From the Executive Director

Tim Wilson
Thursday, May 23, 2013

WAA receives a lot of feedback from you, our members, through the conference survey, professional development evaluation, and direct communication. But it's often hard to know what's going on in your career, agency, or organization. So when WAA recently began preparing its biennial membership survey, we made some tweaks to better gauge member needs, interests and attitudes about your own work. We were thrilled with the nature and level of feedback we received—166 of you completed the survey—90 artist/managers and 76 presenters. The WAA Board, Membership Committee, and Staff learned a lot, we think you will too.


We asked members about the type of work they represent and present. To keep the survey brief, we limited choices to broad disciplines of dance, music, theatre and other. Not too many surprises here, but the survey revealed one gap between what artists and agencies represent and what presenters book. For both member types, Music is ranked first. But the second ranked discipline for presenters is Other, a category ranked last by artist/managers. This might be an area to probe a little deeper in a future evaluation, but for now the data suggests there’s an opportunity for artist/managers to expand their rosters away from music, dance, and theatre.

Business Climate/Forecast—Skies are Clearing!

The survey asked artist/managers if they expected business in the coming year to increase, decrease, or stay the same. Respondents are optimistic: 57 percent of the artist/managers expect business to increase, compared to nearly 38 percent who expect bookings to hold steady and 9 percent that are bracing for another downward trending year. We then asked artist/managers about the reasons for their expectations. For those that expect increases, the three top answers in order were: new marketing efforts, new roster or artists, and presenter/audience interests aligning with artists/roster. For artists and agents that expected a decrease in business the top reasons were tied—presenter budget cuts and the stagnant economy.

On the presenter side, we asked about the number of artists they’ve presented in the last two seasons: 42 percent of presenter respondents increased the number of artist engagements, 32 percent stayed the same, and 26 percent decreased the number of artists presented. For those that increased, the top reason by far was audience demand (58.6%) followed by increase in programming budget (38%). Presenters that saw a decrease in programming attributed the reduction first to budget cuts (74%) and then to new programming directions (47%).

Facing & Overcoming Challenges

We wanted to know about the biggest professional/career or organizational challenges you are facing. For presenters the challenges were (in order), fundraising and development (63%), staying on top of day-to-day tasks (51%), and anticipating changes in their audience (42%). For Artist/Managers the top issues were building presenter relationships and client base (58%), staying on top of day-to-day tasks (54%), and marketing (45%).

We asked members how they were responding to these challenges and were encouraged by the thoughtful and honest responses. For artist/managers, respondents acknowledged three primary reactions 1) learning—reading, enrolling in seminars/workshops, conferring with respected peers—doing what they can to stay current; 2) shifting strategy—recalibrating their repertory or roster, taking new approaches with presenters, concentrating their business on the most qualified presenters; and 3) strengthening operations/client support—offering more service and support to artists and presenters. For one artist/manager it came down to this: “More phone calls, more emails. We are traveling more to visit with presenters in their venues, to help build relationships, and understand their limitations and communities.”

Bridge of DeathPresenters are responding in three ways: learning, strategy, and management. In the area of learning, presenters reported new research in audience habits, training of staff, and tracking industry and artistic trends. Strategy changes include board development, programming shifts, and new marketing and public relations efforts. In management and operations, presenters are redoubling fundraising and development efforts with an emphasis on long-term sustainability, hiring consultants, and reconfiguring staff/leadership responsibilities. Said one presenter, “You know that rickety bridge in Monty Python and the Holy Grail? I'm about half way across.”


At the end of survey was a simple question, “What inspires your work?” The WAA staff and Membership Committee had a lively debate about this question—we weren’t sure what kind of feedback we’d receive or if it would be helpful. But I am so glad we included it, because your answers affirm the importance of touring and presenting, the power of the arts to transform lives and communities, and the enduring values of our field. Here’s a sampling of the responses.

Attending the performances that take so much time and effort to arrange! I love meeting and working with the artists. Most importantly, I enjoy seeing and hearing the reactions of our audience to the performances we bring to our theater.

The arts feed the soul. To be immersed in that for my job is the best. I have a great supportive board that also makes my work a joy.

Solving problems. Working in conjunction with staff on projects and ideas to further the organization.

Keeping the flame of theatrical and musical quality alive, the validation from audiences and presenters around the country, manifesting work for my colleagues, and the material we produce itself. Oh here is love, and here is truth, and here is food for joyous laughter.

I like bringing together business and art. Being an agent I'm truly in sales, but what I'm selling is something that people create to better their audiences. Confirming deals is allowing an artist to work and bring their inspiration to the country.

I believe that dance theatre offers an infinite palate of possibility. I try to create a world for the audience in which they can imagine themselves, whether it's whimsical and fun or gut-wrenching and uncomfortably true. It's about finding those moments of connection, about finding our way along that huge messy gorgeous weird spectrum of humanity.

The timing of the survey couldn’t be better. In the next six months, the board will be wrapping up a year-long planning process. Your feedback and insight will directly inform and shape WAA’s plans for the next three years.

In the meantime, keep up the good work!