AUDIENCES STATEWIDE WILL ENJOY GREAT PERFORMANCES WHEN FLORIDA VENUES RETURN TO BUSINESS AS A RESULT
St. Petersburg, Fla. (Nov. 11, 2020) – The Florida Professional Presenters Consortium, known simply as Florida Presenters, the statewide organization representing nonprofit and publicly owned and operated performing arts facilities throughout the State of Florida, has announced the results of its first virtual booking summit. The online cultural tradeshow was a resounding success.
Joe Santiago, General Manager of the Duke Energy Center for the Arts – Mahaffey Theater in St. Petersburg, was one of 95 performing arts administrators from 60 venues statewide attended the three-day virtual conference, held online September 21-23, 2020. 99 20-minute long pitch sessions from 143 talent agents working at 111 talent agencies were presented, representing thousands of performing artists.
Attendance was equivalent to 87% of the Florida Presenters membership. The Summit Co-Chairs, Mary-Margaret Dale, Program Manager of Culture Shock Miami, a program of Miami-Dade County’s Department of Cultural Affairs, and Chris Dudeck, Arts and Events Manager of the Clermont Performing Arts Center in Clermont, both agree that, “Any trade show or conference would be envious to have 87% of their membership in attendance. We’re proud to work with colleagues devoted to providing their communities with the best performing arts programming the world has to offer.”
There is a backstory to the Summit.
A little more than a year ago, when South Arts, the regional arts council for the Southeastern US, announced that the September 2019 edition of its long running Performing Arts Exchange Conference would be the last, Florida Presenters immediately began discussing how it would respond to fill the gap for its membership.
The PAE conference was a critical tool for many performing arts presenters, especially in Florida, enabling them to meet in person with a critical mass of booking agents and artist managers all at once each year, to discuss who would be available in Florida for the coming season. The current President of Florida Presenters, Kevin Stone, VP of Programming for the Florida Theatre in Jacksonville, says, “There were hints that PAE was in trouble, so we were already talking about how to respond if that conference ran its course in a few years, but we had no idea that the end was actually at hand.”
A number of individuals and organizations encouraged Florida Presenters to create a new multi-state conference, but, says Stone, “We decided to keep the focus where it has always been: on our membership.” The organization began planning a new conference specifically for the Florida organizations, to be held at the Arsht Center in Miami just 12 months later, in September, 2020. Getting a new conference off the ground in just 12 months was already a tall order. Then came Covid-19.
In the first weeks of the pandemic, Florida Presenters VP Jill Kratish, Director of Programming for the Broward Center for the Performing Arts in Ft. Lauderdale, instigated a weekly Zoom call for the membership. Started as a weekly check-in to compare notes and provide moral support, 40-50 people a week would join the call, and soon talent agents and product vendors were being invited as special guests. The pivot from an in-person conference to an online virtual conference was a natural outgrowth of those weekly Zoom calls.
The focus on the membership made the endeavor easier to put together, too. Says Mary-Margaret Dale, “The core activity of any booking conference is the connections made between the talent agents and the talent buyers, so we decided to dispense with all the ancillary activities that typically surround a conference, like networking receptions, keynote speeches, artist showcases and professional development sessions, and provide a laser focus on the core activity.”
Sponsorship for the original in-person conference had been received from South Arts and the Miami-Dade County Department of Cultural Affairs, and both sponsors agreed to apply their support to the virtual conference, enabling Florida Presenters to offer the entire three-day program to its members and the invited talent agents entirely free. The conference utilized the Event Hub and Zoom platforms, and three “Virtual Room Managers” were hired from the Miami area to manage the technical aspects of the online presentations.
Says Chris Dudek, “Including rooms, registration and travel, a typical in-person conference costs a presenter $1,000 or more per person to attend, and agents spend substantially more than that. The virtual experience definitely lacks what the in-person experience excels at, but in some ways, it was easier for some members to attend, especially those on a budget, or those who have to drive a long distance from the Panhandle or the Keys. Also, agents got to pitch buyers direct, for free, without having to leave home. We think that was a win-win for everyone involved.”
Planning for Summit 2.0 in September 2021 is already underway. Whether it will be a traditional in-person event, or a virtual event is unknown at this time, but the organization is pleased with the results of the inaugural Summit. Even though 55% of respondents to the post-Summit survey said they still preferred an in-person gathering, 90% of respondents ranked the effectiveness of the virtual conference 3 or higher on a scale of 1-5, indicating that like their audiences, Florida’s performing arts professionals can’t wait to see each other in person again, but have found a workable alternative in these challenging times.
The Florida Professional Presenters Consortium is the statewide organization representing nonprofit and public performing arts facilities throughout Florida. From Panama City to Key West, the membership includes the largest cultural institutions in the state, and some of the smallest, most vital organizations in rural and underserved counties. Florida Presenters is committed to strengthening Florida’s quality of life, economy and communities through the business of culture and education. Collectively, the member organizations of Florida Presenters serve 6 million audience members a year, creating a statewide economic impact of $500 million a year, which supports the Full Time Equivalent of over 15,000 jobs, $378 million of household income, $21.8 million of local government fees and tax revenue, and $26.1 million of state government fees and tax revenue.
The Duke Energy Center for the Arts – Mahaffey Theater, under the management of Big3 Entertainment, is one of Tampa Bay’s top-rated performing arts venues. Home to the Florida Orchestra, the world class Mahaffey Theater hosts top-quality national and international artists and performances – pop, rock, comedy, theater, dance, classical and interactive engagements and exhibitions. Located in the heart of downtown St. Petersburg, the 2,031-seat cultural jewel boasts spectacular waterfront views and is located only minutes away from white sandy beaches and world-renowned museums.
Bill Edwards Foundation for the Arts’ mission is to provide access for people of all ages and socioeconomic backgrounds to experience live theater. Exposure to the performing arts can improve academic achievement for some school children and improves quality of life for everyone. The Foundation provides funding for the Duke Energy Center for the Arts – Mahaffey Theater for its diverse programming. Through our Class Acts Educational Performance Series, we serve more than 20,000 school children annually through a field trip experience and educational performance series where they learn Florida State curriculum via a live theater performance.