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Between Congestion and Agility: Insights from the cultural relaunch

What can we glean from the first year of cultural relaunch? Our review for dance: new challenges demand new agility.


For a realistic portrait of recovery

As soon as theaters and borders reopened, the entire performing arts community sprang into action to reconnect works with audiences. Cancelled programs were rescheduled, postponed international tours materialized, virtual arts markets regained momentum... The breath of fresh air promised by the easing of health measures quickly stifled any intentions of adopting a slower pace once the pandemic was under control.


CAPAS joined the dance - of course - aiming to reposition its artists and partners on provincial and international stages. After major investments in dozens of pan-Quebec tours and significant presence at various performing arts events (Avignon, ICE HOT Helsinki, Tanzmesse, Fringe Edinburgh, CINARS, and many others), we have observed marked changes in dynamics both here and abroad. Today, we aim to provide a CAPAS-specific snapshot of the state of this changed and congested cultural programmation landscape, which must cope with scattered audiences, a weakened workforce, and a precarious global situation. While our observations may seem defeatist, they mainly aim to provide an accurate picture to better adapt and ensure the sustainability of the recovery.


Reports : Performing arts in the time of endemic

Less Space for new proposals

Both to honor their commitments and to remind their audiences of their artistic identity, theaters, long closed during the pandemic, chose to resume almost identical versions of their cancelled programs. Two years of accumulated delays are now reflected in the schedules of Quebec and Canadian presenters, who have no room for additions sometimes until 2025.


A disengaged audience

Outside major urban centers, presenters in the provinces and across the country are still figuring out how to reconnect with their audiences. The new habits formed during lockdown – such as consuming television and entertainment products at home – are hard to reverse. As a result, venues are less full as result. This phenomenon is particularly pronounced for dance performances.


Less adventurous programming

Consequently, programmers and artistic directors are trying to attract audiences with proposals that stay within their comfort zone. Brighter productions are highly sought after to meet the need for positivity that pandemic-weary audiences seek. More iconoclastic or darker works, from emerging artists or with new forms, are less likely to be of interest when it comes to programming.


Financial precarity in the distribution network

Higher fees can become a barrier when negotiating dates for a show in a program. With limited budgets, presenters often opt for more cost-effective works or invest in a sure bet.


Rebuilding sectoral knowledge

With many cultural workers and technicians leaving for other sectors during venue closures, a turnover of the labor began, resulting in the mass hiring of new employees who often enter the industry with little knowledge of Quebec's choreographic culture. Some do not even recognize renowned choreographers and festivals at first glance. This limited experience with the sector changes their perspective, and these new contacts for companies prioritize shows with clear and easily defensible marketing rather than artists with a well-developed artistic approach.


An energy crisis that influences programming

The war in Ukraine and its impacts on the circulation of electricity and gas in Europe have real consequences for the ability of international presenters to host performances. With lighting and heating bills skyrocketing, the choice to accept a proposal can sometimes be motivated by its energy efficiency, or even its ability to be received at all: some venues anticipate closures during colder months to save on costs



Recommendations: Flexibility and communication as assets

Beyond these grim realities, several strategies seem promising to turn these observations into an opportunity to rethink methods and shine differently.


Stay agile

Adaptation is key in an industry still searching for its new normal.

  • If an imperfect dissemination opportunity arises, consider how our practices can fit into it to reintegrate into a full schedule.

  • Having multiple production scenarios to offer variable fees, technical parameters, or hosting modalities - without compromising the work or underpaying the artists, of course! - can appeal to a presenter whose budget, labor, or venue conditions are limited.

Communicate clearly and brilliantly

A successful marketing and promotional strategy opens up possibilities.

  • Making contact easier with the work, both with the future audience and with the presenter looking to fill their program, helps stand out.

  • A comprehensive marketing toolkit, easy to use and with various media (texts, photos, videos), gives an advantage when selling and promoting the show.

Focus on the positive

The enthusiasm for strong and positive works can play into the favor of our other creations.

  • Bringing out more positive shows from our repertoire allows us to approach a presenter by meeting their needs while preparing the ground for them to present your latest creation later on.

  • Highlighting the bright aspects of a work in pitches, even if it has a darker side, can initiate dialogue with venues to better defend the entirety of your approach once contact is established.

Networking

Reconnecting with our network becomes essential in a context where virtual meetings lose popularity.

  • More assiduous participation in networking activities and opportunities to present showcases or pitches allows you to reconnect with representatives (both old and new) of Quebec, Canadian, and international markets to showcase the quality of the works for sale.

  • Scheduling private meetings with pre-pandemic partners to present our current situation and discuss our projects is a good way to re-solidify ties and have a confirmed presence in the minds of programers


Conclusion: For a more human approach to distribution

After two years of shutdowns and a year of sprinting through stages across the province and the world, the importance of human connection emerges as the core element of recovery. The commercial aspect of the arts has been relegated to the background, while the simple pleasure of coming together to bring art to life gathers, reassures, and consoles. The beauty of our sector lies in this ability to transform the renewal of our industry into warm reunions. The shadows in the background are temporary, with adjustments that are certainly complex but will once again highlighting the great resilience of our sector. Ultimately, the emotion of dance and culture has already begun to repair what was broken. And they will continue to do so brilliantly, through our coordinated efforts.



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