New on Festival Bytes: It is all about listening

29 May 2013

(By Yuriy Vulkovsky) It is all about listening. As a newcomer at the General Assembly of the European Festivals Association (EFA) in Granada my main task was to listen carefully. And I heard a lot of interesting stories and facts. It was inspiring. But it is not only about me – during the conference it became clear that it is time for all of us to listen more carefully and more profoundly. “Listen to your sponsors!” was one of the key advices during the panel discussion on sponsorship. “Listen to your audiences!” was another key message during the discussion on communication. So, I was listening, and I was thinking. About EFA, about the conference and also about the Bulgarian context I am coming from.

The Bulgarian Festivals Association was established only seven months ago, and thus our presence at the General Assembly of EFA was very important for us to check where we are and to learn more about the European context we are working in.

In one way, from a Bulgarian festival perspective, it was a revealing experience.

It didn’t take my colleague and me a lot of time to realise that Bulgarian festivals could hardly compete with the festivals in other European countries. Not because of their quality or their management but because of the extremely low budgets and ticket prices. There are festivals in Norway, but also in the Czech Republic, whose annual budgets are higher than the whole amount of money that the Bulgarian Ministry of Culture distributes annually for more that 100 festivals in Bulgaria.

Our experience shows that the modest budgets of the Bulgarian festivals lead to a reduction of the investments into communication and marketing and to a limitation of international contacts and exchanges. The festivals exists but are not able to develop artistically, neither to develop new audiences.

But the worst is the cultural isolation. Bulgaria is quite open culturally and especially in the capital Sofia one could almost regularly enjoy dance performances from Spain and Georgia, popular music from the US, and from time to time even theatre pieces from France and the UK. It is not a lot, but it is something. It is possible thanks to the variety of festivals which bring an international spirit to the country.

But in this situation Bulgaria is just a marker, quite small, for the international cultural products. There is no real cultural exchange, there are no common projects, there are no artistic co-productions. In fact, Bulgaria is just a receiver but not an equal and active participant in the European cultural processes.

When I asked the festivals managers in Granada, if they ever presented a Bulgarian cultural product, the answer was “no” in 90% of the cases. This is bad, not just for Bulgarian culture, but for European cultural diversity, which is so important for the Union.

I was very impressed by Accion Cultural Española and their Programme for the Internationalisation of Spanish Culture. There is no similar programme in Bulgaria and we especially lack a scheme for inviting foreign managers and festival programmers into the country.

It provokes us and this topic will become one of the key topics in the new communication between the Bulgarian Festivals Association and the Bulgarian Ministry of Culture. Another related topic would be the need of a fund for co-financing projects under the EU’s “Creative Europe” Programme.

This makes our membership in EFA even more important. More collaborations, artistic exchanges, placements of festival managers, training and capacity building programmes – all of these are great possibilities and we are looking forward to being part of them.

At the end, I keep remembering the words of one of the Granada participants who said: “The more I am active in EFA, the better it is for my own work!”

EFA and its members are like a mirror which makes you see yourself better, and all of the small (or big) details that you have to change or develop in yourself.

But EFA is much more: it is a great platform for sharing and development of new collaboration ideas, and, indeed, if you invest your energy and ideas, you will receive a great harvest.

(Written by Yuriy Vulkovsky, Executive Director of the Bulgarian Festivals Association, for the EFA Blog Festival Bytes)