Festivals and Cities meeting together on 27 May

31 May 2021

Some Notable Points Arising from the Festival Cities (a)Live Workshop / Bergen 27 May 2021

The workshop was held in the context of the Bergen International Summit and the Bergen International Festival. It celebrated the links cities have with their festivals around the world.

In one way the symbiotic relationship has become so rooted in city life over the last 70 years that the case that it is beneficial to both needs no justification. Every generation of city officials and politicians, however, and every new festival director, is in the process of rediscovering the extraordinary benefits that accrue when the links are strong and generous.

The European Community, as it then was, realised this over thirty years ago when it initiated the European Capitals of Culture, one of its unqualified successes, showing cultural investment allies closely with city economic and social development. An award, though, leaves out all those places that do not get it. The goal now must be to help the others gather similar benefits and festivals are a reliable tool for doing so.

For the European Commission itself, the attraction of city-festival closeness is that it cuts across so many policy areas, from sustainable tourism to green recovery. Importantly too it allows citizens to be addressed not just as audiences but as participants in European development.

It is a way, as well, to advance the increasingly relevant 'well-being' agenda. Involvement in performance, even as a spectator, improves not only the emotional state but guards against 'burn-out' and social isolation.

To draw attention to all the benefits, EFA and its cities' group are forming a festival cities seal for Invention label via the Europe for Festivals - Festivals for Europe (EFFE) programme. It is designed to help cities and their festivals make the most of the alliance. As one senior city cultural manager outlined, it will be helpful in integrating disparate organisers and highlighting resilient spaces. Festivals have become a major force in city recovery plans.

The intention of the new seal is to be seen as a tool for both sides, helping with the sharing of best practice and in designing projects. It builds on the idea, as a festival director put it, that only if a programme is interesting will it engage both the local community and visitors. The ideas need to build on strong stories, and qualities that are special: beyond the ordinary. It is through showcasing the identity of a place that a festival can draw on the niche characteristics that will appeal to international artistic audiences.

The seal was described prosaically as a widget for the use of arts and city managers alike. That naturally posed the question, 'how big is your widget?' The answer, of course, is as big as it needs to be to make a difference.

by Simon Mundy