Mario Garcia Durham, CEO of the Association of Performing Arts Presenters, On 2014 Conference, Surrealistic Expo Hall

Mario Garcia Durham, president and CEO of the Association of Performing Arts Presenters which is holding its annual conference this weekend in New York City.

On first blush, the 57th annual Association of Performing Arts Presenters (APAP) conference, which opens today in New York City and runs through Jan 14, might not seem like it holds much relevance for the more mainstream music industry. The event's plethora of curators, high-brow performance art centers (PACs) and artists that includes symphonies, dance troupes and theatre orgs won't necessarily be at this year's Coachella or SXSW. 

But dig a litter deeper and you'll realize that a healthy portion of the millions of dollars that each year changes hands here among its 3,500 "arts professionals" is increasingly going to the more mainstream music business. Bands represented by agents from from CAA, WME and Windish, who all have booths at the festival, as well as rock, country and indie-minded acts themselves come here to help to fill-up the schedules of the traditional performance arts centers your parents and grandparents in Dubuque are buying yearly subscriptions to.


It's here, that curators from performing arts centers from Dubuque to Los Angeles and beyond take in over 1,000 showcases by performers from across the globe looking to spend their public and private funding on entertainment for their venues and communities.

The conference floor at APAP is like nothing you have ever seen (photo gallery from 2013 here). Here, in almost a Fellini-like atmosphere, Chinese acrobats, magicians, insect performers (see below) and Russian ice dancers man booths in an attempt to get valuable PAC bookings.

What also adds to the conference's allure is that other festivals associated with APAP run concurrently showcasing great music and other arts. This includes globalFEST, which features a wide-range of burgeoning world music acts from across the planet and the Winter Jazzfest, a platform for innovative, cutting-edge jazz performances.

Billboard caught up with the president and CEO of APAP, Mario Garcia Durham who helped explain what this utterly fascinating event and surreal expo hall is all about. 

Billboard: What's the weirdest thing you've seen at the APAP Expo Hall? 
Mario Garcia Durham: I think it was a pair of identical twins dressed in very sexy and bazar outfits -- it was very interesting...

An artist in the 2013 APAP Expo Hall applying her make-up for Verdi's "Rigoletto," which has been adapted by the Peking Opera as "The Jester" at APAP. (Photo: Andy Gensler)

What’s interesting about the Performance Arts Centers you reprsent, much like NPR and the NYT in recent years, is that they’re now bringing in contemporary and independent music to the uptown opera houses and audiences, is that an accurate assessment?
Within our association, that’s been an ongoing discussion regarding the need to open up our houses to all sorts of music. The arts that are physically presented by non-profit organizations are not necessarily always reflective of all of the art world, especially with younger generations and bands performing. There's been a lot of discussion about breaking down the barriers so that all types of art can go in art centers and the kind of art that everyone enjoys. It's been a very nice discussion. You see a trend of presenting all sorts of music, a lot of crossover, new models, a lot of performances focused on next generations. It’s a good trend.

At the same time you see major agencies like WME, CAA and some of the biggest management firms  there, too. I'm guessing the range of deals at APAP can range from hundreds of dollars to the hundreds of thousands of dollars
Yes that’s part of the reason I've been coming to the conference for 20 years. I worked in San Francisco at the Yerba Buena Center for over ten years and then at the National Endowment For the Arts and then took over this organization a couple of years ago and that's what I actually love about it -- the joy of presenting. I know I like this or that sort of performance that's very low brow and I also love this that is very high brow and symphonic--all the different forms. And that's the beauty of presenting, you have the full-range you're not just focused on one type of discipline, that's what i really enjoy.

What’s the size of the average venue associated with APAP? 
The vast majority of our members are small to mid-size and it's so cool seeing everyone gather and the range of taste.. And i love al of it, from the [extremely accessible] types of performances all the way to esoteric that you'll only see here in New York, for example.

You also have panel discussions that caught my eye was called "Dancing Our Way Through the Affordable Care Act."
A discussion that’s been going on for a little while is the need for arts administrators and organizations to look at the entirety of artists as far as their whole being, not only the art they're producing, but their quality of life and how they navigate through life. It's our role and responsibility to help artists both while they re on the stage and off the stage. The discussion is about the fact that artistes will need to have health insurance as we move into this year and so it's a creative title for a very practical session very important to artists.


Bug Lady Annie Hickman in a praying mantis costume during 2013's APAP Conference who, along with her husband Balloon Man Allynn Gooen, runs The Love Bug's Hug of Chestnut Ridge, NY, at APAP. Andy Gensler

With 45,000 attendees each year, a reported $26.9 million generated for the New York economy, 1,500 showcases, how much revenue is generated from this event for APAP?
Those numbers are and estimated aggregate from all the festivals and conferences for performing arts administrators that occur here in January so you have our conference, as well all the different tests such as Under the Radar, Global Fest, Winter Jazz Fest, Focus Dance. For APAP, we generate—it's a major line item in our budget—over a million dollars that we look to generate at this conference, but that's just APAP alone. Our total organizational budget is five million. So it's a major revenue source for us. The rest comes from grants, services and programs we have as well as our membership.

How big is your membership?
We have 1,500 members right now. They're primarily organizational members which represent a lot of individuals but we also have individual memberships and some artist memberships, but we have about 5,000 individuals who are recognized and associated with APAP through the organizational memberships.

What's major services does APAP perform?
We're basically a service, advocacy and trade organization. As far as service that's a part of our professional development working with our members in the field and getting feedback about what arts administrators need, what the leaders of the arts centers need and what artists needs. Advocacy—we're part of a group called the Performing Arts Alliance, which is all the national performing arts service organizations, there's about 15 members including Opera America, the league of American Symphony Orchestras and we all meet. We have a governmental affairs group that goes to Capitol Hill to lobby about white space issues and issues relevant to our fields. And finally there's the trade organization -- that's what you picked up on in the exhibit hall, that's what it's about: artists need resources.  Often in the past, arts organizations shied away from money, but basically we're a trade organization, it's important for artists to be booked around the country, that's what we're about. Booking artists, making sure they are presented to audiences around the county and the world.

What advocacy issues are you currently focusing on?
One ongoing one is the importance of arts education, we're always trying to join together with our allies in the arts education field to really stress the importance of that because we benefit from individuals who are exposed to the arts early on when they become audience later on so it's really critically important. Another big issue is the charitable deduction contribution, there's been a number of articles questioning the value of our current system of individuals getting tax deductions for contributions to non-profit organizations. The arts field is deeply impacted by contributions that are given. There's been some questioning of that and we're really monitoring that very closer because that's the lifeblood to many of our organizations.

What about the lack of public funding for the arts?
It is totally on our agenda. What people don't realize, is that the NEA is not only an important funding program but it's symbolic. In studies that have been done it shows that for every dollar you are rewarded an NEA grant is matched 8 times in various ways because it is very prestigious even though the amount of money may not be so much. Another fact is that 40% of the NEA endowment budget goes to states. If it goes what it does is sends a signal that art is not a priority and that can result in action of states saying, “Well, the NEA is gone why do we need to have  a state arts agency?” It's a very important issue and we do follow it very closely.

Do you work with the Recording Industry Association?
I haven't directly, I would imagine some of our members do. I haven't in my career.

Tell me about some of your new initiatives this year?
Because of the business we bring to the hotels, we are able to give certain benefits to our members. Some of that includes being able to use the hotel facilities not only during our conference but prior to our conference. So we have allowed our pre-conference days to serve as incubators for other projects. For example, the Under the Radar Festival, it's fantastic, but that actually started off under the umbrella of APAP and it just grew so strong it's now an independent entity. We still work with them we love them. What's happened with Jazz Connect, is that we're working with the jazz guild and we have had them under our umbrella. Last year  they had over a 1,000 people show up here for our pre-conference session -- which is great because you don't have to be a member of APAP to show up to those, they're open to the public. As a result next year they are gong to leave the umbrella of APAP and have heir own event. And we're looking right now at the World Music pre-conference with Dimitri Vietze of Rock, paper Scissors Inc who has a set of dynamic meetings and if that continues to grow it'll go off on it's own, too.

Two annual music events that run concurrently with the APAP conference.

It’s amazing you encourage separate festivals to autonomously operate within your event?
You have two schools of thought – some who say we must just focus on our own and this is our secret and this is what we are doing. But I'm from the complete opposite, which is no, the more that we assist other organizations and the more that we all work together the better it is for all of us. And that's manifested in these initiatives. working together with the other seven festivals.