The 2020 General Assembly Afternoon Debate

1 December 2020

Following the formal sessions of the EFA General Assembly (elections, budgets and reports) members spent the afternoon taking the time to discuss their concerns, the effects of the year's shared troubles on their festival, and how they are looking to develop in the future. EFA Members were given the Zoom 'floor' for four minutes each. 

The following is a summary of some of the important points made during the session.

  • The task for a festival Director is to maintain artistic excellence when everything else is unpredictable. The tradition of festivals has been important for social and economic recovery for many decades. It will be for Europe's future too.

  • Festivals have been an opportunity for people to express themselves in a desolate year. In Slovenia the festival in Ljubljana was the largest event all year and provided a chance to remember every victim of the COVID plague.

  • Festivals need to ask whether the artistic decisions are being made by a wide enough group and to focus more on the process rather than the product. The big issues are worth exploring and that can be done by recognising the breadth of talent and diversity in a locale – available without the need to travel far.

  • Festivals in 2020 have had to cancel not only Plan A but Plans B, C and down the alphabet too. They have reacted as best they can but digital streaming tames the arts and makes the experience blunter. The panic has resulted in some directors following rather than leading society's need to deal with challenges. If digital access is to be used, work must be commissioned especially for the medium and curated with its own distinct dramaturgy.

  • The question was asked whether we have all been over-reacting to the problems of this COVID year. It was pointed out that plague outbreaks have always resulted in the closure of performance spaces and that the arts recover quickly – often reacting to the disruption with an exciting change of direction. Retreating to digital formats is only a very short-term answer.

  • On the other hand the digital outlets have been an expression of the urge to connect and have boosted morale as well as inventiveness. This year has given new impetus to networking, stimulated coproduction, given new prominence to young and local performers, and offered support to artists and the public.

  • Several directors spoke of the hope that festivals have been able to give – and will be able to give as the virus crisis recedes but economic and social consequences become stark and tenacious over the coming years. They produce visible signs of excitement when times are drab and renew the self-confidence of places blighted by catastrophe.

  • EFA itself has strengthened its importance during the last year. It has offered the chance to directors to rethink the nature and purpose of their festivals, to connect with each other for mutual support, and to combat isolation (often worldwide). The task now is to persuade governments and European institutions to produce new cultural policies commensurate with the times.

by Simon Mundy

Speakers included:

  • Mario Hossen - Varna Summer International Music Festival, a live festival in 2020
  • Maruša Šinkovič - Reflection of this year and the representation of the 68th Ljubljana Festival
  • Jurriaan Cooiman - CULTURESCAPES: Take a break and see who is at the table: next steps for the in-depth programmers meetings
  • Jelle Dierickx - Festival Van Vlaanderen Mechelen (Lunalia): the role of digitisation in the arts
  • Haris Pašović – Sarajevofest Art and Politics: Need for international collaborations in post corona times: Invitation to collaborate on projects
  • Jahangir Selimkhanov - Nasimi Festival: INDASTORAL, a new audio(visual) project
  • Laura Lahoud – Al Bustan Festival 2021: Reconnect
  • Jovanka Višekruna Janković – Serbian Festivals Association: Festivals and young talents
  • Ibrahim Spahić – Sarajevo Winter Festival 2020 and 2021: towards the Cultural Olympics
  • Thomas Hummel – Usedom Music Festival Orchestra
  • Peter Inkei - EFFE Hub Hungary: How you can contribute to (a)Live?
  • Natália Oszkó-Jakab – Valley of Arts: About EFA membership benefits experienced so far
  • Sona Hovhannisyan - Yerevan Perspectives International Music Festival presents the draft programme of the Arts Festivals Summit 2022 in Armenia