From 11th to 14th April, IETM , the International Contemporary Performing Arts Network, held its Spring Plenary in Dublin, Ireland. As previously, Australia Council supported a delegation of Australian performing artists and producers through the IPAMS initiative as well as through special projects fostered by Sophie Travers, Director of the Australia Council IETM collaboration project. Sophie spoke to Harley Stumm, one of the producers supported by IPAMS and to Liz Burcham of Metro Arts whom she supported through her program as a potential partner in reciprocal exchange with Europe.
Sophie Travers: Liz, what was your motivation for attending IETM Dublin?
Liz Burcham: Metro Arts have been on steady path of increasing our profile and our next step is to engage internationally. Collette Brennan of Australia Council Market Development advised me to consider IETM, because of the focus on connecting people rather than product. My interest is in growing a platform of international exchanges, residencies and collaborations.
ST: What were some of the highlights of the meeting for you?
LB: The highlight for me is the validation of the model of Metro Arts. We can be a bit of a square peg in Australia and stepping into a bigger environment, I met companies that are just like Metro: invested in artists, invested in process and practice, operating on an open-platform model. I had numerous conversations that advanced quickly because there was complete understanding. The real highlight was finding a space for a conversation without pressure of a short term outcome. Yes, deals are being done and works are being pitched at an IETM meeting, but that’s not in the foreground.
ST: Were there any surprises?
LB: The stark difference to Australian sector meetings, is the dominance of the small – medium company and individual practitioner or producer. Major companies didn’t dominate the conversations, either in the formal or informal sessions. That immediately changes the conversation and the vibe. It didn’t feel high-stakes. It felt a very relevant, collegial and productive environment. I felt at ease to walk up and talk to anyone and had surprising conversations and connections.
ST: Is there anything you are following up now?
LB: Lots! We will participate in an EU Third Country Culture Fund application . While I was previously invited to consider the opportunity, I’m quite sure that if I wasn’t at IETM that wouldn’t have happened. Metro Arts is a small company and its desire to engage internationally is ambitious on its current resources. Looking more long term, IETM sparked ideas and relationships that inform how we can participate internationally in a more economical model through collaborations and leveraging in-bound touring. I am exploring ideas for how we can inject ongoing international connections to our arts laboratory and producing hub. And of course I saw work and met artists and producers who I want to connect with and connect to our artists. I also need to work out how I can get to the next IETM meeting to continue the conversation.
ST: Harley, you have been to IETM previously. What were you hoping for this time?
Harley Stumm: It takes a while to figure out how IETM works, who is who, how to make connections with ideas and people. But broader than that, it’s also about figuring out the European context – across a mind-boggling range of genres, performance practices, business practices, histories, and countries. The first visit, you only scratch the surface. So for my second IETM, I wanted to get a deeper sense of what’s going on across Europe; how they make art and how they do business. I wanted to catch up with my existing contacts and extend relationships, made over the last fifteen years and since setting up my company Intimate Spectacle . I was also hoping for specific conversations about opportunities for artists I’m working with.
ST: Was the Dublin context interesting?
HS: It’s a great city for an event like IETM. Very compact, and so many familiar cultural resonances for Australians, so you feel comfortable very quickly. I saw five very different shows that probably give a snapshot of the performance scene. IETM is a great immersion experience – what I like about it is that it’s part conference of ideas, part festival of art, and part market. So the three component elements and discourses influence, contextualise and enrich each other.
ST: Were there any highlights for you?
HS: The performance highlight was the second promenade piece, Fare City, a guided tour of Dublin by one of its taxi drivers. I feel totally priviliged to have seen it for a moment through the eyes of Ben, who introduced himself: “I’m a military man so I’ll show you military Dublin.” He gave us a tour of the grimmest architecture that 800 years of occupation cold produce: barracks, asylums, hospitals, prisons, and a history told by these places.
Another highlight was the keynote speech on trust by writer Theo Dorgan . This informed and resonated throughout the discussion sessions, exploring creative process and collaboration, and shone light on how we might make for more trustful and productive business practices and relationships.
The biggest highlight was talking, drinking, dancing with incredible people. And discovering that those you randomly connect with in the foyer or bar are possibly more “useful” than the ones whose names you higlighted on the delegate list.
ST: Is there anything you are following up now?
HS: The European economic and funding climate, coupled with the high Australian dollar, is making traditional export touring difficult, especially for new forms and artists. I realised that in focussing on meeting presenters, I was relegating the conversations with peers to the status of pleasant bar chat, without any concrete business outcome. Independent producers in Norway, Spain, Germany, can help me with contacts, advice, inside info, in exchange for what I know about the Australian context. Maybe the way to start those new relationships and networks is not to ask for something, but to offer it. And building on the conference theme of “trust” everyone talks reciprocity, but who wants to go first? That’s what I’ll be thinking through and following up, before the next IETM in Athens, and beyond.