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Richard Jordan: Performing arts markets with heart aid collaborations as well as sales

Leah Shelton's Terror Australis, one of the shows at APAM, Brisbane Powerhouse. Photo: Rob Maccoll Leah Shelton's Terror Australis, one of the shows at APAM. Photo: Rob Maccoll
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The Australian Performing Arts Market (APAM) took place in Brisbane last week. It was the final one in this city, which hosted the previous three markets, before the event moves to Melbourne in 2020.

APAM 2018 demonstrated something different to almost any other arts market – it was a market with real heart. Credit to its organisers who galvanised the artists to take ownership of the event.

It highlighted a point that is often missed at a government-supported (in this case Australia Council for the Arts) arts market. A market’s success is often measured by the final tally of sales that a showcased work has been promised around the world, but that should not be the only yardstick.

Today, it must equally be used as a long-term opportunity for developing relationships and collaborations with companies and artists. This is especially important when it is the first time the work has been shown and the creatives are being introduced to a wider audience.

At the same time, through the development of national and international collaborations, the industry needs to find ways to address the funding challenges the arts are facing.

Certainly, coming out of APAM with a booking 12 months later is a great result, but attention must then turn to what happens next.

This year APAM questioned convention – asking everyone to look at how they collaborate. It also asked about accountability, and in doing so argued that in the arts we all can, and should, drive change.

What will the legacy of these three APAM conferences in Brisbane be? I believe they will be remembered for celebrating the revolution of the artist and bringing with it an invitation to speak, listen and connect.

It also reminded me of the importance that presenters and producers remember, at any arts market, that the showcase of a work is the whole world to the artist or company presenting it and therefore they deserve attention and respect.

Artists and companies can be gripped by panic at the end of a market, believing they haven’t made enough contacts, enviously gazing at colleagues clutching greater fistfuls of business cards. It’s good to remember that it only takes a single significant conversation for something amazing to happen and, more often, this can be when you least expected it.

In my experience, being over-focused and trying too hard at a market can leave you missing the important opportunities around you. APAM is successful because there is a greater fellowship created between artist, company, presenter and producer than at almost any other global arts market and the local presenter attendance is as valuable as the international one.

I found it thrilling to walk through Brisbane Powerhouse (the lead venue for APAM 2018) over the market’s five days and see the creative conversations and engagement.

That’s not to say APAM doesn’t have room for improvement and it can only afford a snapshot of Australian work. While it has successfully developed a strong position for hybrid and performance art, it remains woefully under-represented as a platform for Australian playwrights.

I hope that when the event moves to Melbourne this will be addressed. I believe there would be enormous value for Australia’s new writing theatre companies, such as Griffin, Belvoir, La Boite and Black Swan, to be given a daily platform to introduce and talk about Australian playwrights and the new writers they are championing.

This would undoubtedly afford Australian playwrights an opportunity for greater national and international exposure. This seems particularly prevalent at a time when there are a number of exciting Australian writers breaking through.

What has been apparent from the past three APAM conferences in Brisbane is the giant strides taken towards improving the representation of indigenous artists and their work – but there is an acknowledgment that much still needs to be done.

That will hopefully come as APAM sticks to its commitment to empower its own artists to make strides forward in new and unusual directions.

A key point was best highlighted at the closing ceremony by indigenous musician Moe Clark. She quoted the words of Canadian Louis Riel, leader of the Metis people and the Red River Rebellion in the late 1800’s: “My people will sleep for 100 years but when they awake it will be the artists who give them their spirit back”.

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