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U-M Student Bennett Stein’s Reflection on the Arts Presenters Conference

Wowzer! I think I am still recovering from the APAP Conference earlier this month. That is–“Ay-Pap” or the Association of Performing Arts Presenters, but, really, there was not enough time that weekend to say the full organization’s name all the way through. So, APAP. APAP is the big industry organziation for UMS and its friends in the field.  For the APAP Conference weekend, UMS and its peers take over the New York City Hilton and, well, the rest of the city.  This year and last, as a UMS intern, I was able to get in on the fun too.  For four days – January 7-10–I ran, subway’d, and cab’d around full speed to a never ending schedule of volunteering, artist showcases, and big concerts.  Sometimes we ate and sometimes we slept.

As a student intern, I was able to attend the conference free in exchange for early morning, half-dazed, half days of volunteering.  The organizers had more volunteers than they knew what to do with so I did a lot of hanging, shmoozing, and coffee drinking while I was on duty.  One morning they had me at the Information Desk- the perfect place for me to pretend like I was important.  All I needed was a headset and a clipboard and I could have been the president or something.

When I wasn’t on volunteer duty, the pace was hectic, in the best way possible.  During the day, the conference is a frenzy of the top arts leaders in the world.  It is an amazing energy of creativity and intellect–but it is also terribly overwhelming!  One afternoon, UMS President Ken Fischer led me around the Resource Room.  It would have been almost as scary as it sounds if I hadn’t had Ken as my guide.  The Resource Room is three full expo hall floors of 6×4 ft. booths of artists and artist managers that want to be presented.  Ken and I braved the madness, and I was able to meet some amazing people, doing amazing things in the arts.

As has already been posted on this blog, Ken then went on to be presented the industry’s top honor, the Fan Taylor Award.  This award and the APAP Conference was important for me–an Ann Arbor kid, who moved down the street to the University of Michigan–because it presented an appreciation and admiration of UMS that lived outside of me and my Ann Arbor community.  While UMS is presenting performances to the University and Ann Arbor community, the organization is collaborating with, learning from, and, often, leading a larger community of performing arts presenters.

Outside of the conference walls, I hustled around New York with a crew of UMS staff and former interns.  We saw over 20 performances in four days.  The city just goes nuts for APAP.  Dance showcases all day long: Shen Wei, Armitage Gone!, Ragamala, and my super-fave Gallim, to name a few; Winter Jazz Fest for two nights in five clubs in the East Village with Steve Coleman, Nels Cline, Robert Glasper, Chris Dave, Charles Gayle, Ann Arbor’s own NOMO, and more and more; The Public Theater’s Under The Radar Festival: a series of new theater productions from around the world; The American Realness Festival: weird/interesting/challenging dance and performance art at Abrons Arts Center; gah, so much more! Bluegrass with the Punch Brothers, marching band musicianship with the Asphalt Orchestra, and on and on. It wasn’t all good (one company wore flame-patterned unitards and danced to a Steely Dan tune.  We were sitting in the front row in a smallish studio. I held in all laughs until we could leave, I promise), but it was a pretty unreal blast of art.

So, yeah, I think I am still tired.  The APAP Conference and New York again reminds me of the importance of the arts in our society–art is not an extra thing, rather it is integral to our daily lives–and the invaluable contributions of UMS to our community and the larger arts world.