Woman in a purple top and lipstick smiles.
Program Manager, New England Presenting & Touring

The Idea Swap is the largest annual networking event for New England nonprofit performing arts presenters, curators, and touring artists. It’s a unique opportunity for organizations and individual artists from rural and urban communities across the six New England states to share projects they’d like to see tour in the region.

The event was originally designed to provide a forum for presenters to share touring projects and to find potential touring partners for NEFA’s Expeditions program. The Idea Swap has become a crucial meeting place for performing arts programmers and artists to learn about each other’s work, reunite with colleagues, and build new relationships. To kick-off this year’s event, we asked a few participants to share their own stories and Idea Swap experiences to get in the spirit of networking!

Melissa Richmond, Executive Director, Claremont Center for Music and the Arts (Claremont, NH)

  • What is your favorite thing about your job? My favorite thing about my job is getting to work with fantastic artists and creating programs where there were previously none. I think music and arts are a powerful way to work towards eliminating some of the biggest challenges for society. There are few jobs that regularly offer a chance to inspire people and even change their lives, and I'm grateful I get to do this work.
  • What do you like about living in New England? I live in Claremont NH, pretty much the geographical center of New England, and I love that location. Although we are a rural community with a lot of challenges the landscape is stunning, and within 2-3 hours’ drive I can be in any of the major cultural hubs in New England. If you are fortunate enough to have transportation, New England has so much to offer.
  • Why do you attend the Idea Swap? I look forward to the Idea Swap every year as an opportunity to connect with colleagues and to see what interesting projects are going on that may fit into my season. I appreciate the space it creates for emerging and seasoned arts professional rather than only serving a single group. Whatever priorities I have for a particular year, Idea Swap is able to play a valuable role.
  • Has attending the Idea Swap led to any new opportunities or partnerships? I have had both opportunities and partnerships eventually emerge through Idea Swap. WCCMA has not only presented a project, created a tour, and successfully been awarded an Expeditions grant for that project, but we have also begun relationships with other presenters that ultimately led to a major partnered program. When I went to my first Idea Swap several years ago I had no idea the opportunities that would happen for WCCMA as a result, because it's well beyond just looking for artists to fill a series.

Sokeo Ros, Co-Artistic Director of Everett Company and Artistic Director of Case Closed! (Providence, RI)

  • ​What did you want to be when you were growing up? Growing up, I did not know exactly what I wanted to do. Coming from a refugee camp to a gang neighborhood, all there was was survival. So I was planning on becoming something my parents wanted; a doctor, lawyer, teacher, etc. Breakdance was a hobby of mine. And that hobby flourished into a career as a teaching artist. 
  • If you weren’t an artist, what would you do? I actually don't know what else I would've done. Hip-hop dance and the arts kind of saved my life. If I didn't have this, I probably would've been dead or in jail. Or unhappy. So this is all I know. And I know this is what kept me going. 
  • What is your favorite part of the Idea Swap? My favorite part would have to be meeting other amazing artists and presenters. Making connections and building relationships with so many other artists and presenters that believe in this work and believe that it can help heal people and change lives. 
  • Has attending the Idea Swap led to any new opportunities or partnerships? Yes it has. It helped launch my tour of "From Refugee Camp to Project" on a 6 month gig; off and on. This includes, panel discussions, speaking at events, shows, teachings, master classes and workshops. And it all started with one booking with Sabrina Hamilton. The world premier of my show was at KO Festival with Sabrina Hamilton in 2015. Then before I knew it I was booking gigs for 2016 and so forth.

Ranjanaa Devi, Director, Asian Arts and Culture Program, University of Massachusetts Amherst (Amherst, MA)

  • What is your favorite thing about your job? I love bringing artists to an academic setting that allows for exchanges and interactions that produce a proliferation of ideas and thoughts from engaged students, faculty and artists across the arts and sciences.  There is such joy in seeing that process unfold and a student’s life is changed because of it.
  • If you didn’t work in the arts, what would you do? The idea of not being artistic was unconceivable growing up.  I trained in Dance, got a graduate degree in Music, I painted and did illustration arts. As I think, back, perhaps, I would like to have been a surgeon as I have nimble fingers and want to help alleviate pain and share the joy of recovery of my patients. Oh well, it is but a thought.
  • What is your favorite part of the Idea Swap? “It takes a village” to gather the best artists for our New England audiences. At Idea Swap we become a team that works and shares ideas and bounces questions back and forth.  That is a phenomenal opportunity. We get to know the new and young presenters making their way in the field of presenting and maybe give some advice.
  • What makes a good pitch at the Idea Swap? When talking about an artist(s) at a session for presenters, keep it short and clear. Not too many details are needed, but in the opening line capture the artist’s vision of the work so the audience gets engaged. 

Lida Winfield, Performing Artist (Middlebury, VT)

  • What did you want to be when you were growing up? I always wanted to be an artist. I was not sure what type of artist I would be - painter, sculpture, comedian. As a teenager, I used to imagine I was on Saturday Night Live and that Oprah invited me onto her show for an interview.
  • What is your favorite thing about your job? The actual process of dancing and creating. This includes teaching and working with students. I love the feeling of moving and making together.
  • Why do you attend the Idea Swap? To meet new people, connect with old friends and see who is doing what in New England.
  • Has attending the Idea Swap led to any new opportunities or partnerships? Yes! I have made many connections that have led to many opportunities at the Idea Swap. 

Robert A. Richter, Director of Arts Programming, Connecticut College (New London, CT)

  • What type of work does your organization present? We have a very eclectic series, presenting dance, music and theater.  Since our community has a number of other presenting organizations, including two casinos, we try to compliment the other venues by presenting things that they would never consider; which is also more in line with a presenting series at a progressive liberal arts college.  I think of our programming as being adventurous, which is what I love. 
  • If you didn’t work in the arts, what would you do? It is hard to consider what I would be doing if I didn’t work in the arts.  But it would probably be working in developing countries, most likely in Africa, trying to generate economic development and self-sufficiency.  But I am sure that the arts would end up creeping in there in some way. 
  • Why do you attend the Idea Swap? I attend Idea Swap to be able to reconnect with colleagues and meet new colleagues in the field.  It is also great to hear about projects that I otherwise would have no knowledge of. 
  • What advice do you have for people who haven’t been to the Idea Swap before? My advice to someone who has not been to Idea Swap before is to relax and enjoy it.  Take the time and opportunity to meet new people and discover new artists.  I think at times it can overwhelm.  The key thing is to enjoy!

Registration for the 16th annual Idea Swap is available through October 27. Check out 70+ touring project ideas online. We hope to see you there!