Destination Guide: Canada

Cultural Toronto perfect for performing arts

Toronto's cultural highlights were the ideal backdrop for the International Society for the Performing Arts June Congress

Delegates from The International Society of the Performing Arts
Delegates from The International Society of the Performing Arts

Pre-event planning

The International Society for the Performing Arts (ISPA) holds two congresses a year. The Annual Congress, now in its 63rd year, and the June Congress. The summer event allows delegates from 40 countries to reconvene and discuss current issues while also having a regional focus.

This year's event took place in Toronto, returning to the city for the first time since 1995. As well as meeting criteria regarding transport links and hotel stock, the city had the additional attraction of hosting the Luminato Festival - a big annual arts festival - at the same time.

Challenge

The four-day programme incorporated nine performing arts venues, from the TIFF Bell Lightbox to the Royal Conservatory of Music, with the group moving from location to location throughout the day. "This allows us to see a variety of facilities, from the contemporary to the very traditional," explains David Baile, ISPA chief executive officer, who admits that traffic issues can make this a challenging format.

The gathering was also hit by a power blackout on the second day that affected the meeting and lunch venues.

Solution

ISPA relies on the knowledge of the local organising committee to work out the best way to move people around the city and Toronto's subway system made it very easy for delegates to move about under their own steam if they wished.

Baile maintains that delegates love the bus journeys between venues. "It gives them time to chat," he says. As for the power cut, he adds, the venue staff handled it so seamlessly, moving delegates to an area with natural light and switching to a barbecue and salad menu, that some delegates didn't even notice.

The June Congress was preceded by The Academy, a two-day event with an arts administration focus. The congress then kicked off on Wednesday with a keynote address and the first of eight sessions. ISPA aims to introduce its members to the local culture so the congress sessions were punctuated by short performance showcases. An awards dinner was held on the second night and the congress concluded with lunch on the Saturday.

Post-event analysis

"I was nervous about going to Toronto - it was like introducing new friends to an old one," says Baile, who was born and bred in Toronto and moved to New York four years ago. "But the congress was a huge success.

"We budgeted for 250 delegates but welcomed 310, and the local organising team did a great job of reflecting the diversity of Toronto's culture.

"We have discussed using virtual conferences," he adds, but it's the one-on-one interaction that our members value and it would mean losing the live performance component. So while we are experimenting with new technology, I don't think it will ever replace the conference."

FACTFILE
Organisation: International Society for the Performing Arts
Event: June Congress
Group size: 310
PCO: n/a
Date: 15-18 June 2011
Venue: Toronto

TIMELINE

November 2008: first site inspections of potential host cities conducted

January 2009: Toronto submits official bid for the June Congress

March 2009: Toronto confirmed as venue for June Congress 2011.

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