Midwest vitality on display at Conference
Emma Bohmann | Development Manager
Heena Patel, CEO and founder of MELA Arts Connect, participates in the Women’s Leadership Forum at the 2017 Arts Midwest Conference. Photo by Terry Gilliam.
The Arts Midwest Conference is a staple in Heena Patel’s conference circuit. A four-time attendee and exhibitor, she looks forward to the event each year. “Arts Midwest is a great conference to be able to have meaningful conversations with colleagues,” she said.
A Midwest commitment
As Founder and CEO of MELA Arts Connect, Patel helps connect South Asian artists with presenters in the United States and Canada. She spends much of her time at the Conference at her booth in the Marketplace exhibit hall, where she meets with presenters from across the region to discuss how they can integrate international artists into their seasons.
The Midwest region…has a very big openness to global perspectives. It’s not just being driven by commercial expectations, but really the strong commitment to education, opening minds, [and] opening perspectives through the arts.
A way to give back
To help her colleagues achieve these goals, Patel presented a session on international programming during this year’s Conference. She also just completed a two-year term on the Conference’s Professional Development Committee. The Committee, which drives the content of the sessions, workshops, and panels that will be offered at the Conference, identifies trends and new voices in the field to expand the reach of the professional development sessions.
“When I came [to the Conference] in the first year, I saw that Arts Midwest had some really fantastic professional development sessions,” Patel said. “The Professional Development Committee was a concrete way for me to give back to the Conference and really play a role in helping to shape that experience for other people.”
Since then, the professional development sessions have become Patel’s favorite aspect of the Conference. “You get to learn yourself, you get exposed to new ideas, and at the same time, you get business done as well,” she said.
Joining in conversation
Heena Patel leads a professional development session on international programming at the Conference. Photo by Terry Gilliam.
This year, on the first day of the Conference, Patel attended Women’s Leadership Forum: Leveraging Leadership & Addressing Bias in the Arts, a full-day seminar presented in partnership with Women of Color in the Arts.
“There [were] some really great discussions around the differences between equality, multiculturalism, diversity, and equity,” Patel said. “Talking about strategies for equity and allyship, and really having different perspectives of people of culture, of women, people who face sexism and classism and racial inequalities—being in that room and having this very open conversation about it was really valuable.”
For Patel, as for many attendees, the Arts Midwest Conference’s value lies in its power to bring people together. But more than just a forum in which to conduct business; rather, the Conference creates a space for attendees to deepen their relationships, to engage in conversations around difficult topics, and, together, to enhance the cultural vibrancy of the Midwest.
From meetings to debates: a presenter’s Conference experience
Emma Bohmann | Development Manager
Tim Sauers’s first Arts Midwest Conference occurred a week after he was promoted to Vice President of Programming and Community Engagement at Overture Center for the Arts in Madison, Wisconsin. “I hopped in the car and drove to Grand Rapids, and I kicked off the Conference running,” he said.
That was in 2012. Sauers has been attending the Conference ever since. “I come to have face time,” he said. “I come to hear what’s being offered or what we’re looking at for the future.”
Getting work done
Tim Sauers (right) with Shelley Quiala (center) and Gary Minyard (left), all of whom were session speakers at the Conference. Photo by Terry Gilliam.
Sauers’s primary Conference goal is to meet with colleagues about potentially booking artists for the Overture’s upcoming season. With more than 250 exhibitors in the hall, the Marketplace, where artists, agents, and managers have promotional booths, is busy all Conference long. In 2017, Sauers had 45 meetings over the four days.
Yet Sauers also finds time for the Conference’s professional development sessions. This Conference marked his second year moderating the two debates, in which speakers defend their position on a timely topic. This year’s debates wrestled with whether or not to include politics in programming, and mission-driven versus commercial programming. Though framed as debates, the resulting discussions allowed participants to share their perspectives and thoughts.
“I fell in love with the [debate] format,” Sauers said. “I think it actually moves people to think about something differently.”
Tim Sauers (center) moderates the first Conference debate session in 2016. Photo by Joshua Feist.
Something for everyone
For Sauers, the true value of the Conference is that it offers something for everyone, allowing representatives from organizations of all sizes to congregate and share in the experience.
“We’re all in the exhibit hall together, we’re all in professional development together, we’re all seeing shows together,” Sauers said.
The resulting camaraderie affects every aspect of the Conference. For Sauers, it makes the Conference a crucial step in booking artists on the Overture’s stage, ensuring that he will continue to return year after year.
Future Leaders gain knowledge, connections at Conference
Emma Bohmann | Development Manager
David Fraher, Arts Midwest’s President and CEO, with the 2017 Future Leader scholarship recipients, Jessica Albright (left) and Michelle VanHuss (right). Photo by Terry Gilliam.
Learning opportunities abound at the Arts Midwest Conference. With in-depth seminars, workshops, panels, discussions, debates, and hands-on training sessions, the Conference provides ample options for individuals to gain and share knowledge. In addition to these opportunities, each year Arts Midwest selects emerging leaders—with fewer than five years’ experience in the sector—to participate in the David J. Fraher Future Leaders program at the Conference.
In 2017, Michelle VanHuss, director of touring and university initiatives at Dayton Contemporary Dance Company, and Jessica Albright, development database coordinator at The Cleveland Orchestra, received the David J. Fraher Future Leaders Scholarship. It was Albright’s first time attending the Conference, and VanHuss’s third.
A learning opportunity
As Future Leaders, VanHuss and Albright received access to VIP events during the Conference and met with Arts Midwest President & CEO David Fraher. Perhaps most importantly, they received Conference-wide recognition, leading to increased interactions, conversations, and networking with other attendees.
“I always try to learn as much as I can,” VanHuss said. “It’s been amazing to have the access and [be able to] talk to more people, to try and soak up any information that I possibly can about how to do this [work] any better.”
Albright agreed. “I really liked the mentorship opportunities that were available and the networking [with] the arts community,” she said.
Albright viewed her time at the Conference as a Future Leader as an important step forward in achieving her career goals. “I want to be an executive director one day,” she said. “I need to meet these people and learn from them, and I need to learn pretty much everything about an organization.”
For VanHuss, as well, participating in the program was central to her future plans. “This has been a great way to dig in and try to meet some people from Ohio,” she said. The visibility granted to her as a Future Leader allowed her to engage in conversations with both presenters and performers from across the state with whom she hopes to collaborate.
As a three-time Conference attendee, VanHuss recognized the advantages of being a designated Future Leader. Walking through the Marketplace, where VanHuss had a booth promoting Dayton Contemporary Dance Company, she was repeatedly greeted by other attendees who recognized her because of her Future Leader role.
And for Albright, being a Future Leader made her first Conference experience not only more enjoyable, but also more beneficial. She was able to connect with arts administrators who can serve as mentors for her in the coming years.
[Attending the Conference is] already opening these doors…[and] offered me so many new perspectives. I definitely want to come back.
Thanks to the Arts Midwest Conference and David J. Fraher Future Leaders Scholarship, both Albright and VanHuss were able to take important steps towards their career goals—helping them begin to transition from future leaders to leaders.
We are grateful to our co-chairs, sponsors, donors, and attendees for making the Arts Midwest Conference and the David J. Fraher Future Leaders Scholarship possible.
Support for our colleagues in the south
Katie DePew | Advancement Officer
Each year, the Arts Midwest Conference gathers colleagues and friends from thousands of miles across the United States and around the world. It is an opportunity to reunite and reconnect to those in the world of performing arts, recharging and reigniting our passion for this industry. But this year, noticeably absent and greatly missed from the annual reunion were many of our colleagues from communities in southern Texas, which are still reeling from and assessing the destruction of Hurricane Harvey.
Our hearts and thoughts have been and remain with everyone affected by this and other recent natural disasters, and in the spirit of the Conference, one that provides supportive opportunities to learn and grow with our colleagues, we invite you to learn about the ways you can lend support to our colleagues in the arts communities affected by such an active hurricane season.
Mid-America Arts Alliance and the Texas Commission on the Arts
Together, these organizations have partnered to accept donations to distribute to the Texas arts community. Donate now.
While the cleanup and damage assessments of other more recent tropical storms are ongoing, South Arts has been at the forefront of coordinating communication among the arts community in the affected areas and organizing aid from across the country. Visit southarts.org or harveyartsrecovery.org for more ways to help.