Complexity of ‘Indianness’ impacts show management

My PhD thesis, ‘Performance Networks: Indian Cultural Production in Aotearoa/New Zealand’ focuses on the production of Indian cultural performances in Auckland, a subject that has been a focus of my life for over twenty years.

I would like to express special thanks to the residents of the city of Auckland who support cultural events, to all of the participants in this study, and to those who made possible the amazing performances that I have had the privilege of experiencing over the course of this research.

I hope that the events in which all of you participate will help you accomplish your goals and fulfil your dreams.

Hindustani Music

I have had the opportunity to live, work and study in the Hindustani musical tradition, in the US, India and New Zealand.

The Ali Akbar College of Music and its associated community deepened my understanding of the music and flavoured my approach to my research interests.

I am not a professional musician but have a deep love of music and enjoy performing.

I have worked as an event producer across various industry sectors and have a strong preference for the performing arts sector.

I currently teach in a university department that specialises in event management and tourism. I have lived amongst a community of Indian musicians for most of my adult life.

This community has provided me with deep friendships that led to performance and production experience. These circumstances, by which my family arrived in New Zealand over 21 years ago, opened up opportunities to work with touring musicians, students at the University of Auckland, and local Indian musicians as a friend, producer and performer.

Thesis coverage

With this in mind, my PhD research examines the ways producer identity affects production practice and, ultimately, Indian cultural representation in a global context.

To achieve this aim, I have tracked Indian performance events in Auckland over a historical period (1997- 2012). By identifying event goals among Indian and non-Indian producers and visualising their production networks, I was able to discuss and analyse the structure and nature of a variety of networks.

In order to accomplish these aims and objectives, this research is framed around a central research question: What are the processes and relationships that support the production of cultural events, with specific reference to events that are of interest to and/or produced by Auckland’s Indian communities?

My research focus is interdisciplinary (social science, ethnomusicology and event management) and studies music and other performing arts events in industrial and non-industrial contexts.

I examine cultural variations resulting from the efforts of producers, who are private individuals, entrepreneurs, community groups, or government bodies, all operating within an Indian cultural context defined by South Asians who represent one of Auckland’s major cultural communities.

Migration growth

The period covering 1995–2012 in Auckland’s immigration history is significant due to the growth and cultural makeup of the Indian community, as reflected in the emergence of a very public and vibrant community of many ‘Indian’ voices through the promotion of public concerts, festivals and cultural celebrations.

The producers of Indian cultural events create a variety of event experiences, from religious celebrations and classical music and dance concerts to Bollywood shows, club rave parties and theatre.

These events contributed to the quality of life of Auckland’s diverse cultural communities in a range of ways. While most events were enjoyed almost solely by members of specific cultural communities within the larger Indian community, others, such as the large public festivals, offered all New Zealanders an opportunity to share in public celebrations of Indian culture.

The ongoing sustainability of these events requires complex negotiations between local and international relationships and reputations built on production networks.

Unsustainable losses

Some newly arrived migrants are often not aware of the production management differences between commercial and government producers, placing themselves in financially precarious positions as new arrivals into the world of producing events.

A third of the commercially produced concerts identified in this study did not break even.

Auckland can prove quite tricky due to the small market for events and the cost of hiring venues. Newly arrived from India or other cities that have large Indian populations, it is hard to comprehend the limitations of a city the size of Auckland.

Of those who did not break even, a majority were new into the Auckland Indian event production scene.

The difficulty of breaking into the event scene is compounded by having to compete with producers who have already developed relationship networks.

The more successful producers have developed powerful production networks, which have taken time, energy and skill to develop. Reputations have been built through the network development process.

Some relationship networks between community organisations, government agencies and individuals were established during the mid-1990s and continue to remain in place in 2013. Some of relationship networks established in the mid-2000s by commercial producers continue to be activated when required.

Continuity helps

It is the continuous formal and informal processes, systems, structures, and relationships that create successful production networks. Successful production networks are powerful, as they create platforms on which to build meaningful cultural experiences as well as serving as a foundation for building and maintaining socially sustainable communities.

The findings in this research demonstrate in multiple ways the manner in which event producers construct, use, rearrange and maintain production networks. The event process is powerful, as it has the capacity to affect the reputations of performers, producers and communities.

The ability of production networks to endure and evolve is a key to the longevity of the Indian cultural event industry in Auckland.

As the size and cultural diversity of the population has grown, so has the ability to grow commercial capabilities as well as events representing the cultural diversity of the population.

This study demonstrates how the concept of ‘Indianness’ has become more complex in event production practices in the globalised world of the 21st Century.

Alison Booth is an Event Producer and Ethnomusicologist of the Event Management School of Hospitality and Tourism at Auckland University of Technology (AUT). She will graduate with a PhD from the University of Otago (Department Of Music) on August 16, 2014 with research that focuses on Indian cultural production in Auckland.

The above is an extract of her PhD Thesis, ‘Performance Networks: Indian Cultural Production in Aotearoa/New Zealand.’ A number of sources and web links that formed a part of her write-up have been removed for technical reasons.

Another Part of her editorial will appear in our next issue.

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