The Arts and Television

The World Congress of Arts Producers & Performance

Charles Benton

I am pleased to report on a new initiative to be launched in November 2003. I first got wind of this proposal at an event in Canada House in London where the organizers were sounding out representatives of the arts-on-television community as to their interest and enthusiasm for an annual gathering to be held in different places around the world. This is an initiative of the Banff Television Foundation based in Alberta, Canada and enjoys the support of IMZ (The International Music Zentrum, in Vienna), U.S. Independents (a Washington, D.C. based group), and various broadcasters and independent producers from around the world. The man leading the venture is a former arts and performance producer, Pat Ferns, who now runs the Banff Television Foundation. The Foundation stages the Banff Television Festival and various World Congresses organized by genre, such as science, history, news, new media. The latest creation is a Congress on arts and performance.

Why are gatherings of this kind of value? It is Ferns' contention that the large trade markets in the world are in decline and that there is an efficiency and value in gathering specific genre communities together to look at best practice, discuss topics of shared interest, and find ways to collaborate. Avoiding the clutter of the large market, a gathering of 300 or so persons will bring together the key broadcasters who commission programs, the key producers who make them, as well as interested parties, be they artists, writers, performers, directors, journalists, funders, or foundations.

Previous World Congresses have been based on the strength and growth of the community. Science television was very hot, the next big thing was history, and so on. In this case however, arts and performance television is to some degree in crisis. Therefore, key players see real value in coming together to explore the problems they face. Clearly funding is at the heart of the current debate. Public broadcasters have been under siege and some of them around the world have embarked on a pursuit of ratings rather than public service. Specialty channels are now emerging, some with success and some with big problems.

The World Congress of Arts Producers & Performance will draw on international experience. Many of you may have heard that in the UK the BBC has been under attack for marginalizing arts programming. Now it is reinstating arts in prime time and is seeing the DVD market as an important dimension of its future. Music companies will be strongly represented at this first Congress. One day will be devoted to the arts on television, one to television as art, and one to the future.

The Congress will be held on November 5-8, 2003 at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa, Canada's capital. The culmination of the event will be an opportunity to attend the Governor General's Performing Arts Awards, a highlight in the Canadian cultural calendar. In 2004 the Congress moves to Vienna in association with the Vienna Music Awards. Perhaps 2005 will see us in Washington, D.C. I believe this is an event that demands our attention. Having attended other programs organized by Banff, I can assure you that their branding proposition is true: innovation, excellence, opportunity.

For more information contact Kerry Stauffer, executive producer, The World Congress of Arts Producers & Performance, Banff Television Foundation , 1350 Railway Avenue, Canmore, AB T1W 3E3, Canada, 403-678-9287,

Charles Benton is chairman, Benton Foundation.