
    4. Collaborations are both IN and OUT. In each instance we must ask if they’re useful resource-sharing vs. overly complicated drains on partners’ time / energy.
    5. Gaps are IN. Every artistic community is thick and thin in certain areas. Noticing gaps means you’re doing you’re job as an arts worker. Inventory them and find ways to address them.
    6. Vulnerability is the new transparency.
    7. Leading by learning is IN.
    8. Surfing the chaos is the new strategic planning.
    9. Productive conflict is the new cooperation.
    10. Materiality is IN. We mustn’t lose knowledge of what to do with stuff, how to get along with things in our physical world, especially older and culturally-specific technologies.
    11. Placemaking is IN. Every significant artistic transaction happens in a particular place, and that community flavors and distinguishes the work, becomes a part of the work as the work becomes part of the community. Document the cultural activity that occurs in a particular place and tell a tellable tale about it – you are placemaking. The trend is towards localization.
    12. Story as a verb is WAY IN. Storying organizations and places creates importance, becomes a form of advocacy. Storying a work as the artist travels from place to place magnetizes more and more stories to the work and creates legacy.

Fueling Concepts

  • Enough with less is more. More is more!  Self-production mode can be a poverty mentality. Sometimes a residency partner’s job is to push beyond what an artist is used to making do with.  However, we all love stories about the lucky scrounge!
  • Communities outside of bigger, urban centers can be full of resources and underutilized spaces.
  • Several artists/spaces have made wonderful use of the notion of the Home Town Residency, which often includes (re)learning what a place IS, its intrinsic features.
  • Strategic research design is important to creative process.  Develop research plans with the idea of a clear conceptual starting point. Trust starting points as such: if you have everything already planned out you’ve either already done the work or you’re deluding yourself.
  • The concept of resonance can be used to guide artistic process AND audience development.  Big ideas grow you.  Exposure to artists and their work expands a community’s collective vision. Trust the “wow” moment.  Create ways these “wow moments” can be documented and shared.
  • Facilitation and conflict resolution are important skills to manage artistic relationships.
  • Good ideas have their own internal momentum. If you’re not blocking, you’re helping.
  • People love a story about a process. There are so many micro-moments in the life of a work.  Artists interact with place.  Every place has a space that has a story.

Advice / Action Steps

  • Experts on panels say “distrust experts on panels.” The best advice is on a case-by-case basis.
  • Create expectations checklists. Compare them going into any new or complex situation.
  • When managing competing priorities, ask “where is the energy?” Then, go with the flow!
  • Innovative use of social media can become part of an organization’s brand. Social media for work-in-progress is how you create excitement about something that doesn’t exist.
  • Make sure your website isn’t just a framework for calendar of events. Needs content in the form of stories.
  • If people can’t contribute as much money as they’ve been able to in past years, ask if they’ll write something, post links on their Facebook page, distribute info to their contact lists or provide other valuable social media assistance.
  • Create a screensaver slideshow for an arts organization. Not random – tell a picture story to go with certain key narrative concepts you want to convey.
  • Distribute flashdrives as comp gifts – .5 gigs can be your own images / content. The rest is space that they can use.
  • Provide ways that audiences can vote on “what they want to see/hear again.” That’s a different and importantly distinct question from what was their “favorite.” Community outlets for rebroadcasting: college radio stations, community television.
  • If it comes down to it, budget-wise, cut print media and bump up consulting for social media.
  • Arguably, high-quality digital documentation equipment is the single best investment money can buy. Some artists have made fantastic video trailers. But in this realm, it’s good quality or nothing. No question: bad production values hurt.
  • Good formula for Vlog entry is two songs, interview with artist, and clips of the audience.  When making a video, make sure you document people having a good time in the space.
  • Too many artists/organizations view posting a video as the end of a process. It is the beginning.
  • When facing the risk-taking that comes with being an artistic frontrunner, ask “what is the reward that comes with being the first to take this risk?” Many don’t want to face the risk but want the reward. If you’re one that enjoys risk, you have to emphasize reward with others to get the buy-in.
  • Learn in front of your communities. Admit weak spots and ask for real input. Leaders who are this vulnerable trigger engagement and passionate loyalty.