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Handbook for Presenting Mississippi’s Artists

IV. Working with the Tradition Bearer

Prior Understandings

For presentations to be successful, it is crucial that artists be comfortable and confident. After an organization has selected an artist for presentation, there will need to be an understanding of what the artist and organization expect of each other. If the artist is involved in planning the presentations, some questions will be quickly answered. Others may be cleared up in private discussions. Understandings should be reached on the following topics:

Contract items:

The organization will want to draw up a clearly written contract that specifies the number of programs, dates, times, lengths, locations, amount to be paid and schedule of payment. At the start of an extended residency, however, details about all the programs may not be finalized. If this is the case, a generalized contract showing that the artist agrees to do a certain number of performances or demonstrations of stated length during the time period of the residency should be used. With traditional artists, whose involvement in academic culture may have been slight, it is wise to discuss the contents of the contract, receiving verbal as well as written confirmation that the terms are understood and agreed upon.

Focus of performance or demonstration:

The artist should have a clear understanding of what type of music or craft he or she is expected to present. It sometimes happens that during a performance, a traditional musician who knows a wealth of tunes learned within the family and community suddenly launches into pop music, feeling that the audience will enjoy it more than the “old stuff.” Or a pine needle basket maker who learned her craft from her mother also wishes to demonstrate craft items made from instructions offered in a recent women’s magazine. Avoid such situations by explaining beforehand that the sponsors wishes to explore and present the traditional arts of Mississippi, and that songs, crafts, and stories taken from popular culture will be inappropriate, even though the artist may enjoy doing them and audiences request them. Also discuss points that the artist should remember to make during performances and demonstrations, thus alleviating the need for the presenter to make them in introductions.

Equipment, supplies, and types of spaces required by artist:

Musicians need sound systems for performances in large halls; buck dancers need uncarpeted floors or portable wooden dancing boards; gandy dancers need railroad tracks; wood workers need electric power for their tools; and the lack of any of these at a performance or demonstration leads to disappointing programs. Careful planning with the artist should produce a list of needs and an understanding of who will satisfy them.

Transportation to program sites:

It is possible that the tradition bearer your agency chooses to present may have some problem getting to performances. Old age or an unreliable automobile may prevent him or her from driving. The artist’s unfamiliarity with a site and an inability to read maps may cause late arrivals or missed performances. Anticipating such problems, working with the artist to arrange alternate transportation when necessary, and giving clear verbal directions to performance sites will increase the ease with which your program runs.

Southern Hospitality

When an arts agency presents a famous classical musician, there is often a rider to the contract specifying the brand of bottled water to be supplied and the temperature that the dressing room should be. It is unlikely that the traditional artist will make any demands whatsoever. But the agency will want to insure the artist’s physical comfort at each presentation by having someone on site provide information, directions, drinking water, snacks or meals at lengthy programs, and assistance in transporting the artist’s equipment to the car.

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