►Performing Arts and Politics: Trying to See the Future

Mario Garcia Durham during an APAP conference in New York several years ago. Photo courtesy Mito Habe-Evans of National Public Radio.

The 60th annual conference, in New York City, of the Association of Performing Arts Presenters (APAP), brought together the brightest, best and newest artists as well as leaders from the worlds of theater, dance, music, comedy, family and youth programming — and, quite frankly, just about every other type of live entertainment available for bookings in the US and far beyond. It ended about a week ago, but calling the event monumental is not an exaggeration: not only were all 50 states represented, so were representatives from more than 30 countries. Mario Garcia Durham, APAP’s President and CEO, put the total number of participants and attendees for some performing arts-related reason or another at considerably more than 10,000. There were more than 20 plenary sessions, plus dozen of seminars on professional development, plus several hundred booths in the exhibit hall (at the New York Hilton) plus — perhaps most important — more than 1,000 live performance showcases in every nook and cranny of Manhattan.

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Beyond APAP’s continued standing as the most comprehensive conference and trade show linked to, and promoting, the performing arts in the US, and beyond all the usual networking, card swapping and acts looking for bookings and bookers looking for lookers, another topic weighed on a lot of people’s minds this year: politics. What will the Trump administration mean for arts, culture and entertainment? How bleak — or not — is the outlook for everything? Will Congress, solidly under total Republican control, actually follow through on their decades-long threat to defund the National Endowment for the Arts? Will the First Amendment face a fatal blow? Will free, artistic and personal expression wither on the vine as the Trump era begins?

These are the kinds of questions that I posed to Durham during a wonderful sit-down we had during the APAP conference last weekend. Enjoy these two six-minute segments: