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ISPA's Annual New York Congress - a meeting place where you discover the next great idea!

Tuesday, February 2, 2016   (0 Comments)

Why We Meet

In the age of smart phones, email, and video chats, it would seem that we are all closer than ever before; but nothing compares to the warm handshake of a new colleague or a friendly hug from a familiar but far-away friend. The ISPA Congresses are designed to take the industry conversations that are had in emails and phone calls into face-to-face interactions that foster exchange and new ideas. 

The ISPA Congress is primarily composed of three main parts: The Sessions, Networking and Social Events, and Pitch New Works. The Sessions are geared toward professional development where delegates hear from leading industry professionals on a variety of topics related to the Congress theme. The Networking and Social Events range from the formal Professional Exchange (ProEx) marketplace to more informal receptions and parties. Pitch New Works is the ISPA Congress signature program where artists in search of touring, commissioning, co-presentations or other collaborations present a new work to the delegates.

No matter what you’re looking for, the ISPA Congress is a great place to find your next great idea!

Best wishes,
The ISPA Team

A Short History of ISPA's New York Congresses

In fact, this article is poorly titled in that there is not a short history of ISPA Congresses – the first one was held in New York in 1948 and there has been one held there every year since with the exception of 1971 when it was held in Washington DC. Our most recent Congress, Performance! was attended by more than 550 delegates from 55 countries. Throughout the 1950s the annual meetings drew about 75 delegates from one country, the United States. In the mid-1960s delegates began attending from Canada but a true internationalization of the Congresses did not really begin until the 1990s with a significant diversification of attendees emerging in the 21st century. We now describe the delegation as representing the entire ecosystem of the performing arts with representatives from every genre and discipline and including festivals, presenters, performing arts organizations, artist managers, funders, competitions and other professionals in the performing arts.

Each Congress has a different theme which explores an element or aspect of global significance and interest in the arts. Recent themes include collaboration, leadership, and the arts as a change agent. Interestingly, many themes re-emerge over the years. The 1966 Congress theme was Business and the Arts: Can this Marriage Last? Forty eight years later (2014) the theme was Imagining a New Economy for the Arts – both exploring the business model of the arts.


While Congress themes may repeat themselves, Congress formats should not. As such, over the past five years we have continued to revisit the formats of the Congresses as well as the individual sessions. This year we held a formal (but fun) debate for one session while in another we introduced the “long table” format which is meant to emulate a discussion that might be held at a dinner party. Constant in our efforts is ensuring diverse voices on stage. This year more than half the speakers were women and 2/3 of the speakers came from regions outside the United States.

ISPA’s 2017 New York Congress will be co-chaired by Alicia Adams (The Kennedy Center) and Jude Kelly (Southbank Centre) from January 10th – 12th. We hope to see you there!

Hear it from the Planning Committee
Each Congress is shaped with the guidance of the Planning Committee led by two co-chairs and tasked with creating a theme and then building the sessions, events, and performances around it. But there are many different people that contribute to the Congress experience – the diverse list of delegates, sponsors, donors, fellowship participants, staff and Board – not to mention the panelists, moderators and performers who share their wisdom, experience and talents with us during the Congress.

We’ve asked the co-chairs of our most recent New York Congress Tim Brinkman and Shoshana Polanco, and long-time Sponsor Sarah Verge from Artifax to provide some personal insights into their Congress experiences.

Tim Brinkman

Tim Brinkman, Committee Co-Chair
Director, G Live, UK

"Packing up my papers, the Congress brochure and more business cards than you can shake a stick at in January 2015 my mind was already turning to January 2016. With Jackie Davis, I'd co-chaired our 2015 New York Congress which focused on leadership. ISPA CEO, David Baile, had asked me if I would serve again. This time Co-Chairing with Shoshana Polanco who'd been with us on our 2015 Planning Committee. That sealed it for me; I was on board.

We talked about recent themes which had all been very stimulating in their own way but were all very business oriented. We thought it was time to bring a focus onto the art at the heart of what we do. So the concept of New York 2016 ISPA Congress, Performance! was born.

We were lucky to recruit an excellent committee which began meeting every four weeks to shape the event and then to flesh out the content. Our committee spanned four continents and coordinating times wasn't easy. I felt a little guilty that being in the UK they were always timed around lunchtime; for Reiri in Tokyo, Catherine in Melbourne or Shoshana in Mexico it wasn't so convenient!

When it came to the week of the Congress I couldn't believe it had come around so quickly. Before I knew it I was packing my bag again with another sheaf of business cards. Again, I experienced the warm glow that only the stimulation and camaraderie of an ISPA Congress can create. It was great to be part of making it happen.

Here's to next year!"

Shoshana PolancoShoshana PolancoShoshana Polanco, Committee Co-Chair
International Producer, La Teatreria, Mexico

"When David asked me to co-chair the New York 2016 ISPA Congress with Tim Brinkman, I certainly felt overwhelmed but also full of excitement. It was a first-time experience for me, so knowing that Tim was part of the process, plus David and the great ISPA team, made me feel confident that I could manage the job. We had a great planning committee. Reiri Kojima, Catherine Jones, Julia Glawe, Luiz Coradazzi, and Eugene Downes gave so much of their time and great ideas.

I was definitely nervous when the Congress began on January 12th, and more so because I had the big responsibility of introducing our great keynote speaker, Laurie Anderson, but once again, the great community that ISPA is, made me feel at home - the same feeling I had the first time I joined as a Fellow in 2014.

I am very happy about the results of our work. The speakers and moderators were so inspiring. I very much look forward to Melbourne where we will certainly learn a great deal about the region and where we will continue discussing and thinking around the ideas that move, challenge, and inspire us."

Sarah VergeSponsor's Perspective

Sarah Verge, ISPA Congress Sustaining Sponsor
Managing Director, Artifax Software

Artifax is a long-standing and proud sponsor of the ISPA Congress, the premier multi-discipline and multi-national development and networking event for performing arts professionals.

"The Congress is a unique opportunity for Artifax to understand the needs of people who manage performing arts venues and events in a wide context. The Congress isn’t a trade show or sales event per se, but instead an opportunity to build visibility for the Artifax brand and to connect with both decision-makers and those at the coal-face. It is the perfect forum for us to share our story and ideas, as well as listen to those of others. Sponsoring the Congress has given us invaluable exposure to all aspects of the performing arts sector that forms the core of our business.

My personal experience of the Congresses has been overwhelmingly positive. I’ve been particularly struck by the warmth and welcoming nature of the mutually-supportive ISPA community. Sharing, discussing and debating the challenges and opportunities facing us all is an inspiring and uplifting experience, with conversations continuing well beyond the Congress.

Founded in 1986, Artifax provides venue and event management software designed to meet the specialized needs of people who manage any type of performing arts centre, festival, museum, conference venue, visitor attraction or place of worship. Today, Artifax Event is the backbone of hundreds of organisations around the world, handling all aspects of space-related bookings and tour scheduling."


In Delegates' Own Words

Here are some snippets of social media posts made by the delegates of the New York 2016 ISPA Congress:


View the entire hashtag feed #ny16ispa on Twitter.

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