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Irish owning the road ahead

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At the annual winter confab known as APAP (Association of Performing Arts Presenters) Conference held in New York City that concluded last weekend, the overarching theme was “owning the road ahead.”

It brought together almost 4,000 delegates throughout the U.S. and many from abroad, including a robust delegation of 70 Irish artists under the Culture Ireland banner to meet and mingle in hopes of providing work and new audiences for those who actually make a living through the arts. 

That sizeable contingent from Ireland was led this year by the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht Jimmy Deenihan from Listowel in Co. Kerry (a first since Culture Ireland participated in APAP in 2008 under the urging of executive director Eugene Downes), signaling the importance that Irish culture plays in restoring a healthier economy and society back at home.  

Indeed, the many successes of the Imagine Ireland year in 2011 may still hold many vibrant and lasting memories, but the role of APAP and Culture Ireland is to keep advancing the ball and providing employment opportunities this year and in future years.

The multi-leveled conference at the New York Hilton in Midtown Manhattan is one of the largest global marketplaces for the arts presenters who include bookers for talent, agents, promoters and most important the talent who seek the opportunities. 

In highly organized fashion over four days, there are special seminars to grapple with the ever challenging business of the arts, along with showcasing the incredible array of creative artists who seek to provide entertainment and enrichment that can make the world not only a better place, but also one that respects the diversity in it. 

Unique showcase performances occur on site at all hours, enticing presenters to look at the talent available as well as around the multi-faceted cultural hub that is New York City. 

Presenters, promoters and performers also fortify their respective crafts through access to many top experts in the field on a variety of topics like building more effective organizations and performance spaces, navigating visa and contractual issues.

All of that is simply to reinforce that fact that the arts play a vital role as a business that employs and inspires a large number of people in a very professional capacity.

Having said that, the arts would not be as meaningful to us if they didn’t help stimulate our souls and sensitive natures and so it is important to recognize that as well. 

Deenihan rightly said before the conference, “Now, more than ever, culture is the means by which most Americans encounter Ireland. This huge territory and cultural market is a vital part of the growth strategy for many Irish artists and companies.”

And it helps when even traditional Irish musicians break new ground. There were examples of that in the APAP task force. 

Foremost among them were the Gloaming, consisting of Iarla O’Lionaird, Martin Hayes, Caoimhin O’Raghallaigh, Dennis Cahill and Thomas Barlett who performed as part of the massive Globalfest organized by Lincoln Center impresario Bill Bragin. 

It would be very hard to categorize their music or contain it once they get into full flight. Their performance at Webster Hall was captured by NPR and you can listen to it at http://www.npr.org/event/music/144697837/the-gloaming-globalfest-2012

Also exploring a new pathway over the weekend was a collaboration between the Irish trad ensemble Teada and the Ebony Hillbillies, who presented in Hilton Hotel showcase on Sunday evening looking to entice bookers with gigs to offer in the U.S. 

Their novel approach goes beyond the common green grass/bluegrass pairing to explore some of the roots in string band music played by Afro Americans in the anti-bellum period in the south, and the links between Africa and Ireland and America.

And bands like Lunasa and De Danann were on hand continuing to provide a dual-carriage way of innovation rooted in tradition that fascinate and entertain audiences around the world.  

But to keep them in business, we have to support their efforts and turn out to hear their music, and also to reward those presenters and performing arts venues who appreciate that great artists deserve a great audience.  Talk about a win-win.

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