Since 1984 the CINARS Biennale has had to continually evolve to stay relevant for the Canadian performing arts sector. Maria Roberts speaks to founder Alain Paré to find out what’s in store for the 2016 edition
Maria Roberts: How does the CINARS board set the agenda for each Biennale?
Alain Paré: The board of directors and CINARS are actively involved in the decision-making process that leads up to the Biennale. Our discussions and exchanges are also augmented by the insights we get from the performing arts community, locally and abroad. We have long-lasting relationships with artistic companies’ representatives. This is because CINARS was initially created to help them gain access and adapt to the different cultural landscapes of each continent. Rather than focussing only on the expectations and interests of presenters, CINARS promotes the performing arts by providing international visibility to quality artistic productions from here and around the world.
MR: What is the overall agenda?
AP: We have seen a 10-15 per cent increase in attendance from one edition to the next since 1984, so the challenge is finding innovative ways of providing the same services and experiences during the whole event. Despite economic strains in Europe and elsewhere, we’re expecting more than 1,500 performing arts professionals from 40 countries this year in November, so designing an environment that integrates a broad variety of performances, conferences, pitch sessions and meaningful networking activities is key. With more than 150 performances already confirmed and new conference formats on offer that experiment with storytelling and knowledge-sharing activities, the Biennale is still the place to build relationships, find touring opportunities, and discover great productions. There’s a lot to look forward to and a lot to prepare.
MR: How has CINARS changed since you launched it 32 years ago? Is the future looking bright for Canadian arts companies?
AP: CINARS was founded at a crucial moment for Canadian performing arts. It was a matter of survival for a lot of artistic companies who had to find ways of presenting their work abroad in order to continue creating. After assessing the situation, we organised the CINARS Biennale to provide artistic companies a place to promote their shows and facilitate touring. At the beginning, the impact was modest but there was clearly a positive response to the initiative. Then, very quickly, the Biennale became a fulcrum for a new generation of avant-garde artists that were redefining their disciplines and would eventually have a considerable impact on performing arts all over the world – artists like Marie Chouinard, La La La Human Steps, Robert Lepage and Cirque du Soleil.
‘The Biennale is still the place to build relationships, find touring opportunities, and discover great productions’
Of course there are bad years and less successful editions, it’s a cycle with high and lows. It’s hard to pinpoint the exact reason; sometimes there are fewer quality productions available for touring, or a clear divide between what audiences (and presenters) are expecting at a certain moment and what artistic companies are producing.
But beyond these factors I’m still convinced that changes in cultural policies, at all levels of government, are the main influence on artistic development as well as domestic and international touring. We can’t over-emphasise how crucial public funding is: for example, there were severe cuts in the arts under the outgoing Canadian government, and the export of the performing arts clearly wasn’t a priority. But since 2015 the wind has changed and the arts sector has welcomed the new government’s interest in the promotion of Canadian artists. Since last October, we can’t help ourselves from thinking: Canada is back!
MR: What are your top tips for making the most of CINARS?
AP: 1. Attend the opening reception to break the ice.
2. Presenters should register for the OFF-CINARS performances and plan accordingly. 3. Delegates should participate in this year’s conferences and Great Knowledge Café. 4. Look out for our partner events, showcases and activities.
5. The Pitch Session is always a great place to exchange.
6. Bring a warm coat.
CINARS takes place from 14-19 November in Montréal. You can read our full interview with Alain Paré in the latest issue of International Arts Manager.