Arts Festivals Salon - Seminar: “Where does your festival’s money come from

In the framework of the Arts Festivals Salon 2017, the European Festivals Association organized a seminar for EFA Members, EFFE Laureates and festival stakeholders on 18 September at BOZAR – Centre for Fine Arts Brussels. This seminar was the occasion to tackle a recurrent and up-to-date question: “Where does your festival’s money come from?”. Festivals face numerous challenges nowadays and one of them is precisely adapting their business model to our contemporary society.

EFA President Jan Briers welcomed the participants and underlined the diversity they represent and  encouraged festival colleagues to share with each other and bring back some ideas to their own organization. Kathrin Deventer introduced the topic of the day: Globalization and internationalization have played an important role in changing our societies and have had a huge impact on the cultural field as well. How are the impacts felt and dealt with in way business relations are built up and kept? 

Bruno Verbergt (cultural management professor at University Antwerp and Director at Royal Museum of Central Africa) opened the seminar with his keynote speech on the value of festivals. He started with a striking statement: “Economic impact of culture is zero”. This departure point could seem rather unusual and even discouraging. However Bruno Verbergt used it to illustrate a deeper vision of festivals and their business models. According to him, the race for funding, efficiency and partnerships can alter the quality of a festival and a reflection on business models should not eclipse innovation and artistic value. That is why he reminded us with his speech of the importance of art’s intrinsic value: “Art is important because it creates a dismeasure - its value is unmeasurable”. Verbergt invited the participants to remember why they started, to remember that art itself should be the major motivation to go on with a festival. You can find online the video and the presentation of Bruno Verbergt.

Bruno Verbergt

James McVeigh (Head of Marketing & Innovation at Festivals Edinburgh) took a more marketing-driven approach with his presentation “Resourcing from the Tourism sector”. He shared very concrete examples of partnerships developed by Edinburgh Festivals relying on the Tourism sector. James McVeigh underlined a major strength of festivals that is to shape a space and build a unique experience. Tourism stakeholders are interested in the uniqueness, as it is an added value for them and can increase their competitiveness and thus festival organizers can find partners in the sector. Thanks to a study led by Festivals Edinburgh “we know that people mostly come to the city for the festivals” said James McVeigh. These partnerships bring visibility to the festivals. McVeigh gave us insights into the strategy used in Edinburgh to “build the brand of festivals”. The strategy includes for example new technologies to track activities and get precise numbers to attract more sponsors but also the use of new media channels such as social networks with social influencers. You can find online the video and the presentation of James McVeigh.

James McVeigh

After the presentations, the audience was invited to ask questions and share their thoughts. All the way from praising for art as a primary value and a common good to providing very precise numbers to attract more sponsors, the speakers had different views on the matter of business models. Most questions underlined the gap between both visions and raised the issue of a possible (or not) reconciliation of these ideas. Both speakers seemed to agree on one major point: the uniqueness of festivals.

Sophie Detremmerie, Managing Director of the Klarafestival, EFA Board Member and sponsorship specialist draw some conclusions on the discussion. She thanked Bruno Verbergt for his inspiring speech, an important statement on values that we don’t hear so often anymore. She saluted as well the presentation of James McVeigh, a proof of success for Edinburgh festivals with the tourism sector and the use of new technologies and innovations. Sophie Detremmerie used her own experience as an example to conclude, she explained how her festival had a partnership with a bank that went bankrupt and how afterwards common values became an essential criteria for partnerships. Thus, she wisely suggested that the secret of a good business model for festivals may lie in the balance: festival organizers can look for suitable and efficient partnerships without losing the core of their work, remembering the inherent value of culture and reminding potential sponsors of this mission.

Sophie Detremmerie

For the European Festivals Association, it remains an important element to connect knowledge and experience in various fields and offer a cross-border insight and sets of questions to the festivals community. It does so for 66 years and is glad to extend its community contribution with the EFFE project.