The Australian Performing Arts Centre Association (APACA) recently held their 29th annual conference at Carriageworks which, for the first time, included the Performing Arts Exchange (PAX) – an opportunity for presenters and producers to come together in a new format at the only national touring market for 2015.

During the two days of PAX, delegates enjoyed a high quality program of pitches, performances, curated conversations, professional development sessions and networking opportunities. Queensland was very well represented with companies and artists like The FARM, Circa, Queensland Theatre Company, Casus Circus, JUTE, Imaginary Theatre, and Linsey Pollak flying the flag.  There were plenty of other Queensland producers who attended and worked the networking sessions hard.

Mobilise: Creating Momentum brought together members, colleagues, policy makers, international, national and local key speakers to provoke, explore, and debate how we revitalise our sector and our practice. The conference explored mobilising organisations, teams, venues, community, audiences for Indigenous work, and the industry.

Outside, Sydney turned on truly spectacular weather, and inside, delegates were treated to a series of excellent presentations by speakers from across Australia and abroad.  Michael M Kaiser is known in arts management circles as the ‘Turnaround King’ for the incredible transformational effect he had on organisations like the Royal Opera House (UK), Kennedy Centre (USA) and the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater Foundation (USA).

His inspirational opening keynote address challenged delegates to consider the quality of the work they’re creating, the marketing they use to promote the company and the show, the challenge of building audiences in the future and keeping the board of directors engaged and effective.

Australia Council used the conference as an opportunity to release its new report Building Audiences: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Arts which contained some amazing statistics about Australian’s interest and connection with art and performance by Indigenous artists and companies.  A panel discussion followed with Lydia Miller (Australia Council), Rachael Maza (Ilbijerri Theatre), Rhoda Roberts (Sydney Opera House), and Guy Boyce (Mandurah Performing Arts Centre, WA) about the challenges and opportunities of programming this work in performing arts centres. The take-home message was that rather than viewing this work as ‘risky’ to the box office, there is actually a definite appetite from audiences. The challenge is how to use marketing and community effectively to draw audiences into the experience.

Another impressive presentation was by Jess Miller from Goody Two Shoes about mobilising community. As an activist, social media consultant and project manager, Jess has spent most of her career using the internet to get people off the internet. She suggested asking why would people care and why would people share should be the first test of what you post online and why. Jess also explored some simple principles for activating communities including: embracing big ideas, making design work for you, throwing out the rule book, and making fun a prerequisite, and fostering an active empathy to make audiences want to connect. All really simple ideas with powerful outcomes.

To round off the whole event, everyone gathered for the closing dinner and announcement of the Drover Awards. It was a great night to be a Queenslander with Shake and Stir’s tour of 1984 (coordinated by Artslink) winning Tour of the Year and Mackay Entertainment and Convention Centre picking up Touring Venue of the Year.  Children’s theatre company, Monkey Baa was awarded Touring Legend of the Year for their ongoing contribution to national touring.

Sincere thanks and congratulations to Bronwyn Edinger and the APACA team for presenting such a fine event. It was meticulously planned and very enjoyable for everyone there.

Thanks also to Arts Queensland for their support to get Quensland producers to the event so they could pitch and present.