Cultural festivals need to think glocal

Arts festivals should engage local communities, but they also have global responsibilities, writes Kathrin Deventer, secretary general of the European Festivals Association

Every festival today faces the need to justify its existence. Festivals exist in a larger societal framework and have responsibilities, just like individual citizens or large corporations, for the development, openness and well-being of that society.

As I travel across Europe, visiting a diverse array of festivals, I see they are all working on connecting the arts and the artists with people. They are bridging various agendas representing a ‘glocal’ struggle that most arts organisations experience nowadays: addressing global issues, engaging local communities, surprising citizens with new artistic discoveries and celebrating cultural heritage – all the while fighting for economic survival.

But this needn’t be difficult as there is a vast wealth of experience across the sector adapting to trends and drawing from new ideas. EFA, as an umbrella organisation for festivals across Europe and beyond, provides a platform for festivals from these various contexts to meet, network and exchange their experiences. The result is that festival professionals can extend their horizons by engaging in new and fruitful collaborations.

At EFA we believe that by serving individual artists we serve the public. Festivals are inescapably part of a local community, be this geographic, cultural, social, political and so on. I often see festivals trying to balance local creation with internationally recognised works. Additionally, by creating site-specific works, festivals ingrain themselves in the fabric of their communities and become indispensable parts of the public landscape.

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Not only are site-specific artistic works and outreach projects relevant in a local community, they are also extremely important. Many festivals across Europe receive public funding and are increasingly asked to prove their worth as recipients of public money. In light of this, striving to reach new and diverse audiences, and having a deep and sustainable impact by building the bonds within communities, are tasks that shouldn’t be forgotten.

By embracing this connectivity, festivals can prove themselves to be indispensable partners in cities and regions across Europe, and ensure that citizens have access to the arts, a right that is claimed to be fundamental for all citizens.
In our rapidly globalising world, we see trends towards hyper-localisation and hyper-globalisation. While EFA supports the local contextualisation of festivals, we can never forget that festivals, as all parts of society, have global responsibilities.
To achieve global change, and support fundamental human values, festivals need to join forces to ensure the professional development of their staff as well as support the continued existence of high-quality arts programmes.

Kathrin Deventer © Concentus Moraviae Festival
Kathrin Deventer © Concentus Moraviae Festival

International collaboration is key to this success. EFA’s Festival Academy, for example, strives to connect young festival managers from across the globe. Cooperations with festival associations worldwide, such as the Association of Asian Performing Arts Festivals or AFRIFESTNET, are beneficial because they enable access to vast amounts of experience and creativity, equipping them with the skills to remain alert to artistic tendencies.

The EFA blog Festival Bytes provides some insights into festival making, including topics such as community engagement and how festivals assume their global responsibilities through their artistic programme – festival stories are posted from around the globe and shared by personalities working in the festival and cultural sectors.

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Many in the sector discuss the festivalisation of Europe and what this means for the format. Simply put, it is expanding and evolving. EFA celebrates this evolution by welcoming diverse festivals from large to small, from all genres, and across the world into its fold. If festivals are working for the benefit of society, then we say the more the merrier.

In order to offer a gateway into Europe’s festivals and to give a platform to as many groups as possible, EFA has set up EFFE – Europe for Festivals, Festivals for Europe. An EU-backed programme, EFFE intends to broaden awareness of what’s going on in the festival world and to promote excellence and innovation. The portal invites artists, directors, managers and audiences to discover Europe’s very best festivals.

EFA Atelier for Young Festival Managers 2014 © Clark James
EFA Atelier for Young Festival Managers 2014 © Clark James

Europe has a huge diversity of festivals, and many of them are deeply committed to Europe. EFA developed the EFFE platform and the EFFE Festival Label to recognise festivals’ artistic commitment, their involvement in their local communities, and their European and global outlook.

EFFE is a new glocal community in the making. To ensure local success, EFA engages its extensive network and involves Festival Hubs operating across the EU Member States in EFFE. It’s their job to link festivals in the local context – not only with one another, but also with stakeholders operating outside of the arts world. Through EFFE, EFA aims to show the relevance of local festival activities in a global context by creating networking and educational opportunities, by fostering international exchange, and by ensuring access to Europe’s diverse festivals. Festival lovers, professionals and audiences alike can become part of this opportunity. Festivals can apply for the EFFE Label until 15 November 2014.