Atlantic Canada may be just past the halfway point of the much-maligned winter season, but in Halifax, N.S., thoughts of many are focused squarely on the festival season ahead.
Now in its third year, the ShiftChange: Festival Perspectives from Atlantic Canada and Beyond conference, an initiative of the Atlantic Presenters Association, was born in response to the rapid growth of festival presenters within the APA’s ranks. The three-day conference has quickly become a critical fixture in the region’s industry, tasked with the goal of helping further the development of the festival-presenting sector in Canada’s most eastern provinces.
“The APA supports over 100 theatres and festivals across Atlantic Canada with 45 of them being festival organizers. We recognize that while the needs of both segments of the membership are somewhat similar, there are unique challenges facing festivals,” says Kate Gracey-Stewart, the Atlantic Presenters Association’s Director of Programs.
As the only conference of its kind in the Atlantic region, delegates were quick to snap up the approximately 75 available spaces for this year’s gathering.
ShiftChange’s programming this time around includes keynote addresses from Mike Morrison (Mike’s Bloggity Blog), an influencer and advocate marketing discussion with Halifax Pop Explosion programmer James Boyle, tips on maximizing website exposure, fundraising and more.
Given the tightly-knit nature of the East Coast arts industry, the Atlantic Presenters Association plays a crucial role in bringing together major players and the programmers looking to fill up their venue’s schedule. ShiftChange is just one of many initiatives that the APA conducts throughout the year to ensure the arts maintain a strong presence in the region.
Next month, the APA’s Professional Development Series will be holding a one-day session on Breakthrough Marketing, a session offering contemporary marketing knowledge as well as practical marketing know-how.
In June, the Atlantic Presenters Association is partnering with the Atlantic Public Arts Funders to present Petapan: First Light Indigenous Arts Symposium, while in September, the organization’s hallmark event, Contact East, will be held in Charlottetown, P.E.I.
Founded in 1975, Contact East was designed to enhance the presenter’s knowledge of the field via showcases, public speakers, professional development sessions, and networking with peers from around the Atlantic region.
With music, comedy, dance and other arts on the table, Contact East provides an essential experience for delegates, comprised of Canadian and international showcasing artists, performing arts presenters and managers, as well as agents from regional, national and international levels.
“Contact East arose because presenters from the East Coast saw the need to put an event like this together,” Gracey-Stewart says. “There’s strength in numbers and a lot of knowledge to be shared among presenters in the region. Many of our members curate their seasons based on a specific mandate, the organization itself, and the needs and wants of their community.”
The benefit of an event like Contact East, she says, is that it helps organizations find new ways to engage their audiences.
It’s not uncommon, Gracey-Stewart says, for a showcasing Contact East artist to land a 14-date tour in the season following their conference appearance.
“Typically, if three or more APA members are interested in a show or performance, we will often assist with routing the artist to those markets, and potentially others, in the region. That’s one gratifying thing that comes from Contact East is that we’re able to see the ROI from event showcases immediately.”
All the above isn’t to insinuate that the East Coast arts industry is without its challenges. Among APA members, Gracey-Stewart says the most consistent problem she hears has to do with a lack of resources in the region.
“We have many venues that are staffed by just a couple of people or volunteers who are putting on these shows and concerts outside of their 9 to 5 jobs. We hear that often, that people feel they are stretched a little too thin on the organizational side of things. But fortunately, they are also among the most passionate arts advocates out there, and so they find a way to make it work,” she says.
“And where possible, we are always happy to step in to help fill whatever gaps we can. The network is incredibly supportive of one another. There is never any disagreements about who gets what show; the presenters don’t see it as competition; they believe that one venue’s success is everyone’s success.”