Thursday, May 6, 2004

Web driving how performers manage careers

By Claudia La Rocco
The Associated Press

NEW YORK - Let's say you're a small theater company and you want to tour the Southwest on a shoestring budget, or you want to find theaters in rural New England interested in experimental dance.

The solutions to your performance problems are a double-click away.

"So much of touring information is in the oral tradition, and that's the great thing about the Web - it takes the oral tradition and puts it somewhere tangible," says Andy Horwitz, director of communications at Manhattan arts center P.S. 122.

As the performing arts community grows more Internet-savvy, Web sites are gaining strength both here and abroad. Australian marketing site, the NYFA Source database and the GoTour network are just three online communities designed to encourage dancers, artists, musicians, actors and others to be more entrepreneurial in today's tough economic climate.

"We're at the tip of the iceberg in terms of how to provide resources online," said Matthew Deleget, senior program officer for New York Foundation for the Arts, which created NYFA Source with the Urban Institute.

Going beyond brochures

"In the late '90s, arts organizations basically had a brochure as their Web presence," Deleget said. "In the past few years, organizations have realized this isn't enough, and there's really been a push to use Web sites for brand new services."

The Field, a New York-based organization dedicated to independent artists, has just created GoTour, a free networking Web site that lets artists, presenters and audiences explore national performance opportunities - many of them unconventional.

"I have been asked to start a festival of dance here, and the site will be the first place I go to find performers," said Andrew Krichels, a Nashville, Tenn., choreographer and educator who heads the Creative Action dance center.

Krichels has offered local touring advice of the Nashville arts scene to several choreographers who have contacted him through his GoTour profile.

New York choreographer Tere O'Connor details his 2003 national tour on GoTour. An established performer and teacher, O'Connor has been making dances since 1982 and has built a dedicated following for his idiosyncratic work.

"There's less and less people presenting, so the situations that people create for themselves through their own universities or networks ... are very important," O'Connor said.

The lack of presenters, particularly for edgier works, reflects dwindling funding sources.

"Artists are hitting walls with funding, with performances - everywhere, and that is pushing them to network," said Diane Vivona, executive director of The Field.

According to U.S. Bureau of Labor statistics, the number of artists in the United States increased 300 percent between 1970 and 2000, from 700,000 to 2.1 million. Meanwhile, National Endowment for the Arts funding has dwindled from a high of $10 million to less than $1 million a year.

"It's so hard to write that 11th grant application after 10 rejections," said Rachael Elliott, a bassoonist with the New Haven, Conn., ensemble Clogs who handles marketing and research for GoTour. "To figure out how to get funding and set up tours with no booking agent takes so much work."

Horwitz, who also is editor and publisher of CultureBot, a new online arts magazine dedicated to the downtown Manhattan arts community, agrees.

Need for information

"For emerging and even midlevel artists, touring is very difficult because you just don't know what venues are appropriate for you in other cities, who to contact, how to go about doing that," he said.

Horwitz wants CultureBot to function as a downtown forum, one that welcomes all comers, from potential audience members to newly arrived artists trying to figure out where they fit in. He believes that the Internet could change the way in which performing artists learn how to manage their careers.

"The question is, are artists going to know about it, and are artists the sort of people that feel comfortable taking advantage of the Internet?" he said.

"Even a couple of years ago, artists didn't think they needed Web presences," NYFA's Deleget said. "Most artists I know still don't have sites, but are realizing they need to get them. There is so much information on the Web that you just can't get elsewhere."

GoTour differs from arts organizations such as the National Performance Network in that is lacks any curatorial or hierarchical structure its strength and a possible danger lies in the fact that anyone can join and contribute their thoughts.

"GoTour is a really great opportunity for someone who feels isolated or disempowered," dancer-choreographer and Field membership manager Camille Dieterle said. "North America has amazing dance going on all over the place, but people just have no idea of work happening outside of New York or Los Angeles."

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