PR, Films and Fantasies

LIFT – The Future of Festivals

Posted on: February 29, 2012

Yesterday I went to an amazing event on festivals and their evolution, organised by LIFT (London International Festival of Theatre) and the Jerwood Charitable Foundation at The Southbank Centre in London.

There were loads of points covered in a full day of talks, group discussions and presentations by both artists and festival organisers/producers (plus a delicious lunch with a brilliant view of the Thames and The London Eye). This is broadly what the event covered:

The last decade has seen a rapid growth in the number and popularity of arts festivals in the UK. No longer is the UK arts festival calendar solely dominated by Edinburgh: from Spring to Autumn across the UK there are increasingly popular grass roots festivals that celebrate local culture, large-scale music festivals that now include theatre and dance programmes, new city-wide festivals that promote place-making and civic identity and mainstream cultural institutions wrapping up their existing programme within a festival format. And in addition we are also witnessing the rise of a new type of arts festival led and programmed by artists.

Many of these festivals emerged and grew in the economic boom of the last decade, fuelled by public sector spending, corporate sponsorship and the disposable income of audiences. Now, in different economic times, how many will survive? What strategies will festival organisers need to adopt to make themselves more sustainable? Are there now opportunities for new, more collaborative festival models? What unique role do festivals play in the development of an artist’s career?

Keynote speakers:

Jude Kelly Artistic Director of The Southbank Centre

Simon Mellor Executive Director, Manchester International Festival and newly appointed Executive Director, Arts at Arts Council England.

Key contributors:

Mark Yeoman Director of the Noordezoon Festival in Groningen in The Netherlands, one of Europe’s most innovative and popular performing arts festivals

Stefan Kaegi Co-founder of the German performance collective Rimini Protokoll who recently established ‘Parallel Cities’, a mobile artist led festival taking place in cities across the world

Andy Field co-Director of Forest Fringe at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival

Faith Liddell Director of Festivals Edinburgh, a new organisation working on behalf of Edinburgh’s major festivals

Jennifer Cleary Head of Creative Learning, Manchester International Festival

And including a new, especially commissioned performance byTim Etchells Artistic Director of Forced Entertainment

It’s impossible to summarise the 8 hours in a few bullet points but until the videos and podcasts will be uploaded on the LIFT website, I’ll put down some ideas that kept repeating themselves throughout the day:

– it is essential that more festivals focus on the “making of new work“, give more freedom to the artists and trust them to produce something original and specially designed for that specific festival

– try to help the artists develop, collaborate and create new audiences through festival participation

– the support of the local councils is more than essential as it can completely revolutionise a festival; this doesn’t necessarily mean more funding, but networking, access to essential city stakeholders and facilities, links with the tourism department etc.

– think medium to long term when planning festivals and have a bigger impact on the city as well

– become more and more environmentally friendly, even if it means increasing costs

– know very well what your USP is and why you are putting it on (is it for the local development, for economic reasons, for artist development, for audience needs?)

– try to change things (socially, artistically…) not just reflect them by bringing same old ideas and acts

– a festival doesn’t necessarily have to become bigger every year as that doesn’t really mean better; more acts and more money in doesn’t imply more satisfied audience members

In the end, do check this amazing project: Ciudades Paralelas. Incredible idea of a festival that can be transferred to every city in the world without the hassle of set design, artists and loads of funding.


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