Why January is the best time to be in New York
I’ve tended to think of January as the month when music industry executives disappear to a Caribbean island whilst the rest of us hibernate and make use of a quieter than usual time to prepare for the big new year ahead. Thanks to a last minute trip a few weeks ago, my view on this has changed. I’ve now seen for myself that in the coldest and darkest months of the year, New York is teeming with nearly 50,000 performing arts professionals from across the globe who are attending what is now branded as ‘January in NYC…’ . Artists and “cultural workers” (as the Americans call us), embrace sub-zero temperatures to sample a smorgasbord of showcases, festivals and industry gatherings which take advantage of better than usual hotel and flight deals to create an off-season performing arts mecca; one which “gives a glimpse into the future of the field“.
I decided to join this intrepid cultural crew because I wanted to attend the ISPA Congress, sample some of the showcases at APAP, Globalfest and Winterjazz and compare notes with colleagues in American trusts, foundations and development agencies on how we fund music on different sides of the Atlantic. I also had a chance to enjoy the live music scene in New York and to meet with colleagues from the New York Phil, Carnegie Hall and League of American Orchestras in anticipation of a panel I’m chairing at the ABO conference on 30th January about orchestras’ programming of contemporary music.
So what did I get out of my new year expedition? One of the most rewarding aspects was being able to see how UK artists lead the way even when thrown into what many consider to be the world’s most exciting city for music and art. Gabriel Prokofiev’s contribution to a panel about the role of independent artists in creating new scenes and reaching new audiences was a much talked-about highlight of the ISPA congress. Gabriel also managed to pull off a last minute Non-Classical gig in Brooklyn the night before. Folk artist Sam Lee, who we funded to showcase at Globalfest was a hit with the US audience even if conditions (sound, stage, heat, size of room) were a bit of a challenge. And when I left the official showcase circuit to immerse myself in the live music scene downtown, I was blown away by Savages‘ performance at Mercury Lounge – part of an underplay tour exciting fans with the intimacy and buzz of each gig.
Alongside all these gigs and showcases, another refreshing discovery I made is that increasingly, organisations who support music in the US are developing risk-taking and entrepreneurial approaches to artist development (though music funding is mainly restricted to anything other than pop for the moment). There also seemed to be a general understanding that any funding process should start and end with the artist because it’s their work that we’re all here to nurture and promote. Creative Capital – founded by trailblazer Ruby Lerner – has taken lessons from venture capital business models to combine carefully monitored investment packages with tailored support for individual artists, community building via retreats, public engagement via their digital platforms and a close relationship with the promoters who present projects they fund. The well-resourced Duke Charitable Foundation has partnered with Creative Capital to establish the life-changing Doris Duke Artist Awards which give up $275,000 to support the career development of individual artists working in jazz. They also support the MAP fund which enables artists to pursue “extravagantly creative impulses” and fund artist residency opportunities which help cultural organizations attract new audiences. And finally, the ever evolving New Music USA combine funding for composers with New Music Box, a digital platform, as well as Counterstream Radio. The huge demand for New Music USA’s funding is not dissimilar to our own situation at PRS for Music Foundation and I love the way they’ve concluded that the rigour of their selection process means that they can “Reimagine support for artists as an act of curation.”
Wrapped around all these meetings and events, the final thing I took home with me from my week in wintry New York is perhaps the most important memory: a reassuring spirit of collaboration, connectivity and interdependency as the news about tragic events in Paris continued to roll on CNN. The people I met from all over the world were keen to make connections, get stuff done and learn from each other’s experiences. To enable more people to attend this global gathering, ISPA runs a fellowship programme to encourage emerging leaders to get involved. Other organisations, including several that PRS for Music Foundation has supported in the UK, simply recognise the value of this event as a place where you can discover new work, get lots of meetings done and potentially reduce the number of other far flung trips you need to do later in the year.
So in January 2016, if this sounds like something that would be useful to you, don’t be put off by the images of the North East Storm that’s currently gridlocked the US. You might be lucky like I was and when you get back you’ll definitely return inspired, armed with ideas and new contacts for the year to come. Get in touch if you want to find out more…