2016 Conference Roundup

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Los Angeles is big. The JW Marriott is big. Our registration numbers were big. WAA’s pre-conference sessions proved to be big hits with all of them selling out, or nearly selling out. Many in-conference sessions were at capacity, and we’ve never had so many independent showcase performances. Opportunities to connect with friends, engage with colleagues, and spark curiosity were offered every day. If one word can be used to sum up WAA 2016, one might say it was conference of abundance. 

Indeed, Matt McNally, Community Engagement Director at the Las Vegas-Clark County Library District remarks, “There was much to do, much to see, and the WAA conference filled my heart. I made personal connections with other artists, agents, and presenters each day that not only strengthened programming for our organization, but enhanced my professional development.”

We love hearing that, Matt! A productive attendee experience is WAA’s first priority.  Let’s take a look at some of the other metrics behind this year’s successful conference.

Total conference registration was 800 with delegate registration at 366 and exhibitor registration at 434. This represents an almost seven percent increase in presenter attendance compared to last year in Vancouver, and an almost 90% increase over the last time WAA was in L.A. There were 216 presenting organizations represented. 

Professional Development
There were a number of pre-conference offerings this year: the day-long symposium Conexiones: Engaging Latino Artists & Audiences drew on leading artists, business professionals, and marketers to explore critical issues within the Latino arts community; Advancing Dance explored the challenges and adventure unique to programming dance; Dance Forum West (in partnership with Dance USA) looked at the partnerships needed between artists, presenters, and agents of dance to successfully market and build attendance; and Increasing Revenue through Grassroots Fundraising was a fast-paced, interactive session wherein participants took the first steps toward creating renewable, reliable, revenue streams through Grassroots Fundraising. All four pre-conference sessions were at capacity serving a total of nearly 300 participants.

317 people attended the Opening Plenary session and Keynote address given by Marisol Hernandez. This number is up from last year’s opening session in Vancouver (Shane Koyczan) but represents virtually the same percentage of total attendance (about 40%). 

This was the second year for Presenter Pitches, and interest and attendance grew from a very respectable 62 in 2015 to a surprising and “quick-we-gotta-add-a-row-of-chairs” 84 this year. The session provides value to Artist/Managers who hear about presenters’ budgets, programming interests and booking strategies while the session also benefits Presenters pedagogically by allowing them to hear the same information from a diverse cross-section of their colleagues. Of the Presenter Pitches, Katherine Miller of Kamstar Artist Management comments, “It was fascinating to hear from our presenter colleagues about their creative and sometimes inspirational community projects. The Presenter Pitches are a refreshing addition to the schedule.”  The Performing Arts Discovery Pitch Sessions, also just two years old, have likewise been building momentum. These discovery sessions allow attendees to meet international programmers from around the Pacific Rim and get to know their missions and programming interests. 

Long-establish professional development offerings also saw solid attendance numbers with the Roundtables averaging 37 people per session (best attended: From the Minds of Millennials with 72). The most popular Workshop was the sixth installment of the NAPAMA series, Making Artistic Cents, “Contracting Skills” with 51 attendees. 62% of all survey respondents rated WAA’s in-conference programming as good, very good or excellent.

The Exhibit Hall
The JW Marriott’s Diamond Ballroom was an ideal space for the exhibit hall. At just over 25,000 square feet, the ballroom was large enough to contain all 190 exhibits and allow room for open seating. Of those exhibits, about forty percent were “alternative” spaces (Café and Bistro Tabletops) and roughly 60% traditional pipe and drape. But exhibitors surprised us this year by demonstrating an overall preference early in the registration process for the alternative spaces, which sold out earlier than we anticipated. Next year, we’ll take a careful look at this balance and plan to invert the percentages by filling the hall with a majority of Café and Bistros. We’re also looking closely at the possibility of restricting the pipe and drape and doing what we can to clear sightlines to the outer perimeter walls. 

The doors were open to the exhibit hall for about eight Open hours and about nine Accessible hours and according to evaluations, that felt “about right” to 75% of exhibitors and eighty-two percent of presenters. 

Altogether, 77 individuals and organizations pushed our sponsorship dollars north of $71,000 this year, which made up nearly a quarter of the overall conference budget. Very literally, we could not have done the conference without this support.  If your organization is interested in supporting WAA next year and simultaneously extending your reach into the field and getting exposure for your agency or venue, please let us know!  Chances are excellent we can customize a package that suits your needs and budget. But don’t take it from us. First time WAA sponsor Joanie Logue of Mosby Music Group remarks, “As a first time sponsor, I felt embraced by WAA and was so impressed with the wealth of opportunity it offered our agency. It is definitely the route to take when preparing for the best opportunities to establish a presence at the conference. “ 

Seven artists were selected from a pool of 185 applicants to perform at WAA’s Juried Showcase, held at the Roy and Edna Disney Cal Arts Theatre in an intimate 200-seat venue about a mile from the hotel. In addition, there were 214 individual Independent showcase performances this year, which is a record number. 

A Return to the Emerald City
It’s back to Seattle for WAA’s 50th Anniversary in 2017!  We swing back to the post-Labor Day dates next year with special pre-conference programming and the Opening Plenary session scheduled for Tuesday, September 5 and the final day of exhibiting and the Closing Night Event on Friday, September 8. We will be headquartered at the Seattle Sheraton, as we were in 2014, nestled in a cozy pocket right downtown with all the conveniences of the city just steps away.   

Joe McIalwain, WAA Board Member and chair of the Seattle Host Committee, pronounces, “I greatly look forward to WAA’s return to Seattle—our winning city of blue and green boasting a booming arts scene, abundant beauty, and northwest vitality!  We’re ready to show you extraordinary.”


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