The Emerging Alliance

23 May 2023

For the last few years the meetings around the annual Assembly of the European Festivals Association (EFA) have proved that the family of partners with a rightful interest in helping festivals grow is much bigger than just the organising bodies themselves. A festival is part of a community and each part of that alliance has a viewpoint that will impact the others. There is a growing awareness of the interconnectivity between the partners needed to make each of their ambitions succeed - and for all of them, festivals can and do play a crucial part.

That is why EFA has gradually spread its arms more widely to embrace all those who contribute and include them in an annual Arts Festivals Summit. Together they make up the festival community, the alliance of stakeholders, for whom a festival can be the catalyst to everything from improved economic sustainability to better social cohesion - and even an example of how to deal with the challenges of climate change.

The Summit has festival makers at its core: not just the big established international events that have proved their worth over the last century (in the case, for example, of the Varna Summer International Music Festival on the Black Sea coast of Bulgaria), but even the small festivals lasting not much more than an annual weekend that have given their communities self-confidence and a renewed reputation.

The festival makers are not a monolithic group either. Some are senior artistic figures or administrators with long and distinguished careers. Others are those with a good idea that they have had the energy and tenacity to turn into exciting events. Still others, like those who have come through or are part of EFA's The Festival Academy, are young practitioners moving their profession forward and reinvigorating the models of what a festival should be.

Then there are the festivals that are not the established music and mixed arts events that are EFA's traditional members. They cover the vast range of digital, circus, visual, folk and many other genres and were involved in this year’s Summit through one of the projects ran by EFA: the Alumni of the Festival Academy, festivals that have been recognised by the Europe for Festivals, Festivals for Europe label (the EFFE Label assesses the recommendable quality of the festivals holding it), and EFFEA festivals (who benefit from one of the grants of the European Festivals Fund for Emerging Artists).

Alongside the festivals themselves are the places that host them - from regions (like Flanders), cities (like Krakow) to small villages and private estates (like our host this April, Peralada). For them festivals give a focus to the year, exhibit their character and their possibilities to the world, and demonstrate to their inhabitants that the world can notice them.

Between all of these are the business and funding sectors. Business people, whether as sponsors, facilitators with the contacts, or as generous suppliers, are important for any festival - helping not just with money but with services in kind and with the networks of influential contacts they always have.

The funders are not just public authorities. Although they are vital in some places, in others they take little more than a diplomatic interest: happy to be associated with a festival but finding that the festival does more for them than they do for the festival. Nonetheless, they are important parts of the matrix. And last but not least, there are the foundations - those philanthropic organisations that regard festivals as useful vehicles for their work.

Among each of these categories are individual who cut across the distinctions. Business people who have their own foundations or host festivals themselves, performers and creators who run their own festivals, cities and regions who have offices administering or marketing a multitude of festivals within their territory.

The alliance of all these partners are steadily coalescing around EFA. The potential for such an alliance is huge. It has implications for the arts, of course, but just as much for all the others. It can be an open-ended network that develops and shares innovative ideas that can shape the next phase of Europe's life from the heart of every community.

by Simon Mundy