2015 Conference In Review

Beyond Borders, WAA Delegates Travel to Canada
Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Many of you corroborated my sense that the Vancouver conference—WAA’s first outside of the U.S.!—seemed to have a special energy about it. There was a vim in the air. It was as if it city itself was an attendee providing a shot of originality and freshness.  Was the whole event pitch perfect?  Of course not, but the feedback on Vancouver has been generally very positive. The strong First Nations thread woven throughout the programming and the Indigenous Performance Symposium (remember when Horomona Horo took a bone of out of his earlobe and played it?!), the embracing of cultural protocols, the exhibit hall layout, a stellar Shane Koyczan, new faces and so many attendees from around the pacific rim, and waking up to Coal Harbour and #goodmorningvancouver were just some of the highlights that culminated in a rich and remarkable experience.    

So how about some numbers?  How many people registered—more than Seattle?  Fewer?  The same? Was the exhibit hall actually busier?  How many other people heard Mr. Koyczan improvise off-book?  For a look behind the curtain at the who, the what, and the how many from our time in Vancouver, keep reading.

Attendance

Total conference registration was 653 with delegate registration at 345 and exhibitor registration at 308. This represents a 13% increase in presenter attendance compared to last year in Seattle (306) while exhibitor attendance is virtually the same (306).  Of those 653 total attendees, 144 were Canadian (of those Canadians, 76 were presenters, 68 exhibitors).

The Exhibit Hall. . . in Canada

For the vast majority of our exhibitors, the border turned out to be a non-issue.  Of course many exhibitors had traveled for conferences and showcases in Canada before, but there were folks for whom the experience was new.  We did our best to communicate the facts and provide resources to help prepare for customs and border control, and while one or two felt the messaging was overkill (sorry!), I heard from many who were appreciative.  As anticipated, numerous exhibitors reduced or eliminated fees and hassles by hand carrying their materials across the border.  (It’s worth noting here that should WAA ever return to Canada, we’ll much savvier about negotiating special rates and minimums with a customs broker and our decorator.)

The Westin Bayshore Grand Ballroom and Foyer worked very well for our exhibit hall.  The feedback we heard was that the exhibit hall felt very comfortable with entry points that were defined, yet open.  Access into the space was easy and unrestricted, and a number of exhibitors reported that the hall “felt a lot busier” than in recent memory.  In fact, it was.  We tallied a total of 2,367 presenter visits to the space—a huge number compared to our four year average of 1,546.

Interestingly, I heard from some exhibitors who felt that exhibit spaces felt smaller than usual. The booth dimensions given to the decorator were consistent those with in previous years, so I’m not sure what the difference might have been, but if you were in a Café space, the upholstered side chairs (which are not typical for that exhibit) may have contributed to the perception.  Moving forward, I’ll be armed with my own tape measure on the hall floor so we’ll know for certain whether those measurements are what they should be.  For the record, there were 175 exhibit spaces and 9 agency registrations. 41% of exhibits were pipe and drape booths, and 58% of the exhibits were alternative spaces (Mini, Café and Bistro).    

The doors were open to the exhibit hall for 9 Open hours and 9 Accessible hours (that’s 3 more than in Seattle when we scheduled 9 Open and 6 Accessible).  According to evaluations, that felt “about right” to 91% of exhibitors. 

Professional Development

In addition to the dynamic and informative Professional Development Institute (there were two sessions this year) we also offered two special pre-conference symposiums.  An Introduction to the North American Performing Arts Market (“Arts Admin 101”) was a day and a half seminar conducted in Mandarin to give our Chinese colleagues an introduction to western industry practices and a foothold in the conference.  21 attended this special workshop. 

Set against the astonishing backdrop of the Museum of Anthology, the Indigenous Performance Symposium (IPS) was a day-long seminar exploring the range of issues confronting practitioners, facilitators, and presenters of Indigenous performance. IPS sold out with 96 registrations. 

265 people attended the Opening Plenary session and Keynote address given by Shane Koyczan.  This number is up from last year’s opening session in Seattle, but on par with attendance at the 2013.  (Not surprisingly, the Opening Plenary draws best when it takes place at the hotel.)

This year, the peer-led roundtable sessions proved more popular than the professional development workshops.  Best-attended Roundtables included WestMoves (47), Festivals!, and Meet & Greet our Chinese Visitors (37 each). The most-attended workshops were Welcoming New Audiences (39) followed by Making Artistic Cents (21). 

We tried a couple of new pitch sessions this year: the Presenter Pitches and Indigenous Performance Pitches.  Both drew extremely well (62 and 73, respectively).  The idea of a “presenter pitch session” had been bandied about for a couple of years, so we’ll definitely be looking incorporating it into next year’s schedule.

We know there is some disappointment over Professional Development sessions being scheduled opposite Accessible Hours.  While WAA encourages exhibitors to leave their space during Accessible hours so that they can attend other conference events, we do understand that there are many who feel that “if the doors to the hall are open, I’m going to be in my exhibit space.”  We’re not sure if eliminating Accessible hours is the answer the majority would accept, but we’re certainly prepared to take this question to our Conference Committee for discussion.   

Showcasing

There were 74 individual independent showcase performances this year, which is a light number for WAA.  In addition to the Juried Showcase, which took place at SFU’s Wong Theatre and independent showcases taking place at the hotel, there were also a number of curated showcases organized by specialty—dance, world music, Indigenous performance, and family programming.  

Sponsorship

$58,648 sponsorship dollars were generated by 78 organizations and individuals contributing on levels ranging from $100 to $10,000. If you would like to support WAA while creating exposure for your venue, organization or artists at next year’s conference, chances are excellent that WAA can generate a package at a level that is comfortable for you.  In fact, we are already receiving queries of interest for the Annual Luncheon and hospitality events for next year. 

Hospitality

373 people attended the Opening Reception, which is a great number, but too many for the space we were in.  The event was too crowded, we know that, and we’re sorry.  This was planned as an indoor-outdoor event.  We took a gamble on the weather, and lost.  (I know, I know, Vancouver is in a rain forest.  We shoulda’ figured!) 

The Annual Luncheon was very well attended with 270 at the event. The Closing Night Party attracted 188 attendees.  (Thanks to everyone who played in the photo booth!)

Good Night 2015, Hello La La Land!

I am proud of what our members and staff were able to accomplish this year and have high hopes that the panache and positive energy will spill over in 2016 when we’re back in Los Angeles.  Our headquarters hotel is the JW Marriot at LA Live.  We are in the pre-Labor Day pattern again, so pre-conference professional development sessions and the Opening Reception are scheduled for Monday, August 29; the Exhibit Hall will be open on Tuesday, August 30; the Closing Night Event is slated for Thursday, September 1.  

Look to our website in the coming weeks as pages for 2016 are rolled out.  Hotel information is now available, and as always, it’s a good idea to make those reservations on the early side.

Questions about anything you read here?  Give a shout

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