A Brief History of Arts Northwest over 40 Years!

Arts Northwest is a unique partnership organization that has been serving presenters and artists for over 35 years.  It has its roots in Oregon’s N.W. Booking Conference and in Washington's "SWAP" (State of Washington Arts Presenters). Leslie Alexander Tuomi was the Oregon Arts Commission staff member who developed the Northwest Booking Conference

Arts Northwest Booking Conference 

In 1983 the Oregon Arts Commission organized the Northwest’s first booking conference.  It also published Oregon on Tour, a juried roster of Oregon performing companies. The showcases at the Oregon booking conferences featured Oregon companies but usually included other companies from Washington, Idaho, and British Columbia.  The conference was attended by presenters from Oregon, Washington, and Idaho as well as artists and management from these and other states.  

State of Washington Arts Presenters (SWAP)

SWAP only had about 20-30 members from throughout Washington.  It was the first arts consortium in the Western United States.  New England Arts Presenters was the first in the US.  The organization became a model for the West and the United States. In the early years SWAP coordinated with the Oregon Booking Conference; but also had close ties with Pacific Contact, the Western Canadian booking conference.  The evolution of SWAP to Arts Northwest over all the years has been member-driven and as a result, very successful.  Early on it was realized that there was a true need for presenters to work together to assemble tours and negotiate fees. 

We can thank the National Endowment for the arts for funding the expansion of SWAP into SWAP Northwest, which included presenters from Oregon, Washington, and Idaho.  One of the first presenter networking events took place in Lake Wilderness, outside of Seattle in the early 1980s. This event connected presenters provided the first ANW mentor opportunities and created expanded tours for artists. Pioneers from those first years include (but are not limited to) people like Sylvia Hunt (Caldwell, ID), Eli Ashley (Yakima, WA), Marilyn Sabella (Sandpoint, ID), Janet Bradley (Vancouver, WA), and others.


In the late 1980s, SWAP Northwest became known as Pacific Northwest Arts Presenters or PNWAP. 

​​​​​​​Marilyn Sabella as Idaho Commission on the Arts Chair convened and chaired a tri-state task force to explore the possibility of having a booking conference that was supported by all three state arts agencies to service the three-state region. The booking conference as we now know it was born with the support of Idaho, Washington, and Oregon Arts Commissions.  As a result, in 1991, the conference, now known as the ARTS NORTHWEST BOOKING CONFERENCE, started rotating between the three states to a variety of cities. 

Granting Full Voting Membership to Artists/Agents

In 1994 (1995?) the organization voted to bring artists members into full membership and changed the organization's name to Arts Northwest to reflect that evolution. For the first time, artists and presenters from all three states sat on the board of directors together. The inclusion of artists and managers mirrored the national trend towards inclusiveness of the entire field.  The successful inclusion of the three-state region also made sense in terms of the touring market and fiscal efficiency for staff and conferences.  It is still a successful model because it meets its members' needs.

Northwest on Tour

During the early 1990s, Arts Northwest took responsibility for producing a juried roster of Northwest touring artists (Northwest on Tour), eliminating State Art Agency duplication in this area. NW On Tour was produced bi-annually, as a juried publication comprised of 75% artists from the tri-state region, and 25% from outside. It was distributed and utilized as well as posted to the Arts NW website but, due to changes in technology, it was phased out in 2014 and replaced with "Booking Connection". Booking Connection is an online searchable roster of artists touring in the Northwest and is available as a member benefit. 

Current and Developing Partnerships

Arts Northwest continues to work closely with the Arts Commissions of Oregon, Idaho, and Washington, who have been partner organizations for many years, in the most positive of ways.  In recent years, Arts Northwest has been asked to extend its services well beyond the tri-state region, incorporating growing presenter membership from 10 of the western states, and increasing participation by artists and agents from most of the nation and several countries. Arts Northwest has been pleased to work cooperatively and diligently with the Arts Commissions and State Arts Councils of Alaska, Utah, Nevada, Montana, and Wyoming, to further identify ways to serve the presenters and artists located in their states, who fit the demographic best served by Arts Northwest.

Membership Report

Membership categories are defined as follows:

Presenters / Local Arts Agencies:
 Any organization or agency that presents performing arts. Dues are based on total artist fees paid during the most recently completed fiscal year.

Artist/Management/Individual Artists Members: Any performing artist or group, or any agent acting for such entities. Artist dues are based on total gross receipts for touring from the most recently completed fiscal year. Management dues are based on gross fees for which commissions are charged from the most recently completed fiscal year.

Associate Members: Any organization or individual not directly involved in presenting and touring and not actively doing business in the field or any organization or individual desiring a trial membership.

Arts Northwest employs a tiered scale when assessing membership dues.
Artist dues based on total gross receipts for touring from the most recently completed fiscal year. Management dues are based on gross fees for which commissions are charged.

Presenter / Local Arts Agency dues are based on total artist fees paid during the most recently completed fiscal year.

Executive Directors

The first Executive Director of Pacific Northwest Arts Presenters (PNWAP) was Lynne Waring followed by Marlene Moore during the PNWAP years.  Following Marlene's retirement, Jack Alotto and Peter McCracken served as Executive Director respectively with Arts Northwest.  In June 2000, Karen Hanan joined Arts Northwest as the Executive Director until 2014. She was followed by Sam Calhoun who serves as the current Executive Director.  

Board Presidents

Tom Tomlinson, Lynne Waring, Eli Ashley, Michael Davidson, Barry Boniface, Steve Caffrey, Tom Iovanne, Marilyn Sabella, Tom Olbrich, Rochelle Wiese, Ronda Billerbeck, Bill Stephan, Jan Eastman, Brian Johnson, Brad Burdick, Dyno Wahl, Kristine Bretall, Jill Barnes and current president, Laura Forbes

Arts Northwest is one of the finest booking conferences and performing arts service organizations in the United States. 

The best years of Arts Northwest are still to come.  Be there!