Jacoba Knaapen

Executive Director of TAPA (Toronto Alliance for the Performing Arts)

Sean Howard

Joe Szekeres

I know of TAPA and its vision as the voice of theatre, dance, and opera in Toronto. I also know the Dora Mavor Moore Awards (known as the Doras) are presented by TAPA as they acknowledge and recognize outstanding Toronto theatre in 50 categories over 7 Divisions in General Theatre, Independent Theatre, Musical Theatre, Theatre for Young Audiences, Dance, Opera and Touring. The awards in each division are voted on by a jury of eight to twelve individuals drawn from the professional performing arts community.

What I was not fully aware of regarding TAPA was the tremendous advocacy of the arts AND the extensive programs it offers. I’ve only just begun to examine TAPA’s website and plan to spend time in perusal to learn more.

I was also pleased TAPA’s Executive Director, Jacoba Knaapen, was available for an interview for this profile series. She is a tireless arts leader who, throughout this pandemic, has, as well, spearheaded numerous campaigns to fight for the interests of the performing arts community she serves. The most current one is petitioning the provincial government to allow theatres to rehearse in advance for outdoor performances and record digital content in their spaces (as film and tv are allowed to do) PRIOR to the stated Stage 2 opening (likely in July) so that the outdoor shows & streamed content will be able to go on.

In addition to Executive Director at TAPA, and, as part of her role there, Jacoba is the Producer of the Dora Awards, and thus is the Producer for the Dora Mavor Moore Ancillary Awards which will take place virtually on June 16, 2021 at 10am on the TAPA YouTube channel. I will include the link for this presentation at the end of Jacoba’s profile.

The Ancillary Awards are not based on a specific performance season but acknowledge a recipient’s whole career - and encompass administrative as well as artistic roles. The awards that will be handed out are Leonard McHardy and John Harvey Award for Outstanding Leadership in Administration (LMJH), the Victor C. Polley Protégé Award, the Pauline McGibbon Award, the John Hirsch Director’s Award and the Barbara Hamilton Memorial Award.

Given her extremely busy schedule as you will see from her first answer, Jacoba kindly answered questions via email.

Thank you so much for your time, Jacoba, and for allowing us to hear your voice on these important issues as the arts community emerges slowly from this worldwide pandemic:

It’s a harsh reality that Covid 19 has changed all of us. Please describe how it has changed your understanding personally of the world you once knew and how your perceptions and experience have changed and transformed.

COVID 19 has changed everything and the awakening to systemic racism has changed everything. Although it has been a time of heartbreak and pain, it has also created a new future time. A time of possibilities that seemed impossible before. That gives me hope.

Personally, I have never worked harder and longer days in my life. I hear and read about folks baking bread, finding new hobbies, reading books, looking for ways to fill their time. That has not been my reality and for me there have not been enough hours in the day. The advocacy work at TAPA has been relentless and all-consuming.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic circumstances, our ongoing efforts have expanded beyond TAPA’s usual municipal focus and included provincial work. Our entire existence seems to be all about advocacy. I feel privileged to be working and I am certainly not complaining, but these are indeed unusual and unprecedented times, and I am just now starting to carve out time for myself, which was originally prompted when my mom suddenly fell ill and I had to stop everything to take care of her.

Thankfully she is well and on track to recovery, but it was a real wake-up call for me to climb into self-care territory.

Of course (like everyone else) I am working remotely from a home office, and the large majority of communications have shifted to online, and I spend more hours on ZOOM than I ever could have imagined. The level of online exhaustion is high, and I miss in-person conversations and meetings. I have new folks on my team who were hired during the pandemic who I have not yet even met in person!

As a professional Arts administrator, how has your understanding of the arts industry of theatre, dance and opera been altered and changed professionally?

I think the professional theatre, dance and opera community in Toronto is extraordinary. There have been many shows that have been lost ­– that perhaps will never get the chance to be workshopped or presented on stage. The impact on individual artists and their careers is cruel, and acutely felt. Producers, managing directors, marketers, publicists, technical staff, bookkeepers – they have all been forced to pivot so many times that they have become expert alternate scenario planners.

It remains to be seen what will happen when audiences return to our currently-shuttered spaces (when it is safe to do so, of course) – how will that experience have changed for folks sitting together in a dark theatre?

As a professional arts administrator, what are you missing the most about the industry?

I miss many things. I miss seeing my team on a daily basis and being able to ‘jam ideas’ together, and on a very human level, sharing food together with them. I miss strategizing and sitting in person with the committee volunteers who are a critical part of the engine at TAPA. I am mostly missing seeing the community at live theatre performances, as well as dance and opera. The feeling of being with other people together in a theatre is impossible to replicate virtually.

Although I have enjoyed the digital content being created, in fact some of it has been personally inspiring, it is still not ‘live performance’ to me.

The magic of live, in person, is the best!

As a professional arts administrator, what will you never take for granted ever again?

Kindness. We cannot understand what is really happening behind those little ZOOM squares. The difficulties and personal stress individuals are experiencing is not apparent.

Please describe one element you hope has changed regarding the professional arts industry and community.

I don’t think we can fully know what the future looks like for our sector until we come back. But I do hope that we emerge as a community that is able to work equitably and with fairness. No one is interested in returning to an institutional status quo that didn’t work in the first place. I hope that we can come out of this with a sense of universal humanity that will give our artists and art-makers wings to take risks in their artistic exploration that was not previously possible.

And I believe that perhaps, as never before, the arts have become valued. I hope that the realization that arts and culture is an essential part of the overall mental health of a society will change attitudes toward financial support for the arts and the way that artists are paid. I hope that this new realization will end the cycle of poverty that so many artists face and their value will be recognized monetarily.

Toronto is a ridiculously expensive place to live and work on an artist’s salary.

Universal Basic Income!

As a professional arts administrator, what is it about your work that you would like members of the industry, the community, and future audiences to remember about you and your work?

I hope that folks will remember that TAPA has done its best to listen and to adapt, and to respond to the evolving membership needs.

I work with a very small, albeit hard-working team who are committed to serving the diverse needs of a membership that ranges from theatre to dance to opera. I am also fortunate to have an exceptional Board of Directors. Their collective wisdom is my compass.

I hope that folks will remember that always for me it has been driven by the love of theatre.

To learn more about TAPA (Toronto Alliance for the Performing Arts), please visit www.tapa.ca.

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