The European Festivals Alliance gathered on Usedom

18 June 2024

The Arts Festivals Summit is not just a chance for those professionals who represent members of the European Festivals Association (EFA) to meet. It gathers together a wide array of people who are involved in using arts festivals to further their ideas and objectives. They have a stake in how festivals shape their communities, their localities and their professional development.

They are not many gatherings where the performers, politicians, programmers, directors, administrators, journalists and young professionals can mingle and discuss as equal partners in steering Europe's artistic life and, through that, its political direction.

Many of those involved came to the Usedom Summit through one or another of the initiatives undertaken by EFA, either on behalf of its members or as a result of its agency in delivering objectives for the European Commission and other public bodies. The Summit also brought to the fore those who are, or have been, a part of The Festival Academy, the long-term training programme that develops the depth of expertise of younger members of the festival profession.

Onlookers might have been surprised to see a group of people from small places in Georgia and Malta at the Summit, a few of them clearly joining a festivals meeting of this kind for the first time. That, though, is a mark of the success of one of EFA's initiatives - to involve the authorities in cities that regard festivals as inherent to their strategies and to persuade them to commit to that for as long as they have the political backing to do so. The Europe for Festivals, Festivals for Europe (EFFE) Seal project began two years ago at the Summit in Yerevan with a group of seven major cities but now encompasses many more that are smaller and do not have the profile of Krakow or Edinburgh. That is the point - to give cities and regions the opportunity to present themselves and share their projects as equals in a European setting.

EFA never used to be a grants-giving organisation, leaving that job to foundations and public authorities, but in recent years it has introduced a scheme financed by the European Commission. The European Festivals Fund for Emerging Artists (EFFEA) helps festivals in groups of three from different countries give residencies to artists and ensembles who are either emerging in the sense of being relatively new to the profession, or who are making the jump from having a local to an international reputation. On Usedom the performers involved included the dancer and cultural theorist, Ana Pi (of Brazilian origin but now based in France), and the intensely moving Kateryna Suprun String Quartet (named after its violist), the one supported by Malta's Poznan Festival, Spielart in Munich and the Santarcangelo Festival in Italy, the other consisting of two players from Ukraine and one each from Poland and Belgium, brought together by Usedom Music Festival, KharkivMusicFest and Walden Festival.

Of course EFA goes about its annual business too at the Summit, holding its General Assembly, electing its board for the coming year, passing the budget and reviewing its work plans. It also allows for a physical meeting of its EFFE Hubs and collective members, the representatives who act as conveners for festivals at the national level, providing information and arranging local meetings. And finally there are those from the political world - the mayors, human rights activists, diplomatic and EU representatives, and 'famous names', the most famous at the 2024 Summit being the former Polish President and leader of the Solidarity (Solidarnosc) movement that led to the reunification of Europe, Lech Wałęsa.

Arts Festivals Summits are becoming major events in the calendar, building the crucial European Arts Festivals Alliance across all interested parties. With over 200 participants they are already a considerable size. Watch out Davos and Munich Security. The Arts are after your laurels!

By Simon Mundy