NPAC summary


2008 National Performing Arts Convention final report and summary

Download the full report pdf here (2.18 MB)

Excerpted summary report below:

Jose Antonio Abreu and dancer Germaine Acogny who participated in the Radical Ideas from Beyond the Border General Session (photo: Glenn Ross)

Taking Action Together was the theme of the 2008 National Performing Arts Convention (NPAC). Thousands of members of the performing arts community came together for this historic meeting in Denver to lay the foundation for future multi-disciplinary collaborations, cooperative efforts and effective advocacy. The work begun in Denver will ultimately help us mature as a performing arts sector and strengthen our ability to enrich communities throughout the United States and beyond.

A total of 3,739 members of the performing arts community, representing 1,813 organizations, attended, traveling from all 50 states and beyond.

NPAC 2008 was, by any measure, a tremendous success. Thousands of participants gained new insights and skills, forged new connections and experienced a vast spectrum of performances. The 21st Century Town Meeting that closed the Convention marked not an ending, but the beginning of a new chapter in multi-disciplinary collaboration. We look forward to continuing our work together.

We would like to thank the hundreds of individuals and organizations that made NPAC possible and particularly our speakers, funders, sponsors and administrative teams.


Ann Meier Baker                Marc A. Scorca
President & CEO                President & CEO
Chorus America                  OPERA America

Programming for NPAC 2008 was created by a team of expert staff from the service organizations; several themes emerged: education, creativity and sustainability, artist training, audience development and diversification, leadership development and the impact of new technology.

NPAC speaker Jim Collins (photo: Glenn Ross)

General Sessions brought all delegates together to hear from some of today’s leading thinkers from within and outside the arts community. Playwright Anna Deavere Smith opened NPAC 2008 with a dramatic statement on the power of the arts to build community; the opening session also featured Dana Gioia, Chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts; Bill Rauch, Artistic Director, Oregon Shakespeare Festival; and Denver Mayor John W. Hickenlooper. Best-selling author Jim Collins discussed his groundbreaking theory on what makes the difference between a “good” organization and a “great” one. José Antonio Abreu, founder of El Sistema, shared the story of the Venezuelan music miracle that has changed a country’s perception of classical music and created a national program of music education and performance for the underprivileged. Germaine Acogny, award-winning dancer and choreographer and the founder of an international center for traditional and contemporary African dances in Senegal, offered another striking example of how arts can bring people together.

Placing Artistry at the Center

NPAC 2008 did not only talk about the performing arts; it offered numerous opportunities to celebrate and actively participate in them. NPAC presented numerous performances over four days in stages in and around the Convention Center. In addition, Colorado performing arts organizations offered an array of performances in venues throughout the area; many of them adjusted their season calendars in order to be a part of the historic gathering. The Convention also offered extended art-making sessions, inviting all delegates to work with master artists to refine skills within their own discipline—or to explore new territory. These sessions included everything from hip-hop to opera, from playwriting to traditional African dance. 641 individual artists attended NPAC.

An Action Agenda for the 21st Century

In an effort to model community deliberation and action, NPAC engaged AmericaSpeaks to lead the performing arts community through a series of caucus sessions designed to identify the sector’s collective strengths/weaknesses and develop an action agenda. Discussions at caucus sessions were led by over 200 members of the performing arts community.

On the final day of the Convention, all delegates gathered for a “21st Century Town Meeting.” By that point, the AmericaSpeaks process had identified three key challenges/opportunities, as well as a variety of strategies for approaching them. Using hand-held electronic voting devices, the community voted on — and committed to — strategies to advance the field at a national level (led by national service organizations), on a local level (led by the performing arts community within a particular region) and on an individual/organizational level.

photo: Glenn Ross

The AmericaSpeaks process identified three primary objectives:

  • Value/Advocacy
  • Education
  • Diversity

For each objective strategies were suggested for action at national, local and organization/individual levels. The top choices in each category are listed below. Full results of the voting are posted at

The Challenge/Opportunity: Our communities do not sufficiently perceive the value, benefits and relevance of the arts, which makes advocacy and building public support for the arts a challenge at every level.

  • Organize a national media campaign with celebrity spokespersons, catchy slogans (e.g., "Got Milk"), unified message and compelling stories
  • Create an arts coalition to get involved in local decision-making, take leadership positions and strengthen relationships with elected officials
  • Build relationships with non-arts groups, including governments, corporations, community development organizations, etc.

The Challenge/Opportunity: The potential of arts education and lifelong learning in the arts is under realized.

  • Devise an advocacy campaign to promote the inclusion of performing arts in core curricula
  • Mobilize and collaborate with K-12 and higher education institutions to strengthen arts education and arts participation as core curriculum
  • Commit your entire organization to arts education in mission, budget, programs and collaborations

The Challenge/Opportunity: The increasing diversity of our communities creates an opportunity to engage a variety of ages, races, identities and cultures in our audiences and organizations.

  • Charge national service organizations to create dialogue at convenings, create training programs, promote diverse art and artists and partner with grassroots organizations that are already connected to diverse communities
  • Open an honest dialogue across community groups and sectors to share priorities and identify barriers to participation
  • Discover arts in your community offered by cultures other than your own and establish peer relationships

Delegates were also passionately interested in two areas that did not make it through the process:

  • Individual Artists: How do we encourage, support and engage with these vital members of our community?
  • Technology: How does the arts community better harness technology, not only as a means to an end, but as an end in itself?

Next Steps

Service Organizations Response to the AmericaSpeaks/Town Meeting Outcomes

In reviewing the outcome of the AmericaSpeaks Town Meeting, service organization leaders felt that some of the proposals could be understood as clear reflections of the wishes of members, while other proposals may be indicative of deeper, more complicated aspirations. As a result, the Planning Committee is taking time to discuss the Town Hall Meeting outcomes in order to fully understand the underlying issues/goals they may represent. Rather than be overly literal in interpreting/accepting the recommendations, committee members will study and interpret them to the best of their ability.

photo: Glenn Ross

In the coming months, five separate task forces will be established, each one focusing on a single objective. Each will be chaired by a service organization staff member and a service organization President/CEO/ED, and will be populated by interested staff members from other national service organizations, as well as other individuals. Members of each task force will work to establish goals and strategies for advancing the goals of the primary objectives.
The task forces will make progress reports and solicit additional feedback from the larger group at extended Board meetings of the Performing Arts Alliance, an existing structure with regular meetings. The $200K budget surplus realized by NPAC 2008 will support task force activity.

Strategies to address these five areas will be conceived at the multidisciplinary level, as detailed above. Activity will be executed at the disciplinary level, led by the individual national service organization. The results of this activity will be measured and reported at the national, multidisciplinary level.

The five objectives listed above will guide plans for future cross-disciplinary activity, which may or may not include another large-scale convention in 2012.