Making of ISPA's Mid-year International Congresses
Friday, May 6, 2016
A Short History
: a primer for ISPA’s international congresses
ISPA has held an annual congress in New York every year since 1948. However, in 1987, due to the inspiration of Joe Golden, ISPA held its first “international” congress in London. Approximately 200 delegates attended from 4 countries. The event was deemed a success and ISPA never looked back with one held the following year in Amsterdam. Throughout the 1990’s and into the 21st century the congresses were held in a variety of cultural capitals around the world but primarily in Europe and North America.
Expanding our world
In 2005, with the selection of Gateshead as the Congress city, ISPA made the leap to begin to move away from the world’s traditional cultural capitals and explore cities and regions that the membership may be less familiar with but yet had rich and developed cultural communities. The goal was to expand ISPA into regions that were not as well represented in the membership and also expand members’ knowledge and familiarity with cultural activities in a broader range of regions.
ISPA’s mid-year congresses differ from New York in that there is a focus on the region visited – its artists and art organizations. Generally every discussion will feature at least one speaker from the region so that we may get insight into the issues and challenges of the area visited. We also tend to define the “region” broadly. So far example, last year in Malmö, Sweden, the region included all the Nordic countries.
What’s in a name?
Initially referred to as ISPA’s “international” congress, this was changed with the acknowledgement that the congresses in New York were no less international in their participation. Labelled with a new moniker of ISPA’s “summer” congresses, this was changed when ISPA held its 2009 congress in São Paulo in the depth of Brazilian winter! Not to be deterred, we quickly renamed the congresses our “June” congress event. Five short years later we found ourselves in Bogotá, Colombia in April, when it was neither summer nor June. So, back to the drawing board, we now refer to these mid-year congresses once again as our “international” congress.
To the future!
This year we will be in Melbourne, Australia – our first visit to Australia in 15 years and first time in Melbourne (May 30-June 4, 2016). Hosted by Arts Centre Melbourne, the theme is Reimagining and we look forward to exploring many topics under this rubric as well as learning about Australia’s indigenous people.
2017 will mark our 31st International Congress and our 100th Congress since 1948. To be held in Montréal, it will be ISPA’s first visit to French Canada. Join us!
Hear it from the host
We asked four hosts from international congresses to give us some insight into the process of hosting the global arts community and the lasting impressions that ISPA has left on their region. Thanks to Anthony Sargent, CBE, host of the 2005 congress in Gateshead, UK; Claudia Toni, host of the 2009 congress in São Paulo, Brazil; Piotr Turkiewicz, host of the 2013 congress in Wrocław, Poland; and Maria Claudia Parias host of the 2014 congress in Bogotá, Colombia.
Hosting an ISPA congress
Hosting ISPA is no small feat as an international spotlight is shown on the creative community of the region, but the benefit of the congress is mutual – the ISPA membership is richer and more diverse with new voices contributing far beyond the duration of the congress, and the local community experiences lasting collaborations and a new reputation and notoriety among international colleagues.
Anthony: One of our key motivations was not just to entice several hundred of our global peers to Gateshead, but more generally by association with the immediate past hosts (Sydney, Singapore, Mexico City, and Berlin) to assert Gateshead’s fast-rising position on the global stage. Six months after opening we were enormously proud to host ISPA’s June 2005 congress. The result was everything we had hoped for and so much more: so many new global friendships, so many new partnerships, and an overnight transformation of our international positioning.
Piotr: I was very excited to explore the possibility of bringing an amazing group of creative arts leaders to our city. Equally important was the fact that Wrocław is still not recognized enough as a strong cultural capital on the European/world scene. You need to visit us to understand that beauty and cultural spirit of this place. It was a lot of work but in the end I think we achieved what we were planning - bringing a lot of new regional faces to the congress and showing the city and what we are doing in its best light.
Claudia: Now, Latin America is present in ISPA: we can see institutions and professionals represented in the membership. In my community we see better now the valuable side of building strong and loyal relationships with international peers.
Developing a congress theme
A major component of each congress is the theme. The theme anchors the conversations, and shapes the format of each event. The congress theme reflects what the host community values or wants to explore with the international arts scene.
Claudia: The theme “Brazil: Immersion in Diversity” was the reason for the first ISPA Congress in South America. Brazil is a rather unique instance in the world of the coexistence of cultural practices deeply rooted in the traditional and those that challenge the outermost frontiers of contemporary art.
Anthony: We offered ISPA’s Board and Program Committee a choice of themes reflecting our own positioning in ways we felt would make international sense. The eventual choice (of community engagement and education) proved prescient when they later became two of Sage Gateshead’s most globally admired signature successes, giving the congress a focused coherence of content.
Taking collaboration to the next level
The International Congresses provide the opportunity for collaborations that would never otherwise have come to pass. Though these partnerships are at times challenging, the result is always a spectacular once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Claudia: We put together more than ten institutions to make this event possible. Various partners left apart an old Brazilian tradition of working alone to make possible the congress and to start new partnerships.
Maria Claudia: This took us two years of committed serious work and demanded the creation of specialized committees. We created working groups made up by members of the cultural sector who donated their knowledge and time. We generated a communications campaign at a national, and international level, to stimulate among the participants, the wish to take part in the ISPA Congress. We created a scholarship program sponsored by the Ministry of Culture allowing the presence and participation of cultural managers from all around Colombia in the Congress.
Creating a one-of-a-kind congress
Each International Congress is unique – different from the New York Congress and a reflection of the local culture and values of that creative community. In choosing an International Congress location, the planning committee looks for elements that will give congress attendees an exceptional and enlightening experience.
Piotr: Wrocław is a very young city full of great creative people. It's also a very strong academic center. I hope that everybody who participated in the congress felt that energy. I want also to underline the importance of the ISPA Academy which was a very unique opportunity for younger generations to meet such an inspiring group of international guests.
Thanks again to our contributors for their insight into hosting the ISPA community. These great congresses are just a small sampling of the nearly 100 gatherings in ISPA history. Take a walk down memory lane through the picture gallery, and stay tuned for upcoming announcements about our international congress locations for 2018-2020!
Claudia: São Paulo is big but we achieved the goal of exploring an abundance of spaces and neighborhoods; and because we love eating and dancing together, the ‘paulista’ team prepared a beautiful party known as one of the best in the Congresses’ history.
Maria Claudia: There were several factors making the ISPA Congress in Bogotá a scenario of innovation. We modified the ISPA awards in several ways: those awarded were selected by popular voting through an alliance with the mass media and the participation of the Cultural System of Colombia. The gala dinner was an uncomplicated party at one of the most emblematic places of the Bogotá nightlife: Andres Carne de Res. These innovations have been an example for other ISPA congresses which have taken the case of Bogotá for inspiration.