1987-1988: Ivan Sygoda, Pentacle
I’ve been assigned the pleasant task of recounting, or at least ruminating upon, the history of NAPAMA on the occasion of our organization’s 20th anniversary. By virtue of having been present at the creation, I am assumed to be the repository of information worth sharing about the who, what, where, when and why of the enterprise. Alas, I am the dimmest of historians. My memory is a sieve. My sense of time is warped. I remember causes as effects and vice versa. I forget names. Nor can I look them up, since I discarded many relevant files in the great office cleaning binge of 1994. Perdu à jamais? Yes, at least until I happen upon some magic Madeleine that will make it all whoosh back up from the dank repository of such things. Or until John Gingrich remembers for me.
Nevertheless, images from the past do well up, and they are mostly images of the Resource Room. And NAPAMA meetings at booking conferences about the Resource Room. When one reflects on it a bit, this makes perfect sense. To use an energetic expression, the Resource Room is where the rubber meets the road. It’s where our idea of the business encounters the reality of the business. It’s the mirror in which our intentions are reflected back as our actions. If you’re in one kind of mood, think Allegory of the Cave. If you’re in another kind of mood, think No Exit. No wonder they call it the Pit!
An early memory, from at least twenty years ago: The Pit feels humongous, and I feel very small. I hardly know anybody. We dance managers cling to one another like dateless teenagers at a high school dance. The "big" presenters only talk to the "big" managers. The rest of us talk to ourselves. They seem so distinguished and experienced, these important managers and agents. They’re smooth, suave and sophisticated. Their artists are actually famous. They sponsor hospitality events that must cost as much as my cousin’s Bar Mitzvah. But at a meeting they are complaining vociferously. They can’t read names on badges. They can’t distinguish managers from presenters. The hall is so poorly lit one can’t even see the displays. There’s no traffic, no respect. It costs too much. It isn’t worth it. There has to be a better way.
In some perverse way, this was a comfort. I had thought it was just me and my own inexperience and ineptness, and so I tagged along eagerly as my (then) elders and (still) betters pooled their energies and established the National Association of Performing Arts Managers and Agents. We spent many hours the first few years promulgating lists: of things the convention planners did wrong, of ways to do it right. To hear some people talk, you’d think there was a plot against managers.
Scan forward twenty years. Some things haven’t changed. Sometimes I still can’t read the name badges, but now it’s because I left my bifocals in my other jacket. They still won’t take phone calls, but at least I’ve learned not to take it personally. And my mother still can’t explain to her girlfriends in Florida exactly what it is I do for a living.
But many things have changed, and for the better. Thanks to the collective efforts of NAPAMA and the individual energies of its members...
We have made our voice not only audible but indispensable in the national and regional forums that govern important parts of the arts marketplace. We have been accepted as full voting members of the organizations that matter to us, and NAPAMA members have been elected to their governing boards. NAPAMA liaisons help plan every meeting. Conversely, presenters participate on NAPAMA’s board.
We promulgated guidelines for ethical behavior that embrace most of our business relationships and that most of the field seems to have embraced in turn.
Our advocacy efforts have helped pierce the carapace of such bureaucracies as the INS. Our collective ability to marshal facts and wield clout has helped ensure a freer flow of artists across borders.
Acting in concert, we have been able to reduce the costs of doing business for our members and increase our efficiency.
In Joanne Rile’s apt formulation, we have truly become "the collegial voice in a competitive business."
Most important, perhaps, in achieving these things, we have empowered ourselves to bring the full depth and breadth of our arts knowledge, passion and experience to the table. A generation ago (yes, it’s been a generation), we could fulminate about getting no respect. Now, as we enter a new century and millennium, we’re proud to march arm in arm with all our colleagues: presenters, funders and service providers, in common service to the performing and creative artists we all cherish.
It was a time of transition in the field. In retrospect, the changes were more wrenching than it felt at the moment because we were focused on details and symptoms. For the metaphorically inclined, we were tripping over tree roots and didn’t always see the forest changing around us.
We spent a great deal of time and energy sparring with conference organizers about what more of us now see as minutiae - name badge parameters, booth lighting and décor, schedules, lists and access. Of course, a lot depended on who was doing the seeing, and how vocal they were. "Aye," to quote the bard, "there’s the rub."
Here’s my take on the forest, grossly simplified: In the beginning, before even my time and before the primacy of the non-profit model fostered by the NEA, the field was defined by rather powerful and very knowledgeable and experienced classical music agents who controlled access to world-famous artists that important presenters needed in order to attract audiences hungry for "culture" and willing/able to pay for it. That world has changed since then, not overnight but faster than the speed at which coastlines change. The titans (and I use the word admiringly) were slowly being disempowered by evolutions in demographics, taste and cultural delivery systems, and they did what most good people do in similar circumstances: They felt threatened and disrespected and worried they were less relevant than before. One of the reasons NAPAMA was established in the first place was to claim collectively the respect only some of us felt we were accorded individually. I remember clearly one of our early clarion calls: "Why won’t they use us as the resource we are?" (Plus ça change, eh?)
I won’t name names (I can’t remember some of them, anyway), but there was testiness and, here and there, unseemly bits of desperation. (I do remember that fellow whose wife was a pianist!) The marketplace felt chaotic. The rules seemed unclear. This is more or less when we began to think about a code of ethics for ourselves. We managed to take the high road and it proved the wisest strategy. I take no special credit; these kinds of sea changes can only happen if we all work together. If I had a bit of a leg up, it was because Pentacle was non-profit and our dance artists were not (ahem) the most lucrative offerings in the Pit, I mean Resource Room. (It would be illuminating to examine the euphemisms we have adopted over the years to designate that piece of real estate.) I was a nice guy and unthreatening, so far as I know. If Arts Presenters was going to put a Manager on its Board, which it finally did, I was perhaps the least contentious choice. We were all proud of all of us, as I recall, and we all rose to the occasion together.