"Resilience and Sustainability" plenary session at APAP
The appropriately titled plenary session Resilience and Sustainability: The Long Conversation at last week’s Association of Performing Arts Professionals (APAP) conference at the New York Hilton Midtown featured several of the trade’s luminaries interviewing each other in a circular format, beginning with New Orleans-born performer/producer/cultural organizer Nick Slie conversing with jazz drummer/producer/educator/activist Terri Lyne Carrington.
Invoking the conference “Risk and Resilience” theme, Carrington noted that “as a musician, we take risks every time we play--[and] live on the edge.”
Resilience, then, comes with the territory.
“Our practice is founded on risk,” Carrington declared, adding, “Some play it safe, but I don’t.”
She does strive, though, to balance service to “ourselves, our community, and the larger global community.” Conceding she had been “more self-centered” in her early career focus, she had since “moved toward gender equity” as she traveled the world and began teaching at her Berklee College of Music alma mater (she’s now founder/artistic director of the Berklee Institute of Jazz and Gender Justice).
It’s no secret that it’s difficult for women to navigate their way [in music],” she said, expressing the need to “shift the narrative and improve opportunities for young women in the educational setting.”
As a female drummer, Carrington observed how “nobody is surprised to see a woman sing, but people are still surprised to see a woman play drums or bass, or be good at it--which is kind of archaic.” She credited her ability to believe in herself, while noting that “in order to believe in yourself, you have to have support along the way.”
In her case, it was her father and “many, many jazz musicians,” but “so many young women don’t have that support”--nor for that matter, she said, do many young men.
Asked how to keep bouncing back in the face of inevitable failures, she recalled that every major label rejected her Grammy-winning 2011 album The Mosaic Project, because all the players were women, and as such, it was regarded as a novelty project. But she noted, “When I decided to make my own record and not go to a label to fund it, everything turned around.”
Then it was Carrington’s turn to interview Aubrey Bergauer, VP of strategic communications and executive director for the Center for Innovative Leadership at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music.
Known as an innovative administrator who quadrupled her organization’s donor base while doubling its audience, Bergauer said, “As a white person of privilege, it was a lot of risk to be inclusive of others—and that should not be risky at all! Our entire culture is founded on white Europeans, but we know the demographics of America are changing, and the audience available to us is dwindling.”
Bergauer said, “I have to look at myself and my hiring practices if I’m going to be serious about diversifying my audience.” So she ensured that those in her office, on stage, and in the boardroom were reflected in her audience, and made the necessary adjustments.
That Bergauer is also a tuba player mightily impressed Carrington, prompting Bergauer to respond, “Breaking stereotypes is part of who I am—and motivating!”
Next on the round robin was Ojibwe and Oneida performance artist/activist/writer and self-proclaimed “shapeshifter and Indigiqueer” Ty Defoe, who maintained, as someone descending from “500 years of genocide,” that “you can’t know risk and resilience without joy—and vice versa.”
Further defining himself as two-spirit and “transcending gender,” Defoe said that there is “so much in-between black and white in how to look at the world,” and that “language is shifting and changing,” as is art.
“Arts, joy, challenges are evolving,” he noted, stressing the need for people to come together “in that great circle of life.”
Iranian musician Raam was up next, and quickly noted that now is “probably the worst time ever to be Iranian”—not that for him it was ever that good. He recounted how his father, a professor, had been arrested on false espionage charges in 2018, and was killed in prison two weeks later.
Raam had previously lived in the U.S. with his family, and had been lead singer of an Iranian punk rock band.
“I grew up in the hippie town of Eugene, Oregon, and moved back to Iran and started an underground punk band—which introduced me to risk, because it was illegal,” he said. “We had mattresses and blankets on the windows, and one exit in case we were raided. Fear becomes second nature and after a while doesn’t affect you anymore.”
The band, Hypernova, “got a name for ourselves, and was invited around,” continued Raam. After a successful U.S. tour, they returned to Iran as “an overground band, with permission from the minister of culture, but I had to censor myself, and didn’t like it.”
After his father’s death, he and his brother (and their three dogs) were allowed to leave Iran, but his mother was held back.
“We finally got her out a couple months ago,” said Raam, adding that she was robbed after arriving in Canada.
“After all the trauma and negativity, I couldn’t let it define my existence,” he said, addressing the “resilience” theme. “I always find a way to get back up...and brought all that pain to what I wanted to do: I perform in a very raw and naked form.”
Noting how his father had “always treated people as human beings no matter anything else,” Raam said that when he started touring in the U.S., “I found white people in the Midwest--even if they vote Republican--were not hateful, and respected me after hearing my story.”
Completing the plenary’s circle, Raam interviewed Slie, who stated that “the greatest tragedy of our lives became the greatest opportunity for everyone doing this type of work—meaning, of course, Katrina. He said that New Orleans had shown its resilience a decade after the storm, but that now is the time to turn that resilience into resistance.
“There is tension in the city. Louisiana’s land is disappearing, and we take it for granted because we’re resilient, but at some point we need to draw a line in the sand,” said Slie.
“What stories we choose to tell is the reason why I became an artist,” noted Slie. Unfortunately, however, “after the hurricane, the stories we told were about looters and people who preyed on the despair of others.”
Still, “we have the power to shape the public imagination,” concluded Slie, leaving unanswered a question posed to himself and all artists: “What are you going to do with your short piece of time on earth?”