Arts Festivals Summit Usedom 2024: Festivals needs and commitments for a better living together

4 July 2024

Under the motto "The art of awareness, caring and connectivity", the Arts Festivals Summit gathered 230 festival makers and festival stakeholders to collectively think about and experience the purpose of the arts and arts festivals from 12 to 15 May 2024 on the island of Usedom, hosted by the Usedom Music Festival. 

Iliana Ivanova, European Commissioner for Innovation, Research, Culture, Education and Youth recognised in a digital statement the importance of identity, community building and openness that festivals bring to our lives and that festivals are at the heart of Europe's peace project: “[Festivals] are woven into the very fabric of Europe's cultural and creative heritage. Freedom is something we must not take for granted, and is always something worth fighting for” she said (watch the video message here).

The Denis de Rougemont Laboratories (DdR Labs) – named after the founder of the European Festivals Association (EFA); Denis de Rougemont (1906-1985) was one of the fathers of Europe and ardent defender of peace – was an important session to go deep into several topics and discuss the responsibility of festivals, the arts, and Europe to contribute to the well-being and living conditions of our societies. For three hours, ten groups of 20-25 people shared personal experiences and in-depth reflections with experts. Can the arts save Europe? Responsible consumption and production; Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI); Artificial Intelligence; Experimenting democracy; Festivals and money; etc.

Every public authority and civil society organisation should attempt to improve the quality of life of individuals in society, and look after the planet. At EFA, we are convinced that the arts, bringing artists' ideas and people together across borders positively contribute to personal, organisational and systemic well-being and health. The DdR Labs aimed to understand where the arts can make a powerful contribution to our living conditions, to dream up future projects and see what festival makers need from the sector, EFA, and politicians in order to build a better life and world together. 

Connecting the dots

The DdR Labs concluded in a plenary session during which each group summarised the main points, commitments, and needs that had been discussed. Here are the main takeaways that served to connect the dots between the different groups. 

  • Arts and arts festivals are great platforms to open minds but the sector is too often working with restricted resources, limited personal capacities, obsolete infrastructures, etc. This shouldn’t be a burden.
  • Change needs time. Festival makers should be humble, kind, and resilient, and use this open-mindedness as a means to enhance their own wellbeing.
  • It is acknowledged that a festival is one drop in the ocean, and that all changes don’t rest on the shoulders of festival directors. Small gestures can have big impacts, that become even greater through the power of networks such as EFA.  
  • It’s important to question knowledge, assumptions, practices, power structures, privileges. Festival makers should have a look at themselves first. They should also look at the artists and partners they collaborate with, the audiences and those they are trying to reach and impact, along with the funders and sponsors. What are the existing  power structures? What metrics are we using to measure our success? Who has set them and why do we follow them? What does that say about our values?
  • Experimentation is an essential tool for critical thinking, to constantly question how, why, where, and with whom we do what. Emerging artists can play a role in this process.
  • Bring attention to under-representation in all its forms through collaborations, creating a sense of belonging.
  • Connections should be genuine and not just a list of boxes to tick. Festivals need to be honest about their purposes, and why they are reaching out to partners.
  • Do not create new silos of exclusion in the process of breaking down older ones.
  • Nothing exists on its own, all is connected. Connections are crucial on all levels - global to local and local to global – in order to share, collaborate, and exchange (data, knowledge, experiences, frustrations). Festivals don’t need to re-invent the wheel.
  • Festivals are platforms of reflection of what happens or could happen in society. Festivals change people, therefore people change their festival themes, which further has an effect on the whole community and discussed present topics. This creates a festival circle.
  • Start thinking about this circle in its widest sense in participatory processes from the moments of encounter within the festival staff, the festival’s programme, the festival’s environmental and societal relationships.

By Stephanie Bonnici, Audrey Brisack and Simon Mundy

You can read the document summarising the findings of each group here and find more detailed notes on each topic here.