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Shaping the World of the Performing Arts

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What might the performing arts scene in America look like in 20 years, if performing arts organizations were to act in coordination? How could those in the performing arts mold themselves into an effective community through common actions? Juilliard students now have an exciting opportunity to develop powerful responses to these two questions and help shape the world they are entering as performing artists. The Mentoring program has been asked to facilitate the development of a set of recommendations generated by our students that will be presented at the 2008 National Performing Arts Convention in June.

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NPAC is an interdisciplinary gathering of performing arts professionals, volunteers, audiences, and supporters of all kinds. Begun in 2004 as a pilot project, NPAC brought together for the first time a diverse group of performing arts service organizations. The 2008 convention—which will take place in Denver, Colo., from June 10 to 15, with programming designed by Eric Booth, former artistic director of Mentoring—will address the burning issues of all performing arts disciplines. The first fully integrated gathering of its kind, NPAC aims to lay the foundation for future interdisciplinary collaborations, cooperative programs, and effective advocacy. It intends to help the performing arts in the U.S. demonstrate new potency as a united sector dedicated to bringing the value of arts to more people more effectively and strengthening communities across the country. Basically, it aspires to change the future of the arts in America by getting all its players on the same page.

The 2008 National Performing Arts Convention will serve as the annual meeting for many of the performing arts organizations that regularly meet in June, including the American Symphony Orchestra League, Chorus America, the Composers’ Consortium, Dance/USA, Early Music America, Opera America, and Theater Communications Group. More than 5,000 people are expected to attend—including performers, administrators, and other arts professionals, as well as amateurs, volunteers, and supporters of all kinds—making it the largest gathering ever of the performing arts fields. Everyone who is passionate about the performing arts in America is welcome.

Here at Juilliard, our challenge is to develop a document in which we recommend specific actions to be taken that will advance the position of the arts in America. There will be categories for political action, regional action, local action, and personal action. The goal is to decide which leverage points could lead to significant change if there is a common focus and active participation. Among the ideas being considered are:

  •  Creating a cabinet position of Secretary of Culture
  • A national push for 5 percent of every school budget to go to arts education
  •  Revamping or abolishing certification requirements for artists to work in schools
  • A “take a non-arts-lover to the arts every month” commitment
  • Creating a national Artists Corps
  • Establishing healthcare for artists
  • Pressuring government to promote cultural diplomacy
  • Expanding public/private partnerships between schools and arts organizations

A group of interested Juilliard student leaders will meet on the evening of April 6 to begin the process by hammering out a list of the most persuasive ideas regarding these topics. This list will then be distributed in the form of a survey to solicit input from the entire student body, to further refine the document. These recommendations will then be introduced formally on the opening day of NPAC, where they should have a significant impact on the thinking of the entire convention. Each day during the rest of the convention there will be in-depth brainstorming within mixed groups of 12 people each, and overnight the results will be tallied and winnowed. On the last day of the congress, all participants will vote on an action agenda that everyone and every arts service organization attending will commit to. The hope is to create a critical mass of actively committed members, motivating all performing artists and organizations to make a similar commitment.

This is a unique opportunity for the Juilliard community to take a leading role in influencing action towards a stronger position for the future of the performing arts in America. It might be easy for a cynic to think that nothing will change—but surely things have changed to some degree already, just to be able to call so many organizations together. More change is both possible and necessary, but will certainly not happen without this kind of involvement on the part of the entire performing arts community. We can serve as catalysts in shaping the world our students will enter as emerging performing artists—and best of all, it is our students themselves who will be generating the ideas and energy to create significant influence on their own futures.

I invite anyone who is interested in participating in this project to contact me at spier@juilliard.edu. For more information on NPAC or to sign up to attend the conference yourself, go to www.performingartsconvention.org—and please, come to the meeting on Sunday, April 6, from 6 to 7:30 p.m. in the 11th-floor lounge of the Rose Building.

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