Kate Lidbetter, CEO of Symphony Services International, attended the Singapore Live! Conference from 1-3 June, 2011. The report that follows notes some important themes that gleaned from the various speakers at the conference – it is not an accurate transcription of what was said and reflects only the notes that she took throughout the event and may contain some inaccuracies or errors. Please note also this report does not cover all (or in some cases, complete) sessions of the conference.
Thursday 2 June, 2011 – Opening plenary (Culturenomics: Urban development and renewal through arts infrastructure development)
Moderator – Tateo Nakajima, Partner, Artec Consultants Inc, USA
Keynote speakers – Richard Evans, CEO, Sydney Opera House, Australia; and David Staples, Chairman, Theatre Projects Consultants, UK
Panel – Ho-Sang Ahn, CEO, Seoul Foundation for Arts and Culture, Korea; Graham Sheffield CBE, Director Arts, British Council, UK; Benson Puah, CEO, Esplanade Theatres on the Bay and National Arts Council, Singapore; Ray Harris, Chief Operating Officer, The Nederlander Company, USA
The opening plenary session featured Richard Evans, who gave a fascinating keynote speech titled Culturenomics. He noted that we’ve all seen statistics that show how important culture is to the economic environment of any city, and that cities with a strong culture have equally strong values in other areas. He showed a variety of images of the Sydney Opera House, describing it as a cultural landmark that is World Heritage listed. Not only is it an arts and architectural icon, it is also a place of celebration. Richard stated that we need to be more daring, more audacious and tenacious in our urban renewal. Urban renewal begins with architectural courage and the Sydney Opera House is a case study for architectural audacity. It was designed in the 1950s, a very different time from now. Getting a daring design for an expensive building through parliament in post-war Australia was difficult and took the tenacity of Joe Cahill, Premier of NSW, to argue for the building over and over again. Now the site receives 8.2 million visitors per year, offers 22,500 jobs to the nation and adds $1.1 billion to the economy. The development of the site on which the House sits has also added to redevelopment of the whole Rocks area of Sydney, but Richard noted that it still remains difficult to argue to government for funds to improve infrastructure, which is not seen but so vital. If the tiles were falling off the building money would flow, but to upgrade internal and structural problems is much more difficult.
The venue tries to bring the experience of the Sydney Opera House to those that don’t attend the opera or concerts or plays. They offer free seats via the internet, and have partnered with YouTube and Google. There are online educational activities and regional hubs, attaching the SOH brand to school halls by sending performers out to audiences. Programming is crucial but there are competing expectations – the House is a cultural protector but also a cultural innovator. These two roles can be one and the same. The House’s staples are the opera, ballet, symphonic concerts and theatre. But as presenter/promoters, the House has presented 500 performances to 350,000 people. It must straddle all forms of the arts, constantly reaching new audiences and first-time visitors.
Richard mentioned the “Goldilocks Zone”, where programming must cede just enough power to the audience, but not too much. He cited the recent You Tube Symphony as a good example of how this can work. He noted that people are now well travelled and well informed and very willing to tell programmers what they like and don’t like. How much should programmers cede? Well, the YouTube Symphony project got it just right.
Q: Is it important to have an idea of where you’ll go before you build the building?
Richard Evans: We have 8.2m visitors per year, but only 1.3m ticket purchases. Tourists and daytime visitors really own the building. But the spirit is in the concerts and presentations. There are infrastructure arguments – you don’t see the problems so it’s hard to argue for funding for them. We treat our daytime visitors as seriously as we do our performing arts patrons.
Benson Puah: Why does culture need to defend itself through economic terms when schools, health, defence etc are just seen as necessary? We forget about the enrichment of the individual. The first premise is to influence the people that come – local and Asian artists in the case of Esplanade. Over time it has made a difference. Without art, the building would be a hollow place.
Graham Sheffield: It’s like “slow food” – “slow arts”. The Barbican took from 1956 until 1983 to develop. The Sydney Opera House took from the mid-50s until 1973. It takes a really long time. Because it’s more than just a place, and government and the authorities must realise it’s a long haul. We must challenge the buildings to do different things. You have to get out of the building and really change the education system. Encourage radical change in education systems so people can appreciate the art that’s put on – it’s a generational shift. The way the arts are taught must be designed along with the building. A lot more art won’t occur in these spaces anyway.
Q: When, relative to the opening of the building, does the rest of it start?
Richard Evans: when the Opera House was commissioned there was an orchestra that wanted a hall, but the opera company wasn’t in a position to use the building. Now, a lot of buildings come from artists wanting their own venue.
Benson Puah: the idea for the Esplanade was seeded in the 70s. But there was no market then. The key decision was to build it in phases. Phase 1 was the concert hall, and local artists distanced themselves from it. But it was probably done the right way around as it would be harder to fund a big venue after a smaller one had been built.
Ray Harris: The private sector is different.
David Staples – keynote address
The “Bilbao Bounce” – what is it, and how do you capture it? The keys to success are scale, leadership, context, arts activity and software. Now I’d like to add “audacity” to the list. If Australia knew how much the Opera House would cost and how long it would take, they would not have built it.
The Lincoln Centre is situated on the upper west side of Manhattan because the land there was cheap. Today we would regenerate the area, but in the 50s and 60s it was bulldozed. At the Lincoln Centre there are 11 or 12 organisations and it has been an arts-led urban regeneration. It cost approximately $180M and the whole area is now regenerated. A 1983 study showed a five-fold increase in tax revenue over 20 years and that the Lincoln Centre generated huge income.
The Kennedy Centre in Washington DC opened in 1971. While the people who created the Lincoln Centre spurred regeneration, those that did the Kennedy Centre did nothing. It’s on a river and next to a freeway, and there’s not a single new restaurant or bar in the area. The same can be said of the LA Music Centre, where there was nothing until the Disney Concert Hall was built.
Bilbao was declining until the Guggenheim Museum was built. The civic leaders decided to regenerate the area, and when the Museum opened in 1997 there were economic benefits, including the creation of nearly 4000 jobs. They also built a new airport, a subway system, a footbridge, all designed by good architects.
Salford, UK is one of the most disadvantaged areas in the country. Lowry was a British artist of the 20th century who mainly painted industrial landscapes. The Lowry Centre now attracts around 1.1m visitors per year, because they built other things around it including a shopping mall and BBC North. There are now around 15,000 people working there.
The Dallas Arts District – 30 years ago the white population was leaving. The leaders decided to regenerate with an arts district, an initiative from the development community whose land value was deteriorating. It was a long term plan, started 27 years ago. It took 25 years to bring to fruition but it fails to enliven the city totally. There is a car culture – no-one is on the streets. But it’s a huge success in terms of cultural institutions.
The Sage Gateshead in the UK is another example. It’s a metropolitan centre which started to change people’s attitudes. It was the largest centre in Europe at the time it was built. The Angel of the North was created, plus the Millennium Bridge in 2001 and then the Sage in 2004. This project was about leadership – the Council was determined to change the city.
Friday 3 June: Programming – Performing Arts Content. Producing House or Receiving House (or can it be both?)
Moderator – Guarav Kripalani, Artistic Director, Singapore Repertory Theatre, Singapore
Keynote Speaker – Benson Puah, CEO, Esplanade Theatres on the Bay & National Arts Council, Singapore
Panel – Richard Evans, CEO, Sydney Opera House, Australia; Andrew Kay, Managing Director, Andrew Kay and Associates, Australia; Douglas Gautier, CEO and Artistic Director, Adelaide Festival Centre, Australia; Dong-Ho Park, CEO, Sejong Center for the Performing Arts, Korea; Alison M. Friedman, Director/Founder, Ping Pong Productions, China.
Benson Puah – keynote speech
Yesterday Richard Evans spoke about governments needing to have audacity, to take a leap of faith. What do you do after that leap of faith, when the building is completed? It can’t be left to chance that it fulfils its purpose. In Asia today we are experiencing a boom in the construction of many complexes. Sometimes we don’t understand why they’re being built. Today we’re not just talking about arts centres, but about multi-venue complexes. Esplanade on the Bay has 21 restaurants and bars and other public spaces as well as a theatre. Venues are now grander and cater to a wide variety of perceived needs. Are they symbols for the community that the arts matter, or just someone’s vanity? Their relevance to the community takes secondary importance. Id’ like to share a bit about Esplanade’s journey – the context in which it was built and the role that it plays.
The conundrum of whether we are a producing or receiving house, or bit of both, will follow. At the start, the point of Esplanade was to serve the entire community, including the multicultural community. The centre had to be a place that each community could call home. Performing arts centres are for everyone. A diverse range of programs had to be offered, with our own programming team consciously programming for all. We decided not to have resident companies because we were concerned that being defined by one particular genre would limit our ability to reach out to the community we wanted to serve. Our vision was to be for everyone. There was also a lack of a regular arts going audience at that time. We wanted to build a year-round arts calendar so people knew at any time of the year, there would be a quality arts event for them at Esplanade. We had three starting points – cultural festivals to serve the Malay, Indian and Chinese communities to celebrate festivals through the arts. We have about 15 festivals, 20 series and about 3000 performances per year, most free, some ticketed. Complementing what we do, we also have hirers that present community and commercially driven programs. We curate these programs so choosing a hirer is not a case of accepting the first through the door, it’s curated to ensure the calendar is balanced and there is a certain quality.
This curated program reinforces our identity as an arts centre dedicated to the community for which it is built. We originate content that is relevant to our lives. We retain full use of the different spaces. Having a resident company would require a lot of time and space so we could not present other types of shows or originate work. It would be limiting rather than beneficial. We opened the centre with several commissioned works. We try to open the minds of the audience by exposing them to a range of Asian work available on the world stage, by working with international artists and bringing the Asian voice to the world stage.
Art has the ability to open minds, the capacity to touch lives and to encourage its audiences to look deep inside. When a centre is a place that all can claim as its own, then it starts to do its duty. It can help us to develop a strong social consciousness. The articulation of a clear and strong voice will emerge. Centres can inform the social consciousness of its community.
Richard Evans, SOH – The reality is that venues around the world have become quite good at producing, but it’s really not our skill. Fundamentally we don’t create art ourselves, but it’s our responsibility to bring to the community a global cultural offering. We value the work of the resident companies but by their nature there’s a fois gras approach to force feeding the offering to the audience. A venue’s role is to balance that by presenting its own performances.
It’s a question of balance and in our case we’re moving towards a better balance. Our organisation went through feast and famine. We decided to get into producing very heavily some years ago with mixed results. To start with the House did not take any risk at all which resulted in a lot of dark days. The theatres were utilised about 56-57% when I came in as CEO. We’ve tried to get the balance back, to look at an interesting juxtaposition of ideas. We have six resident companies. Big commercial works are important but we’re a packager and facilitate, and that’s where we can add the most.
Alison Friedman (Ping Pong Productions) – In China venues were neither presenters nor producers but monuments to the state. That’s changing, representatives are here today looking for presenting and producing models. In what timeframe does your resident’s brand become your brand? This is new in China. Lot of these places are now rental houses, the government invests in the building but not the creation of the art or the people that run the buildings. Richard Evans – nature abhors a vacuum, but do we create a venue for companies to use, or build the venue and hope someone will fill it? The Sydney Opera House was built for symphony orchestras and opera came later, then theatre some years later again. It took quite a lot of time but the venue was not dark, it was always very busy. It varies so much in different communities. I think China is very exciting right now and the complex in Beijing is amazing and will have an impact on the whole city. Alison – in China, often if there’s a company they’ll often build their own venue and vice versa. If you have one, you’ll build the other.
Andrew Kay, Andrew Kay and Associates – I’ m an impresario, not a producer or a presenter. I use my own money, have no relationship to investors, do what I want to do when I want to, and do things that are interesting to me. I’m not based in any one city or centre but produce all over the world. I’ve probably presented in 300-500 centres around the world. This business is all about relationships, networks, the way you work with each other to build product. We have access to great artists and can deliver product that no-one else can deliver. Things can disappear overnight, we don’t want to wait to hear whether a venue is available after a month when the committee meets.
There followed a discussion about what the purpose of Esplanade on the Bay is – a community centre or arts centre? Benson Puah – if there is international recognition that’s just a benefit of our programming, not the reason that we program. If we don’t curate, all sorts of stuff gets in that my audience may not want. We need to develop trust with that audience, if you’re not seen to be a reliable venue then you’ll break faith with the audience. People will go to hear someone they don’t know because they trust the venue to do the right thing and give them something they will like. Every society will have its own model and this is ours.
Douglas Gautier, Adelaide Festival Centre – it’s a question of rebuilding and making connections and whether that’s with a resident company or commercial hirers, it’s not an issue of curation but the art of the possible, making it all click together. It’s a delicate balance.
Andrew Kay – there’s a debate in Australia about who the audience belongs to. When you present Richard III at Esplanade, whose audience are they? Esplanade, the company or the person who’s selling the ticket? I sell a ticket but I’m not allowed to have the details of the person who bought the ticket because that information belongs to the company that sold the ticket! Benson Puah – we’re protective of our image and our reputation but we want others to succeed. For Esplanade to succeed we need others to succeed. If we try to succeed at the expense of others we’ll be a destroyer, not a creator.
Alison Friedman – in China they’re looking for new models all the time, (not quite government, not quite public or private sector) – I had sabbatical at the Kennedy centre in the midst of the recession and everyone was looking for new models saying the old one was broken.
Douglas Gautier – we need to build constituencies and be there for the long haul.
Guarav Kripalani – it’s determined a lot by the age of the programmer. I was teaching and my students were super energised by someone I’d never heard of. They sold out on the first day they went on sale. Esplanade has a 20-something on their programming team.
Benson Puah – it’s not for us to impose our views or our taste. Programmers have to show things to a wide range of age groups. Social media is more powerful than we think, a different community and network that exists independently of what we are familiar with.
Arts Infrastructure breakout – Programming Arts Festivals
Moderator – Low Kee Hon, General Manager, Singapore Arts Festival, National Arts Council, Singapore
Keynote Speaker – Douglas Gautier, CEO/Artistic Director Adelaide Festival Centre, Australia
Panel – Lindy Hume, Festival Director, Sydney Festival, Australia; Jan Briers, General Manager, International Flanders Festival, Brussels and Vice President, European Festivals Association, Belgium; Atsuko Yashima, Senior Producer, Tokyo Jazz Festival, Japan; Wei Zhi, Vice President, Shanghai International Arts Festival, China
Keynote address – Douglas Gautier
There has been a recent study on the importance of festivals which makes comparisons of big international festivals with more generic or specific festivals. It includes general questions such as what role can a festival play in urban regeneration, and in the local and international establishment of infrastructure development? Why have festivals? Who calls the shots? How are the public and arts community involved in the program? What is the future of festivals in an increasingly busy event calendar?
Festivals can lead to the creation and enhancement of infrastructure to support the activities. For instance, the Adelaide Festival Centre, Festival Hall in London, Bergen, places in Asia. What will be the future demands of festivals for the buildings that we construct? What can venues do to actually generate festivals? Festivals provide a chance to focus, explore, celebrate, package and engage over a period of time with artist, ideas, audiences and communities. They offer a platform to take people to places they don’t normally go, to take risks – to do things you wouldn’t do at other times. A festival buzz can permeate a whole city/community. They can attract sponsors and tourists. The media gets behind festivals – reportage and partnerships. They provide opportunities for venue management to be involved. Creative and marketing partnerships can be a challenge for venues but a great opportunity for venue management to be involved in a creative way. Festivals are an experience. The intrinsic artistic worth of festivals is something we should think hard about – communities where great festivals are presented make the community feel good about themselves. Multicultural societies – festivals are a good platform for helping issues that arise in that context. Multiculturalism is very much something we face every day in this part of the world. There’s something to be said for festivals that have a lasting life, that are sustainable and take artists and audiences on a journey over a period of time. There’s a cumulative effect which is very precious.
Successful festivals are likely to become more genre specific. With large international festivals there’s a danger that they become a shopping trolley exercise were a circuit is created and one festival can look like another. But there are good examples of where that’s not the case. But when I look across the landscape, the more interesting areas to pursue are genre specific. It’s true that where we see critical mass working, where you have great success, hubs are created with networking opportunities creating opportunities for ideas and momentum, eg Edinburgh. There was a report recently released by Festivals Edinburgh – it’s terrific. Edinburgh’s success has been a model for many of us but they went through a difficult period about 10 years ago where they had to make clear the value of the festivals to the city. About 5 years ago the festivals came together to form Festivals Edinburgh, to position festivals within UK to seek critical mass, friends and influence. About 5 years ago they commissioned study called Thundering Hooves, a remarkable document. Apart from all the economic data that you’d expect ($245m contribution to Edinburgh as a city by festivals) it also emphasised how festivals play a starring role in the profile of the city, increasing local pride, widening access to the arts etc. Attending festival events as a family increased a child’s imagination etc. They offered benchmarking beyond purely financial impacts. They quantified the cultural, social and environmental effects on the city – best practice in the international events sector.
Adelaide is a small city whose main claim to fame and legacy over the years has been its ability to stage festivals of interest. We have looked at the Edinburgh model and thought hard about the festivals that we have and those we could create. Adelaide Festival Centre runs three festivals – a Cabaret Festival (which in the last couple of years we have sought to make more commercial, we’ve put in charge the well known cabaret entertainer David Campbell, which has taken the Festival to commercial heights to the point that it nearly pays for itself). The second is a Guitar festival, with Slava Grigoryan as Artistic Director . And the OzAsia Festival is exploring the links between Australia and the diverse cultures of our Asian neighbours. Connections with Asia are really important in Australia. We have great opportunity to look at these wonderful cultures in Asia and how we can learn from them and work with them. I looked at various landscapes in Australia in terms of work being carried out and saw some interesting work in Brisbane (eg Brisbane Triennale of visual arts) but couldn’t see collaboration between Asia and Australia that was like a hub, nexus, platform for that sort of cultural interaction. It seemed the time was right to start.
Asian communities are growing within Australian cities and we have second, third, fourth generation Asian Australians with a totally different dynamic. The OzAsia Festival presents work by Australian artists that identify with an Asian heritage, and collaborative work between Australian and Asian artists and a cross section of the cultures of Asia, both traditional and contemporary. We have a broad cultural reach including visual arts, dance, music etc. We encourage the participation of key national and international cultural and business organisations, and national and international performing arts groups, including flagship companies. We are building a constituency to make sure this has a forward dynamic. We would like to see it live and kicking in 20 or 30 years time.
Community involvement is very important, there are many free events and live discussions. The tourism side is also very important. We have cultivated strong media partnerships, particularly with SBS. We aim to be a platform for ideas about Asian engagement, and engage the education sector. Language is an issue – tuition of Asian languages in secondary schools and universities is declining. This is a key problem. We seek cooperation from foreign governments and Asian communities and foreign students, business and sponsors. In the end, though, one thing that has struck me in all of this is a quote from patron Hieu Van Le, Lieutenant Governor of SA. “Cultural engagement and the arts can help build bridges, understanding and tolerance like nothing else can”. He was a refugee, a “boat person” from Vietnam 30 years ago.
Low Kee Hong – moderator
A big issue is the relevance of festivals nowadays. The landscape in consumption is so different now. Edinburgh – in a lot of European festivals eg contemporary visual arts events, they create art along the lines of the cultural regeneration model. Art and craft becomes engaging to drive the economy of the city. Edinburgh is a quiet city outside of the festival period. In Singapore it’s a condition that’s very different, we can’t use cultural regeneration here – Singapore is built primarily on the economic model and thinking about art comes after thinking about the economy. In the last 10-15 years it has changed quite a bit. Esplanade on the Bay does 17 festivals per year, some are genre specific or ethnic specific. Does Singapore really still need an arts festival? What does it mean to have a national arts festival? There is a difference between big mega-festivals and genre specific ones. There is a shift/change in market and audience. Who is our audience? This is a grey space as we don’t have a handle on the full audience. How do we create a festival that is relevant to our city? I believe there is no single model that will work, you need to have something that changes.
I run a specific festival – a jazz festival in Tokyo. How do we create a new music festival in a city like Tokyo? It’s about to be our 10th anniversary, we were organised by the national broadcaster in Japan. The festival is held in the Tokyo International Forum, right in the heart of Tokyo, in front of central station and near the palace and business/shopping district. There is not a real residential community there. In 2002 we started the festival in a soccer stadium with 50,000 seats in the suburbs. Then we moved to an exhibition hall near Tokyo Bay, but found no local community in that area. We moved to the real centre of Tokyo thinking it was last place we could be. We’ve been running for 10 years and the constant challenge is to bring new audience/listeners to jazz, compared to old jazz fans who are used to going to jazz clubs and cafes. Most of the Japanese audience who go to festival events would have been men over 40. We wanted a festival where our own friends could come along, who don’t regularly listen to jazz but can find good talent through a festival opportunity. We have been holding free events in open spaces, inviting artists from different genres such as R&B etc. So far we have created a lot of young audiences who come and listen. The audience is now 40% women and a lot of the audience are below the age of 30.
Low Kee Hong
In some ways we are talking about not giving people what we think they want, but coming from the ground to put together a platform where younger bands can be introduced. What is the purpose and our role as curators and programmers? Should we program for audiences, meaning we cater to what the mass wants, or do we have a responsibility to start to push the boundaries and introduce different ways of thinking?
In Sydney, it’s a question of audience and relevance – what does it mean to redefine a festival? The idea of a festival’s identity – we should be creating festivals for our time and our place. Then we’ve got something to start with in an interesting sense of looking back to look forward. You’ve got a DNA in every place, and every festival has its DNA. You have to explore what that is and what it has been, and in the case of long term festivals like Sydney and Perth (coming up to 60th birthday), you have to look at what that means. It’s the same in any business – what a magazine was 35 years ago is not what an e-zine is now. We’re trying to be current and look at our time and place. Sydney festival’s DNA partly had an economic model because it was about creating energy in the deserted CBD in summer. It sure isn’t deserted now! Its’ whole reason for being is a festival for the people of Sydney. The slogan is “This is our city in summer”. It was as true in 1977 as it is now in 2012. It’s about looking at what that means here and now. We are a portfolio festival, not genre specific. We try to talk to a multiplicity of audiences and we are shamelessly populist and creating a festival for the people so not necessarily art first, it’s the audience first, and they tell us what our festival will be. The 2010 festival must not look like the 2011 or 2012 festival because our city is evolving, the hot spots and social issues are different. We must hold a mirror up to our city and that’s what our programming is about.
Low Kee Hong
That brings up the whole frame of consumption. There are booths next door with companies pitching their works to curators and festival directors. This is the whole business of the arts. I’m curious as to any platform like a fair where there is an intense circulation and discussion of art projects or commodities that are to be bought and sold and exchanged. It’s difficult to separate the parts of the festival. Within Australia you have multiple cities and competition is irrelevant – collaboration is more important. We want to be the first to present things, to discover things. In Europe theatre is a big established network of festivals, and funding is available through the EU.
What we are talking about here is in terms of one umbrella with so many different festivals. Our festival organisation has existed for 54 years and always we think we have to change it, because the landscape of the festivals is changing all the time. Originally it was the European Music Festival Association but today most of the festivals are arts festivals, not just music. Artists today want to work together with their colleagues to make all forms of art. We were happy when a few years ago we were at APAP and we learned from them. We saw that all those big festivals are not really in need of federation but are there to help the small festivals. For instance, in Flanders we have 280 music festivals. The top 10 have an audience of more than 5 million visitors so these big festivals have all the professionals, but they are there to help all the small ones.
Low Kee Hong
In Korea there are 6000 festivals. The Association of Asian Performing Arts (AAPA) started with friends who knew each other, who asked what we could do about changing the landscape. In Asia and Asia Pacific very different to Europe. We have a wide range of different festivals. What does it all mean when cities begin to evolve? At the end of all this perhaps it is not about questions of scale, or what is available for circulation. Perhaps it is the time to start thinking about the most fundamental questions that half the time we don’t ask enough – that is the place of the arts in our society. Being in the business we’re very caught up in it and we tend to forget that without the artists and the arts, all of us would not be sitting in this room. What does art mean in your own society? What is the fundamental?
Robert Baird (US/Canada) how do you balance curating a festival that might be putting something forward for art’s sake compared to money’s sake? Douglas – it’s always a balance. We have a festival that makes money and probably should do so (Cabaret) and I don’t think that’s a bad discipline. But with OzAsia festival there’s a lot of investment to be done, free work to be done, aspirational/audience building to be done. Investment is required. I’m fortunate that my trustees and management and the government are understanding so there’s a real endorsement of some of the work that we do having a public purpose, and that is a very important principle when we’re thinking about the landscape of various festivals and their aspirations. I wouldn’t anticipate that OzAsia would ever be a commercial enterprise unless it attracts the interest of corporates (Asian business in Australia and Asian business in Asia). Lindy Hume – when you have something of the breadth of the Sydney Festival, that’s a good example of high quality free events (half our budget) to shamelessly populist to indy bands etc. At the other end of the Festival, which we all focus on strongly because it’s probably the most challenging thing we do, where the element of risk is really high, development and commissioning of new work, genre collaboration and hybridity of artworks – it’s almost the norm now. The big, bold, hard, challenging ideas. Unless you express all those extremes within the festival portfolio you’re not doing your job or holding up the mirror to society. The government understand that the big ideas, risky stuff, needs to be part of that bigger, broader discussion. Jan Briers – you have to take risks but at the same time you have to have an audience. We didn’t change the program but we had a day where we brought all kinds of music to all the halls and we had 3000 people coming to those concerts but we changed the name and our strategy. The public went from one hall to another by boat, and the ticket was included in the cost of the concert. Now we have 10,000 people coming to those concerts. The government says it’s more commercial because of the numbers going, but we didn’t actually change the program.
CLOSING PLENARY – Culturenomics: Where to from here?
Keynote speaker – Michael Lynch, CEO of West Kowloon Cultural District Authority (WKCDA)
My role is to try and recap what has happened over last 3 days and formulate some thoughts about moving into the future. I was appointed CEO of West Kowloon last Friday.
Quote from Andre Malraux – it is important that as the people who are the custodians of the performing arts, that we have something that we hang this work on. Malraux said “art is what remains when all the rest is banished/vanished”. We must remember the important role that artists and the creation of art play. I have been appointed to West Kowloon to build 15 arts buildings on a 40 hectare estate on the water in Hong Kong because I’ve spent a lot of time working in arts organisations over a lot of years. I have experience in changing built-for-purpose buildings in the arts so they can adapt to different circumstances and changing audience expectations. We need to be thinking about more than the way arts venues have worked in our past experience. The big question that we have to ask is how they can work and be attractive to the audiences of the future. This is the biggest challenge – we now confront a very different world. Working in Asia is changing so dramatically and having a profound impact on the rest of the world – we are at a really important change point. The challenge of West Kowloon for me is that I’m interested in the role the arts play in a changing society and making society a more interesting place. I’ve found myself troubled over past few days thinking about a number of the venues that I’ve worked in the past and those I’m trying to create for the future. There are three venues that I think exemplify some of my dilemmas. This venue (The Sands Marina) is extraordinary but it makes me think hard about the future of the artforms I’ve worked in, as I watch a place like this unfold. Who are the audiences, what are they coming here for? Do I want to listen to classical music in a crowded foyer with taxis beeping? This venue challenges many of my notions about performing arts venues and how they work. This morning I visited Jack Ho’s new venue – a 5000 seat venue on the top of a building a couple of miles from here. There is no precedent, it makes you think really hard about what are the experiences an audience will have in a venue like that. What impact will that have on audiences and artists in this city over the course of the coming years. In 1809 a 300 seat Regency theatre in Bury St Edmunds was created. I’ve been looking at the future viability of a number of British arts organisations and I’ve been asked to come and help them survive. The Theatre Royal in Bury is very different compared to Marina Bay Sands and Jack Ho’s theatre because it has operated for 202 years and it is still functioning as a theatre. It just had a £10M renovation to take it back to what it was like in 1809. The experience of being in that theatre is extraordinary – the intimacy, acoustics, and relationship to the stage are all very special. It underscores the other message about the future. In my view performing arts facilities are places for performing and sharing the experience of performance. Live performance will continue to make sense in our society because of the social and intellectual connections that we make. At the heart of all performances are the creators – venues are there to realise the visions of the artists. At West Kowloon our driving consideration must be optimal conditions for artists to create their work. It is the creation of art that is what we as managers and administrators are here to achieve – we exist for the benefit of artistic creation and we want to make artists happy. Happy artists make for happy audiences and happy audiences make for happy arts administrators and happy arts administrators make successful arts precincts.
Over the course of this conference several key messages have been made – we’ve been talking a lot about venues and arts infrastructure. Tateo Nakajima from Artec Consultants has made an extraordinary contribution. His summation of how you build buildings, how you make sure the acoustics work – his message was that the client was the most important member of the design team. Similarly I thought that Richard Evans in his opening address did pose interesting issues. He talked about the big issues that are confronting venues and he has led the Sydney Opera House through big issues over the past 3-4 years. He has made an important contribution. I thought the contributions of Anthony Sargeant in talking about how a venue works and the things you need to do to make a venue work was an important distillation of the key things you need to take on board as you move forward if you’re looking at running a building or programming. What venues are about is creating unforgettable arts experiences to give people magical and transformative experiences. We must hold tight to that message. Provocations in terms of where we might go in the future – is it feasible for the world to just keep on creating more festivals? Should they start obliterating themselves or changing their own nature? There is the issue of cultural and community engagement – big issues in terms of what we’re thinking of in West Kowloon. The creation of new work – there is a radical approach by director of Singapore Festival, 50% new commissions, next year it will be 75%. Lindy Hume talked about the pressure that puts back on people, what happens if you haven’t got it quite right? The end of the big roof buildings – doesn’t mean they’re going to go away but is it acceptable to put a roof over everything and assume that that is the best way to organise the future of our business?
Here is some feedback for next Singapore Live conference – there are no women on this panel, there’s a bit of gender imbalance that probably needs to be addressed. We have to accept that the English, American and Australian perspective has been interesting in getting us to this point because of our histories in the development of both the artforms and the buildings, but what will be more interesting as we go forward is to listen to the perspectives of our Asian colleagues about what the next manifestation of the arts is going to look like once we’ve been through this period of ferment.