“The touring performing artist is an ancient character. She or he is not only an expert craftsperson but also a kind of Johnny Appleseed, spreading new and important ideas that blossom long after the artist has moved on. As a presenter of touring artists, I am proud to be part of that tradition.” An NPN Partner
In the United States, as in all countries, the arts are a mechanism through which we collectively understand and evolve ourselves as a society. Through the symbols and rituals of the arts, we take stock of the present and past, we experiment with new ideas, and we celebrate the beauty of our common humanity. American culture is an amalgam of rituals and symbols that operate at many levels, and the meaning systems of these rituals and symbols — the “cultural ecologies” — are constantly shifting.
The National Performance Network is made up of 50-75 arts organizations (NPN Partners) based in rural, suburban and urban communities across the United States and its territories. NPN Partners are cultural organizations that have committed themselves to stewardship of the cultural ecologies in their communities through the performing arts.
NPN Partners range from the most grassroots operations to large regional arts centers. They support a healthy mix of programs designed to create, produce, present and provide training in the arts. The one common denominator is that all NPN Partners present the work of touring performing artists. NPN Partners collaborate with a wide range of community agencies, including other arts organizations, churches, social service agencies, and community development corporations, in order to reach new and under-served audiences.
NPN Partners are interdisciplinary, involving themselves not only in the arts but youth development, civil rights, economic development, advocacy for the protection of the environment, and social reconciliation. In order to keep their cultural ecologies active and healthy, NPN Partners maintain a dual commitment to actively nurture and support the work of local artists while at the same time catalyzing new encounters with artists from other communities.
Through the network, NPN Partners share information about trends in the field, best practices, and the performing artists whose works circulate within, between and beyond their communities. NPN provides a structure to move new ideas, techniques and art around the country. More than simply a service organization, the National Performance Network is a “practical think-tank” of cultural centers dedicated to improving society through independent, innovative creative expression.
NPN values long-term relationships, so NPN Partners remain members of NPN as long as their organizational work and commitment to NPN’s mission and values remain active. The overall size of the Network is kept small enough to have in-depth conversations, and large enough to represent our diversity as a country. New Partners are brought on periodically through a deliberate process that involves the board, staff, and current NPN Partners.
In 2005 NPN was approached to explore the idea of whether a similar model of community engagement during a residency could work with visual artists. In the fall of 2007 eight arts organizations – four existing NPN Partners and four outside organizations – were selected to exhibit the work of contemporary visual artists and to host these artists for a one- or two-week residency.
After the success of the pilot VAN project, and with financial support from the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, the Joan Mitchell Foundation and the Nathan Cummings Foundation, NPN officially launched the VAN Program in the fall of 2008. New organizations were selected through a rigorous application process to join the original VAN Partners. The 15 VAN Partners are the pioneers of an ever-evolving network of presenters, curators, and visual artists that cross geographic divides and social boundaries.