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Future planning for festivals

Apr 24, 2015

What happens when you put 41 young festival managers in a room for seven days?

‘A lot of thinking and a lot of nitty gritty discussion’ according to Australian producer Skye Kunstelj, who took part in Atelier for Young Festival Managers with funding support from the Australia Council. Not only was the festival a sharing of ideas, the young festival managers were able to gain insights into the difficulties of festival programming in different countries.

‘I was able to engage with people from different backgrounds and different experiences, seeing things from a different point of view. There are very few opportunities for young festival managers to connect and this format was incredibly responsive to our different needs, but also allowed us to find a lot of similarities in our different situations’.

The festival brought together participants from over 23 countries to discuss and dissect the artistic aspects of festival management – from delighting and challenging audiences, working with artists, political and social responsibility, to incorporating   international elements in programming and sustainability.

Seven renowned festival directors from all over the world travelled to Poznań in Poland to share their experiences and visions with the participants. In this mentoring program the directors gave the next generation of festival makers and programmers the opportunity to network and pick through their knowledgeable minds.

Singer, writer, artistic director and Australia Council Board Member Robyn Archer, shared her experiences as a mentor at the conference. In her opening address to the conference, Robyn Archer made it clear that the sharing of knowledge should be a two way street.

‘It should be understood at the outset that there are very few differences between us as mentors and you as participants, except perhaps in terms of experience. We are all participants’.

Through workshops, round tables and debates the festival directors spent time with the participants in face-to-face discussions, giving their advice about festival management and the balancing act between programming to suit needs of audiences and showcasing the arts.

Programming and festival audiences were key themes for Kunstelj and the participants.

‘Throughout Atelier, our mentors talked about of the importance of creating a context for programming, creating open dialogues with audiences and activating new spaces to share work. Mark Ball the Artistic Director at London International Festival of Theatre, urged us to keep audiences at the heart of our thinking. Audiences have great power to act as advocates for the arts.’

Another important component of Atelier is the opportunity for the participants to build connections with other festival makers. Sharing their passions, goals in the future and passing on knowledge from their own experiences.

‘Many of the most insightful discussions happened when we opened up about our passions and struggles as young arts and festival managers. Despite our varied backgrounds and experiences, we connected over the similar issues – censorship and risk in programming, the difficulties in funding and the big question of why we need festivals.’

And what will Kunstelj take away from the festival?

‘A few key ideas have stayed with me. Mentor Nele Hertling urged us to remember that festivals must respond to a need, and to always consider the difficult idea of ending a festival when it stops responding to a need. I hope I don’t forget Robyn Archer’s advice, she reminded us that “Art is the safest space for a dangerous conversation” and that festivals are the perfect opportunity for those conversations to start’.

Image: Robyn Archer mentors participants at Atelier for Young Festival Managers, credit: photo by Maciej Zakrzewski