What makes a festival?

Conference for Festivals: ‘Capacity to Endure’
7, 8, 9 November 2012
The Southbank Centre and The Barbican


Festivals have been having a tough time of it. Thousands are held every year, spanning all types of music, arts and culture, and from a high point a couple of years ago, economic and environmental pressures have caused some crashes. A forthcoming conference from the British Arts Festival Association aims to address the question of what festivals and their futures, and how they can not only endure hard times, but contribute towards the communities and societies in which they operate.

The Conference for Festivals: ‘Capacity to Endure’ running over 7th, 8th and 9th of November 2012 at The Southbank Centre and The Barbican features a host of talks, workshops and panels, covering the spectrums of social, economic and environmental sustainability.

It’s not only due to our amateur business skills and lack of interest in accounting that It’s All Happening really do believe in the capacity for festivals to ‘do good’ for the places and faces they touch.

The ethos and emotion of a celebration of creativity is one that inspires most people to start and visit festivals, and such intangible reasons for being are also credible signs of success. One of the key speakers on Social Sustainability is Matt Burman, Head of Programme and Audiences, Warwick Arts Centre and he puts it thus ‘We need to move on from measuring impact in economic terms – the language of miserly bean counters – and talk about the emotional impact, the effect on quality of life, about values of creativity and inspiration beyond those extrinsic factors dictated to us.’

Festivals are valued by audiences and participants for their cultural relevance, the opportunity to engage more deeply in something that matters, to entertain and stimulate, reconnect and discover, and for this reason should be supported.

Contributions to cultural diversity, community cohesion are difficult to measure, but a study by BOP on the effect that Edinburgh Festival had on the city during the 2010 event found that local people were on the whole very positive. . 93% of parents agreed that the Festival event had increased children’s imagination, 89% of locals agreeing that the Festivals increase their pride in their home city, 69% saying that they were now more aware of other cultures, and 55% of reporting feeling that the event had made a difference to their well-being. For giving people kicks, as things go, festivals are surely one of the best routes for communities to go down.

For the pen pushers, political executive and bureaucratic officials, the value of festivals will always be considered in pounds and pence. Unfortunately humans have not yet advanced enough to view the world by any other scale. This event aims to ask what does social sustainability really mean, and is there a more rounded way of judging the impact of an event upon inclusivity, collaboration, community engagement, cultural stimulation – and the contribution to the coffers.

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