"And the beat goes on.............."
Mario Garcia Durham Interview:
Bio: In October 2011, Mario Garcia Durham became the fifth executive director of the Association of Performing Arts Presenters since its founding in 1957. A graduate of the University of Houston, Mario comes to APAP from the National Endowment for the Arts where he was Director of Artist Communities & Presenting. At the NEA, Durham was involved in creating programs such as An Evening of Poetry hosted by the President and Mrs. Obama, and was the initiator of Live from Your Neighborhood, a groundbreaking study of the impact of outdoor arts festivals in the U.S.
After holding numerous management positions and serving as assistant artistic director at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in the 1990s, he founded Yerba Buena Arts & Events in 2000, the producing organization of the annual Yerba Buena Gardens Festival. The outdoor event offers more than 100 free performances by the San Francisco Opera, the San Francisco Ballet and more for an audience of 100,000 attendees. Durham has previously served on the APAP Board of Directors and on the Executive Committee.
Durham’s large Mexican American family in South Texas has roots in the historic King Ranch, and his great grandfather was a legendary Texas Ranger.
Barry: You've been in your post as head of APAP now for about six months. What have you learned?
Mario: I am on a very exciting learning curve. I’m learning about the importance of attracting new members and keeping veteran members, assessing the true value of membership, understanding the details of the APAP|NYC EXPO Hall, the intricacies of hotel contracts and much, much more.
Barry: What are the three or four biggest issues facing the presenting community?
- Supporting leadership development for the next generation of arts leaders;
- Addressing the coming “gray wave” of retiring baby boomers;
- Assuring performing arts centers are relevant, important and vital to communities;
- Highlighting successful audience engagement approaches;
- Diversity, diversity, diversity.
Barry: What encourages you about the field, and what worries you about its future?
Mario: I am encouraged by the brilliant and talented generations of young artists and arts administrators. What worries me is the peril faced by individuals and organizations reluctant or resistant to adapt as the presenting landscape changes.
Barry: What are the most pressing needs for presenting community administrators and leaders in terms of professional development, and how is APAP working to address those needs? What help do you need to better address the professional development needs of your field? Specifically what are the particular needs of the emerging leaders sub-sector of the presenting field?
Mario: We are deeply concerned about professional development. The number of arts administration programs at colleges is a great foundation, but they can’t teach you the creativity, compassion and decisiveness of on-the-ground professional activity and experience. APAP offers a professional development track each year at APAP|NYC, we provide mentoring to our college-age volunteers at the conference, we are developing a new series of webinars, we profile outstanding professionals in Inside Arts magazine, we train emerging leaders with our Emerging Leadership Institute, and generate fresh ideas among mid-career leaders with the Leadership Development Institute. Our hope is to contribute to an environment in which strong missions, true visions and best practices are a part of every arts organization.
Barry: What is the current status of the major issues facing presenters in terms of international artists performing in America - including visa issues and what needs to be done to make that an easier process for both artists and presenters? And on the flip side of that issue, what are the major barriers to American artists performing abroad and how are we doing in supporting those efforts?
Mario: Two things here: The difficulty of procuring visas for international artists, and the state of the economy vis-à-vis arts funding in Europe. We support artists and presenters with our own government affairs work – writing letters on behalf of artists. The impact of post 9-11 security realities continues to be a major factor in our work. This is in spite of the fact many recognize cultural exchanges – such as the ones that are supported by the APAP Cultural Exchange Fund but also many that take place at grassroots and even large PAC levels – are the way we come to understand other peoples, their practices and cultures. APAP will continue to work on these issues in partnership with other national organizations to prove the value of the arts and of these exchanges.
Barry: What are the critical problems the presenting field faces in terms of dwindling arts journalism media coverage and how might we improve our position?
Mario: This is a real conundrum. Of course, we are delighted with the opening up of the protected arts journalism domain – with citizen bloggers and reporters. But nothing can replace the critical thought and extensive experience of our best arts journalists. Their numbers have lessened by about half nationally – and that’s bad for the arts. A proactive approach to this – and some performing arts centers have adopted this model – is to find a place for the critic’s voice either as someone who writes for a blog or creates a space for critical thought within the center’s own halls. It’s a tricky balance – because a journalist’s independence is always sacred. And yet we have to change with technology and with the crisis of the media industry. Both fields – arts and media – share an important experience: We both know what it’s like to be pushed out. So we adapt. I applaud journalists and arts centers developing a new model to keep these important voices at the fore.
Barry: What are APAP's short and long term advocacy strategies and priorities, and what are the major obstacles to success? How is the cooperative effort of APAP with Dance/USA, Opera America and the Theatre Communications Group working and do you envision any new kinds of advocacy training or other initiatives?
Mario: We believe very strongly in the strength of combined voices. We are committed to working with the Performing Arts Alliance, Americans for the Arts, National Assembly of State Arts Agencies and other arts and service organizations. As to the training of our members in advocacy, we see this as very important. We feel it’s important that organizations and artists are vigilant in maintaining a voice in their local and national communities. We will keep this issue at the forefront and assist our members in the most effective methods of advocating for support of the arts.
Barry: What aspects of audience development research needs improvement, and what current studies do you think will have substantial impact in the future? What is your take on the spate of "engagement" studies now dominating the audience development dialogue?
Mario: We know we have often fallen short in making sure that many in our audiences are as engaged with the performing arts as they are in other areas of their lives, such as religion, sports or hobbies. The focus on it right now is, I believe, a direct result of a longing to get closer to the artistic experience. So when Diane Paulus, who was a speaker at APAP|NYC 2012 (which not coincidentally was devoted to audience engagement), produced SLEEP NO MORE as part of American Repertory Theater’s season, she invited audience members to “curate” their own theatrical experience walking through a installation theater “stage.” The theater outsold every other show in its history. Audience members saw the show 5-8-10 times because they relished standing next to actors playing Macbeth or walking on the set for a Hitchcock film – all while theater was going on around them. Audiences are hungry for this type of contact, for a sense of belonging in theaters and concert halls rather than being alienated by red carpets and tuxedos. So for the future, those studies that look at the behavior of audiences in the moment of artistic experience will be the ones that make an impact on how we present, how we welcome and nurture audiences, and how we adapt to a world in which the audience member is co-author of the artistic experience.
Barry: How do you see presenting and tourism linked for the future? How might APAP further bridge the two industries?
Mario: They are linked now! When you arrive at the airport in Boise, Idaho, one of the first things you see is a welcome banner from the Trey McIntyre Project. We also know that the arts are selling points for many cities. If you’re applying for a job as a professor or as doctor in Bangor, Maine, you might be taken during your interview to a show at the Collins Center for the Performing Arts or to Penobscot Theatre Company. That’s not tourism but it has the same root as tourism, which is economic impact. Same for the American Folk Festival in Bangor – it’s about performing arts, but it also draws massive numbers of tourists. None of this happens if presenters and other civic leaders aren’t thinking broadly about the excellence of the arts and the role they play not only in community life, but also in the economy and in conjunction with daily life.
Have a great week.