Home     Content     Articles      La Scena Musicale     Search   

La Scena Musicale - Vol. 16, No. 4 December 2010

CINARS 2010: Exporting Canada's Performing Arts

by Philip Ehrensaft / December 1, 2010

Flash version here

Since Canada’s modest population of 34.6 million people isn’t sufficient to sustain many, if not most, members of its talented and well-trained performing arts labor force, exports are essential for both the economic and aesthetic health of the nation’s performing arts. With performance standards that stand toe to toe with those in New York, Berlin, Paris, London or Beijing, international touring goes beyond generating income for Canadian artists. It keeps home artists and home audiences on their aesthetic toes.

The 14th edition of Canada's crucial international performing arts trade show for promoting Canadian artists to overseas presenters, and for our presenters to look at offerings from abroad, unfolded in Montreal on November 15-21. The big biannual event is organized by the Montreal-based CINARS (International Exchange for the Performing Arts).

CINARS 2010 was a very ambitious and exceptionally well-executed effort in the face of big logistical challenges. There were 1,083 registrants from 40 countries; 27 ensembles performing as part of the official programming at Place-des-Arts and Le Monument National; another 103 “Off-CINARS” performances in venues all over town; one week's worth of efficient shuttling of participants between meetings and venues; meetings alternating between the exhibitor hall with its 121 booths, and well-targeted panels in the performing arts business.

There was also enough deliberately free time between worthwhile events so registrants could do the real meat and potatoes of trade shows: networking, networking, and networking.

All of the above was done with a permanent staff of only four people; another seven were added just for CINARS 2010, plus 35 performing arts volunteers during the event itself. The approximate budget of $700,000 will generate deals worth considerably more.

The flawless organization of the CINARS trade-show counted a great deal in terms of lasting impressions: Canada is a good place to do business for overseas presenters. It’s just the ticket that Canadian performing arts need, especially when 2010 could be labeled “the year of the Asians.” Chinese and South Korean presenters were out in force, and that's only the beginning of what we'll see from Asia's booming economies.

An important CINARS press conference prefaced the big event on November 1st. It released a study on the impact of the 2008 Federal elimination of performing arts travel and trade promotion programs. A questionnaire sent to 244 ensembles and arts managers generated a relatively high 25% response rate.

An estimated 175 Canadian performing arts tours, incorporating 1600 shows, were canceled. Lost income from canceled tours was an estimated $15.8 million. Four out of ten respondents reported reduced foreign activities because of the cuts—and 47% indicated future reductions were in store. The cuts caused fifteen percent of respondents to reduce the number of people employed; 24 percent will make future reductions.

Here's the most indicative figure of all: for every program dollar cut from these two hitherto successful arts export programs, the performing arts sector lost $6.30. Despite initial promises, we've yet to see Tory replacements for the eliminated Promart and Trade Routes programs.

CINARS continues this sad but valuable research. All Canadian registrants at CINARS 2010 received new questionnaires tracking the further damage from eliminating Federal support for Canadian performing arts exports.

While joining the good fight for performing arts to get parallel export support programs that are routine for Canada's energy and high tech sectors, CINARS works to help companies identify things that can be done here and now. Opening the first morning of CINARS 2010 were arts business panels focusing on new export opportunities and the nuts and bolts of how best to seize these opportunities.

Robyn Williams, an attorney at FTM Arts Law and author of the 3rd edition of the Complete Guide to Immigration and Tax Laws for Foreign Guest Artists, alerted attendees to recent regulatory changes that must be taken into account in dealing with convoluted, lengthy and expensive American visa and tax laws. Download the free PDF of the Guide at www.artistsfromabroad.org, and check the site’s “news flash” section.

In the workshop “The Creative School of Lobbying,” Athol Swainston-Harrison, director of the London-based International Arts Management Association, decoded the complex arts lobbying process in the European Economic Community. According to IAMA’s GIG magazine, European arts have much to learn from how Canadian artists mobilized against Tory cuts to the arts budget.

Four successive workshops focused on discovering new export opportunities in Europe—new opportunities that exist despite the fiscal and productivity crises that are hitting just about every European country except Germany and Switzerland.

According to Colin Hicks, a British arts manager who represented Quebec's cultural interests in the UK for a decade, the seemingly catastrophic British cuts involved modest national cuts on the order of 3% annually over five years for most arts organizations. In the case of the film industry, an agency perceived as ineffective was cut, with most of the money shifted to another organization. The bottom line: don't give up on the UK arts market, the number one location for international arts management firms.

Let’s not forget production values. During CINARS, I caught standout performances like choreographer Christian Spuck's Leonce et Lena, performed by Les Grands Ballet Canadiens; Court-Miracles, a parable on war and empathy by the French puppet theatre troupe, Le Boustrophédon; a magnificent physical theater version of Woyzeck by the Korean Sadari Movement Laboratory; Gold Mountain, wrenching multi-art theater about a Chinese immigrant family in the UK, co-produced by Montreal's Les Deux Mondes and Liverpool's Unity Theater; or the privilege of seeing Margie Gillis perform Threads in her own studio.

(c) La Scena Musicale