Showcases can provide a shop window, networking opportunities and a way in for young artists. Maggie Clarke introduces our feature by urging you to form close relationships in order to present successful showcases.
Showcases are an established part of the arts landscape, and most industry professionals would agree that they play a vital role in the economy of our sector. The objective is clear: to create a market place that brings sellers of work (the artists) together with buyers (promoters/presenters). This commercial objective is part of all major showcase events, but to approach them solely as a market place – viewing the work purely as a commodity to be bought and sold – is to miss an important part of their potential. In creating a shared platform, there is an opportunity to raise the profile of a sector, region or artform, to create advocacy and networking opportunities, and to stimulate critical and cultural debate about the sector. At its simplest, this means creating space in the programme for meetings and socialising. These informal aspects are critical to the way that participants experience the event, though they can be hard to measure and, like the bookings that the artists hope to generate, can take many years to bear fruit. I recently had feedback from a company who had presented work at our 2001 showcase, and were touring internationally in 2008 with bookings gained as a direct result of that performance. It is a marathon not a sprint, and the artists and promoters need to invest time in developing relationships.
Planning is crucial. The organiser must build a relationship with the artists, ensure excellent technical conditions, feed them information about the delegates, and offer advice about how to make the most of the event. It is important to ensure that the artists’ work is appropriate for the context in which it is to be presented. Less experienced artists can be so hungry for the opportunity to present work at a high profile event that they submit work that is not ready for an international platform. To do this can be damaging to the artist, and a responsible organiser will guide artists away from what can be a disappointing experience for both parties. Funding and financing these events is not easy. A showcase demands a substantial programme as well as considerable resources in order to offer the promotional, networking and support services that make an event a success. I can not speak for other events, but our evaluation of the X.trax showcases consistently demonstrates demand from artists and promoters for what we deliver, and, crucially, that they produce significant bookings. The value of the bookings generated is many times the value of the investment that goes into them. Additionally, we have developed a range of services and projects that complement the live events.
Ultimately, the success of the showcase rests on the strength of the programme, and therefore with the artists. Any experienced promoter will know that artists are the best PR for an event or venue. Successful artists travel the world and talk to others in the sector. If we have enjoyed any success as a showcase it is as a result of the artists with whom we have worked, and the staff and collaborators who have worked with us. It takes a team effort to make a successful event, and by looking after our artists, delegates and team well, we hope to keep them coming back
Maggie Clarke is Director of x.trax. The x.trax showcase of outdoor performance takes place in Manchester, 5–7 June 2009. Bookings open in February.