APAP CEO Mario Garcia Durham Aims To ‘Impact Beyond The Transactional’


Mario Garcia Durham
While recent political developments like the proposed travel ban, an arts-cutting tax plan, and immigration policy have had major repercussions on many performing arts centers, for the activist-oriented Association of Performing Arts Professionals Conference, which has its annual get-together this week in New York, its plate runneth over with discussion topics far beyond just doing business. 

“Disruption,” says APAP president and CEO Mario Garcia Durham. “The disruption of the norms is coming through now. It’s a theme that keeps coming up with me. Disruption in the taxes, disruption in the charitable giving. I don’t think we have an answer right now for the nonprofit structure, it’s so complicated.”

“And there are so many distractions going on right now. Don’t be distracted by the tweets — really focus on issues that matter.”

APAP opens today (Jan. 11) at the Midtown Hilton and Sheraton New York Times Square with its Women’s Leadership Forum, the second year for the program, and continues through to Tuesday (Jan. 16) with a closing program featuring comedian and commentator Bassem Youssef

More than 3,600 performing arts professionals are expected to attend as, over the six days, APAP will hold free pre-conference sessions on Thursday and Friday; dive into issues such as marketing, security and NEA funding opportunities on panels from Saturday through Tuesday;  presents its first-ever town hall focusing on the artist as activist on Sunday; and hold an awards ceremony on Monday night. 

Speakers include Roberta Uno, director of Arts is Changing America, Public Theater artistic director Oskar Eustis, and pianist and artistic director for jazz at D.C.’s Kennedy Center, Jason Moran. About 400 arts organizations will be represented on the expo floor Saturday through Monday, doing business and presenting performances.

APAP is part of the annual invasion of New York City by performing arts industry professionals. The month started with the Chamber Music America fest followed by The Public Theater’s Under the Radar Festival that wraps Jan. 15 and

Wavelengths: APAP World Music Preconference that includes globalFEST takes place today and Friday. NYC Winter Jazzfest started Wednesday with a showcase of four British acts and runs through Jan. 17 with most of the action this weekend in 11 of the city’s clubs.

This year, all of it is being presented under the theme of “trans.ACT.” The organization notes that is was inspired by various iterations of the word “trans”— transformation, transcendence, trans-disciplinary, transition, and the importance of transgender artists —as well as “ACT” — action, activism, activate, actualize.

“We’ve been wanting to deepen our conversation, especially with artists, to see if we can have a deeper impact beyond the transactional and doing business,” Garcia Durham says. “At the same time, we see issues of transformation in our world and we saw it as a good umbrella term.”

Activism, Garcia Durham says, has become “a constant” since the 2014 shootings in Ferguson, Mo., and Baltimore.  

“Arts administrators are asking what can they do?,” he says. “What can we add to this conversation? That’s going on in this country. Whatever you feel about Trump, it has definitely energized the conversation and that’s carried on through the arts.

“That’s an obligation of an organization like mine — get speakers who can talk about issues impacting communities.”

APAP estimates the U.S. performing arts industry earned about $15 billion in 2017. In its first-ever report on arts and cultural employment, issued in April, the government’s Bureau of Economic Analysis found that 4.8 million people worked in the arts in 2014, accounting for 3.3 percent of all jobs in the United States.  (The BEA is scheduled to release stats for 2015 in late February).

In 2013, theaters contributed $7.1 billion to the overall U.S. economy, followed by music at $4.2 billion, and symphony orchestras and chamber groups at $2.1 billion. 

Even the government acknowledges the arts are a growth industry. In 2004, Garcia Durham joined the NEA in Washington, D.C., after starting the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco. The conversation at that time was about leadership in the arts. He no longer sees that as an issue.

“That has shifted dramatically,” he says. “There are so many young people coming up who want to take over. Not only do they think differently, especially with the Internet, they come up with new ideas, radical ideas and new ways of doing things.

“What’s cool is this duality. The younger generation utilizing every technological element they can [to build audiences] but the need to be in a room with another individual is really, really strong. That experience of being live in the hall is still critically important and there’s no shying away from that.”