A Clermont Performing Arts Center employee recently took center stage at a virtual statewide performing arts conference.

City of Clermont Arts and Events Manager Chris Dudeck co-chaired and served as a panelist for the first virtual booking summit this fall for the Florida Professional Presenters Consortium, also known as the Florida Presenters.

“It was a great experience working with so many entertainment industry professionals from around the state while representing the City of Clermont,” Dudeck said. “We all came together as we continue to push forward to elevate the arts in each of our communities.”

The Florida Presenters represents nonprofit and publicly owned and operated performing arts facilities throughout Florida, serving 6 million audience members a year and creating a statewide economic impact of $500 million annually.

Dudeck was one of 95 performing arts administrators from 60 venues statewide who attended the three-day virtual conference. Ninety-nine pitch sessions from 143 talent agents working at 111 talent agencies were presented, representing thousands of performing artists. Attendance was equivalent to 87 percent of the Florida Presenters membership.

Dudeck co-chaired the summit with Mary-Margaret Dale, program manager of Culture Shock Miami, a program of Miami-Dade County’s Department of Cultural Affairs.

There is a backstory to the summit.

A little more than a year ago, when South Arts, the regional arts council for the Southeastern U.S., announced that the September 2019 edition of its long running Performing Arts Exchange (PAE) Conference would be the last; Florida Presenters immediately began discussing how it would respond to fill the gap for its membership.

The PAE conference was a critical tool for many performing arts presenters, especially in Florida, enabling them to meet in person with a critical mass of booking agents and artist managers all at once each year to discuss who would be available in Florida for the coming season.

A number of individuals and organizations encouraged Florida Presenters to create a new multi-state conference.

The organization began planning a new conference specifically for the Florida organizations, to be held at the Arsht Center in Miami just 12 months later, in September. Getting a new conference off the ground in just 12 months was already a tall order. Then came COVID-19, and the summit moved to Event Hub and Zoom.

Sponsorship for the original in-person conference had been received from South Arts and the Miami-Dade County Department of Cultural Affairs, and both sponsors agreed to apply their support to the virtual conference, enabling Florida Presenters to offer the entire three-day program to its members and the invited talent agents entirely free.

“Including rooms, registration and travel, a typical in-person conference costs a presenter $1,000 or more per person to attend, and agents spend substantially more than that,” Dudeck said. “The virtual experience definitely lacks what the in-person experience excels at, but in some ways, it was easier for some members to attend, especially those on a budget, or those who have to drive a long distance from the Panhandle or the Keys. In addition, agents were able to pitch buyers direct, for free, without having to leave home. We think that was a win-win for everyone involved.”

Planning for Summit 2.0 in September 2021 is already underway. Whether it will be a traditional in-person event or a virtual event is unknown at this time, but the organization is pleased with the results of the inaugural Summit. Even though 55 percent of respondents to the post-summit survey said they still preferred an in-person gathering, 90 percent of respondents ranked the effectiveness of the virtual conference a three or higher on a scale of one to five. This indicates that like their audiences, Florida’s performing arts professionals cannot wait to see each other in person again, but have found a workable alternative in these challenging times.

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