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Cultural Fusion | A Feature on ISPA's CEO as seen in International Arts Manager

Monday, July 23, 2012   (0 Comments)
Posted by: ISPA

Below is a feature on ISPA's CEO David Baile that was first published in Volume 8, Issue No. 10 in International Arts Manager. If you subscribe to IAM, you may log-in to view this issue here.

There can be few people in the performing arts landscape today that have such an omnipresent view as David Baile. As CEO of the International Society for the Performing Arts (ISPA) based in New York, he travels extensively to meet some of the sector’s leading figures across theatre, dance, opera and classical music. He joined ISPA in 2006 whilst working for Opera Atelier, and a year and half later became its CEO.

In addition to the January congress that takes place in New York, each June the organisation presents a mid-year congress in a host country – regions make a bid for the congress, and this is then presented to the programme committee who make recommendations to the board.

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‘We work on a cycle, we try to be at least three years ahead of the game,’ says Baile. ‘So right now 2012 is Korea, in 2013 we go to Poland, in 2014 to Colombia, and we’re currently working on 2015.’

ISPA is particularly interested in exploring the next generation of cultural capitals. ‘We’re increasingly trying to provide opportunities for the membership to visit regions with very strong cultural programmes, that they might not have had the opportunity to visit before.’

So why was the organisation attracted to the potential of Seoul in particular? ‘Over the past few years we have seen a real shift in focus from traditional western countries to a much greater interest in Asia,’ he explains. ‘Not only from an arts perspective but also economically and in terms of investment. Also we’re seeing a real shift in priorities in terms of trading between countries.

South Korea might well be being touted as a hotbed for the performing arts – and as a prime place to import and export work whilst western Europe is seemingly number crunching itself into the ground – but isn’t there a risk that Europeans might just, well, colonise art forms elsewhere?

‘That’s a broader discussion,’ says Baile, ‘because there’s certainly a canon of thought in parts of Asia that the focus of the attention and the resources should be going into promoting Asian artists and developing Asian artists – and not supporting traditional Western cultural forms – so without a doubt there is a contingent of that thought.’

He goes on to say that there is, however, a stronger belief in the importance of exchange. ‘That’s certainly one of the reasons we went to Seoul: as interested as they are in Korean artists, and as much investment as they’re making in terms of getting them out onto the world stage, they are also very interested in bringing artists in from other regions of the world, and not just from the West but from other parts of Asia as well.’

Work that can leap the language barrier is of particular interest: ‘Classical music is a western European art form and one that’s immensely popular in Korea. But there is also an emergence of contemporary dance, movement based work and non-text based theatre.’

Ultimately Baile does not agree that there is a risk of colonisation, but rather believes in the possibilities of cross-cultural fusion, a ‘cultural shift’. Artists, he says, are reworking traditional Korean stories and infusing these with contemporary movement; the East is taking modern Western influences and using them to revitalise their own legendary tales. ‘I think the concept of colonisation is being subverted,’ he says, ‘by the really interesting work that’s happening in those regions and by artists from that region.’

Another trend which does not apply uniformly to every region, and one of the issues that Baile currently finds most interesting about the arts, is the way in which technology and innovation is being used across the sector: ‘We’re seeing that it isn’t consistent in every region. What I’m finding fascinating is that what is considered innovative in one region may not be at all innovative in another.’

And whilst ISPA encourages performing arts companies to combat the challenges heading their way, Baile too benefits from the professional development the organization provides. ‘My access to these people, and travelling to see what’s happening in different regions, has vastly increased my knowledge and resource base. From that perspective I’ve grown tremendously as an individual as well as an arts professional,’ he says.

While member companies may not see immediate financial rewards, for Baile the progress of programmatic and artistic trade between members and regions is clear. ‘For instance, a number of members attended the congress in São Paulo in Brazil three years ago, and now we’re seeing presentations of Brazilian music and dance in other parts of the world. A greater interest had been generated – it was a bit of a slow burn, but ultimately it was a result.’