I was lucky to take part in the Atelier for Young Festival Managers which took place in Poznan, Poland last week.
The aim of the Atelier is to discuss the artistic aspects of festival management, including inspiring artists, delighting and challenging audiences, political and social responsibility, internationalism and sustainability.
With 41 festival directors and 4 mentors representing 23 countries including Australia, Zimbabwe, Palestine, UK and Korea, it was a huge week of discussion, networking and discovering Poznan festival culture with our hosts, the Malta Festival team.
We covered many topics across the week, as a conference, in small groups, and over many glasses of late night piwo. While I will still be processing the ideas shared for a while to come, several topics resonated very strongly with me.
One is about the role of artists and audiences in a festival. The theme of the Atelier was ‘The true role of a festival is to help artists to dare’ (a quote from Bernard Faivre d’Arcier), however many of us there felt that a festival should be above all about dialogue with an audience – between the festival and audience, and facilitating connections between the artists and audience. To that end, I was inspired by many insights about audience experience at festivals, and how we as programmers can create events that are meaningful, challenging and above all enjoyable for our audience.
I was also inspired by Mark Ball and Robyn Archer talking about the relationship between a festival and a city, and how festivals can reflect the culture and community in which it is situated. What makes a ‘Melbourne’ festival, for example, and how can we ensure that the events that take place there are of unique local importance but have a global relevance? (To that end, Melbourne’s Lefa Singleton-Norton wrote an interesting blog about context .)
By the end of the week, I was reminded that festivals can – and should be – transformative spaces. They should innovative, take risks and present challenging works that bring artists and audiences together in meaningful ways. I have left the Atelier energised about the role that a festival can play for a city and for its art form, and remain committed to bringing an exciting program to Melbourne Writers Festival over the coming years.