NPN Partner Receives Top Honor

February 11, 2009  •  4 minute read


Minneapolis, January 30, 2009—Philip Bither, the Walker Art Center’s William and Nadine McGuire Senior Curator, Performing Arts, was awarded the Fan Taylor Distinguished Service Award by the Association of Performing Arts Presenters at the organization’s national conference in New York City earlier this month. The Fan Taylor Distinguished Service Award is presented annually to an individual whose outstanding service, creative thinking and leadership have had a significant impact on the profession of presenting and/or on the Association of Arts Presenters. This award honors Fan Taylor for her many contributions to the field of presenting. Taylor was instrumental in the development of what was then called the Association of College and University Concert Managers. She served as Arts Presenters’ first secretary-treasurer and eventually as the first executive director.

With over 40 years as an active arts service organization, the Association of Performing Arts Presenters (Arts Presenters) is the nexus for the performing arts community and the innovators in the field. Representing both the nonprofit and for-profit sectors of the industry, Arts Presenters members hail from all 50states and more than 15 countries across the globe and range from large performing arts centers in major urban cities, outdoor festivals and rural community-focused organizations to academic institutions, artists, and artist managers. The Association’s membership includes organizations with multimillion dollar budgets and individuals who are performing arts professionals.

While introducing Bither at the awards ceremony, award presenter Colleen Roggensack commented: “Described as ‘unquestionably one of the best when you talk about the great presenters in this country,’ this year’s recipient of the Fan Taylor Award is known for an eclectic and innovative performance series. To secure the artists on this series of 40 to 50 shows a year, this presenter scours the globe on scouting excursions, winning the trust and participation of a wide array of international artists.  A colleague has described this presenter as having ‘an inner Geiger counter that sends out an energy to the artist that signals they are really being listened to . . . artists are comfortable being vulnerable with this presenter.’

Roggensack continued, “With a range of tastes that runs from Japanese Butoh Theater to Cuban son music, free jazz to experimental puppetry, postmodern American choreography to electronica, European cirque nouveau to Indonesian dance and practically everything in between, this presenter’s breadth of vision has delivered the world to the community’s doorstep. This visionary programming leader has engaged new audiences and re-engaged regulars, and set the bar for art centers across America that include performance in their institutions. As another observer has noted, ‘He gives audiences what they didn’t know they wanted.’ Under his aegis, he has seen significant expansion of the performing arts program at his institution, including the building of an acclaimed new theatrical space, the raising of the venue’s first commissioning/ programming endowment, the commissioning of more than 100 new works in dance, music and performance art, and the annual presentation and residency support of dozens of contemporary performing arts creators . . . He is an exemplar of the Susan Lori Parks’ ideal of Practicing Radical Inclusion.”

Upon receipt of the award, Bither remarked, “I hold out my deepest, most profound thanks to the people who give us all our reason for being here—the artists and the audiences that we serve.  I particularly want to thank artists – who’s passion, inspiration, courage, imaginations, and works of brilliance have changed our lives and have made all of the hard work, the difficult financial challenges, the long hours, and the frustrations we sometimes face, more than worth it.“

Bither has been Walker Art Center’s Senior Curator of Performing Arts since 1997. In September 2008, he oversaw the Walker’s nationally acclaimed production of Merce Cunningham and John Cage’s monumental Ocean in the Rainbow Quarry in Waite Park, MN. Prior to his Walker tenure, he served as Director of Programming for the Flynn Center and Artistic Director of the Discover Jazz Festival (Burlington, VT) from April 1988 to April 1997. From 1984–1988, he was Associate Director/Music Curator of the Next Wave Festival at Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM).

He serves on the Artistic Advisory Committee for Japan Society’s Performing Arts Program, the McKnight Distinguished Artist Panel, and is a founding member of both the Contemporary Art Center Performing Arts Network through the New England Foundation for the Arts and the Africa Contemporary Arts Consortium, through MultiArts Projects and Production (MAPP). He served as an Advisor for the National Dance Project (2004–2008) as well as a Hub Site (1997–2001); a member of the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation 2006 Program Review Panel, the 2004–2006 Artistic Committee of Etonne Donne, the French-American Fund for the Performing Arts; and as a 2006/07 Australia Council for the Arts “Dance Down Under” US Ambassador.  He has sat on the Board of Directors of the Association of Performing Arts Presenters (APAP), En Garde Arts (NYC), Atlantic Theater Company (NYC/VT), and New Music Alliance (NYC) and was a member of the Pew Charitable Trust’s International Presenters’ Forum.  He co-chaired the International Presenting Conference at Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival.  In the past 10 years, he has also served on U.S. Delegations to Tunisia, Russia, Japan, Cuba, Australia, Holland, France, Scotland, England, Hong Kong, and other countries. In 2000–2002 conducted individual research in South Africa, Turkey, and Brazil for the Walker’s 2003 “How Latitudes Become Forms.” He received a Vermont Arts Council Citation of Merit in 2001 and a Fan Taylor Distinguished Service Award in 2009 for exemplary service to the field of professional presenting. A recent Mellon Foundation Award to the Performing Arts Program will enable this global artist research to continue in Brazil and South Africa, and begin in Indonesia (2008–2011). He sits on numerous federal, state, local, and national foundation arts panels and he speaks and writes about the contemporary performing arts nationally.

Photo credit: Ken Fisher