27 June – 1 July 2012, Leeds
The PSi #18 conference Performance: Culture: Industry was an initiative of the School of Performance and Cultural Industries at the University of Leeds, UK, in partnership with sister schools in the Faculty of Performance, Visual Arts and Communications, and Workshop Theatre in the Faculty of Arts. In association with partner arts organizations in Leeds and beyond, we worked to provide a programme of international and regional performance, Ludus Festival Leeds, to coincide with the conference, open both to delegates and to the denizens of Leeds.

At the conference 530 academics, artists and other practitioners were brought together to debate, develop, contest and celebrate the relationships between culture, industry and performance – now, in the past, and in possible futures. The conference theme was developed to reflect and explore the complex interaction between ‘performance’, ‘culture’ and ‘industry’. And over the year of planning for the conference, the accelerating crisis in neoliberalism lent further urgency to the issues. At the heart of the theme was a recognition that there is often a fundamental tension between cultural value and economic value; and that the conditions under which performance is made usually demand that this tension is accommodated somehow. We were not proposing that it is a simple matter of binaries: culture/industry, intrinsic value/instrumental value – or indeed ecology/economy. Rather, we wanted to locate this debate within wider and contemporary cultural and economic concerns in order to look at where the future of performance studies – in its various manifestations – may lie. Responses to the call were inventive and imaginative and the programme comprised a rich range of ways – through shifts, panels, roundtables and plenaries – to engage and stimulate debate from a variety of perspectives. The schedule of events included 232 papers, 52 shifts, 46 panels and 19 other formats, including a ‘Meadow Meander’ in the University’s St. George’s Field, the chance to buy and sell minutes of your time, a choice of performative relaxation therapies and an audio guide to the architecture of the University of Leeds.

The initial provocations for the conference included these questions:

Value and efficacy

What are the synergies and contradictions between economic and cultural value in the field of performance? How can these be understood in terms of performance? Can we distinguish intrinsic from instrumental value? What, in our various circumstances, are the problematics of both defining and measuring cultural and economic efficacies of performance practice? What methodologies and rhetorics do and might we deploy?

Commercial and amateur

How is the commercial stage being addressed from within the performance studies frame? How is amateur performance being addressed from within the performance studies frame?

Cultural articulations

How has performance addressed and how is it addressing the various alienations, needs, gains and negotiations associated with economic, cultural and refugee migration? How do economic conditions co-determine how cultural identities are performed, negotiated and resisted through performance? What is the present, past and future of cultural performance? What are the present and future possibilities for performance practice and understanding across cultures? Or against cultural boundary-making itself?

Relations and determinations

How do economic and cultural drivers determine the relationship between the academy and performance practice beyond its walls? What effects is the change in the global economic landscape having on performance studies? How has performance engaged, and how does it and might it engage, with the several cultural industries? What has performance studies to contribute?

Training, labour and innovation

Where and how does performance practice develop; and what are the cultural and economic drivers? What are the relationships between and within the academic and industrial spheres in the training of professionals, including performers, directors, scenic artists and technicians? What is the present and future of vocational performer training conducted outside educational systems – e.g. within the family?

Economy / Ecology

How has, does and might performance engage with concerns around environmental change and ecological impact? How might a performative focus on landscape, locality or habitus enable us to rethink the relationship of the personal, the economic, the political and the ecological?

The annual PSi conference usually takes place alongside an existing festival of international, contemporary performance. Whilst Leeds is rich in cultural events and networks of contemporary art and performance, up until now there has not been such a festival. But the opportunity of PSi coming to Leeds served as the catalyst to inaugurate one. We created a partnership between the University and some of the key cultural providers in Leeds – principally Opera North, West Yorkshire Playhouse, Leeds City Council, Yorkshire Dance and the Yorkshire International Performing Arts Network – to develop Ludus Festival Leeds. We intend to build on the relationships that have been established to make Ludus a sustainable, biennial event. So Ludus was not simply a festival for the conference, but, as the name suggests, we hoped that conference delegates, alongside citizens of Leeds, would enjoy the various playful ways in which the festival sought to engage a wide range of audiences. The international programme was developed through research and consultation with the Centre for Performance Research.

The PSi conference coming to Leeds lent impetus to a deeper engagement between University of Leeds and the cultural life of the city of Leeds. In addition to the innovation of Ludus Festival Leeds, the ‘porous’ shifts which were part of the conference were also available to a wider audience: they allowed the work of the conference to resonate beyond the campus and across the city.

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