Darko Brlek: "Without arts, no peace, tolerance, creativity and progress"

19 October 2009

In a speech at the Festival Summit Conference on the topic “Our Festival Makes City and Life Better” that took place in the framework of the 11th China Shanghai International Arts Festival (CSIAF) and Performing Arts Fair (SPAF) on 19 October 2009, EFA President Darko Brlek stressed the importance to “build on existing relationships” as collaboration between European and Asian festivals is “very enriching for both sides.” Dear Ladies and Gentlemen, First of all I would like to thank for the invitation and for giving the European Festivals Association this opportunity to be present within such a high-level gathering. As the President of the European Festivals Association and Director of the Ljubljana Festival, I would like to speak today about European festivals, the work of the European Festivals Association as well as the specific situation of arts festivals in Ljubljana. Without arts, no peace, tolerance, creativity and progress: that is a firm believe I have, this is why I am an artist, and this is why I am involved in the arts! But it is something that is not always easy to explain, sometimes not self-evident for politicians. Nevertheless, it is the arts that bring people together, the music that creates bridges! Since many years, EFA as a network is eager to make festivals’ contribution to our lives today more known and validated in the political framework. The European Festivals Association is the umbrella organisation for festivals across Europe and beyond. Over more than 50 years, the Association has grown into a dynamic network representing more than 100 music, dance, theatre and multidisciplinary festivals, national festivals associations and cultural organisations from 40 (mainly European) countries. Festivals in Europe – A thrilling experience Arts festivals in Europe are almost innumerable. From small local events to gigantic international happenings, they appeal to every imaginable artistic taste. Thanks to a diversity of formats – from concerts, dance performances, theatre plays to opera, from Off Festivals and street happenings to workshops and master classes, lectures, discussions and debates to exhibitions, from publications to new media spin-offs – to name but a few of events at offer – festivals attract hundreds of millions of citizens from all parts of society. But do they really make our lives better? A recent study commissioned by the European Commission says that culture is the general expression of humanity, the expression of its creativity. Culture-based creativity has the capacity to break conventions, the usual way of thinking, to allow the development of a new vision, an idea or a product. The spontaneous, intuitive, singular and human nature of cultural creation enriches society. Festivals have something to offer for everybody. And this is what the European Festivals Association as a network is keen on sharing with the public, the press and above all public authorities that need to understand better the strength of culture and the arts in society. Today, festivals feature not only the most reputable artists and ensembles but also highlight new talents and surprising creative collaborations. In their creative development, festivals challenge traditions and stimulate innovation, reveal and re-interpret cultural heritage and expand it in contemporary artistic renderings. This fusion of the old and the new, tradition and innovation, passive and participatory, mainstream and experimental makes festivals in Europe both an engine of cultural memory and a laboratory of future-oriented exploration. We can truly say that festivals, by offering platforms to artists and meeting moments with the audience can create new energies and trigger new thinking in each and everyone of us! Arts festivals for the sake of art! Festivals have amply proven their formidable economic value, by contributing to the local economy, creating jobs and enhancing tourism. These benefits have been measured, confirmed and widely appreciated. Festivals contribute to social inclusions and support the well being and pride of the citizens, the sharing of values, ownership, social responsibilities and citizenship. Yet, artistic benefits are at the core of festivals' mission. The European Festivals Association strives to place the arts and the artistic work at the centre of our daily festival life! It is a powerful plea to define and redefine a festival’s core mission which is and has to be, despite all high expectations in terms of city marketing, tourism, economic impacts and other ancillary effects, an artistic one. That is by the way the motto of a very successful training programme – the European Atelier for young Festival Managers. The next Atelier takes place from 23-30 October 2011. Follow the EFA website for news! EFA as a network – for collaboration at EU level and beyond The European Festivals Association is keen on strong connections - sometimes even partnerships with public authorities in order to convince them of the strength of festivals. Let me share with you three projects EFA initiated in this context: The Arts Festivals’ Declaration on Intercultural Dialogue was initiated at the occasion of the 2008 European Year of Intercultural Dialogue to promote intercultural dialogue. It was signed by festivals, but also local, national and European politicians! The FestLab for Creativity and Innovation, initiated at the occasion of the 2009 European Year of Creativity and Innovation, is established to demonstrate the important role that culture, arts, artists and festivals play in creating a fruitful ground for the development of innovative and creative talents. It spotlights the diversity of creative approaches of festivals and their multiple potential for innovating societies - be it through the support of young artists, educational activities, the use of unusual venues, cross-sectoral partnerships or a striking piece of art. In 2010, the European Year for Combating Poverty and Social Exclusion, EFA will again act as a close collaborator. All these efforts that we - as a network - do underline the outstanding potential of arts and culture in societies: and we are not alone! In particular since its move to Belgium in 2004, EFA has been acting on a broader horizon: the Association has extended its activities to the needs of the sector in general, represents culture and advocates for the importance of culture in a broader European political spectrum. This dynamic attitude was the basis of the creation of the European House for Culture which, on the initiative of EFA, gathers a growing number of key members, partners and networks. Why not dream of an Asian House for Culture? Europe and Asia It is always a thrilling experience to be in Shanghai and attend the festival and fair. The exchange between European and Asian festival directors is very enriching for both sides. There is a lot we can learn from each other. On behalf of the European Festivals Association and its members I would like to stress that we are eager to build on existing relationships. With the establishment of AAPAF for example, a first major step has been made. EFA - together with its sister organisation - shows how successful collaboration can work: we are preparing now a first joint meeting in the next year! Yet, there is still much to be done! Let us use this opportunity to get to know each other better! I would like to encourage you to get in touch with myself, with Kathrin Deventer, the Secretary General, or with one of the EFA members represented here. The Ljubljana Festival Ljubljana Festival is undoubtedly among older European festivals – the first Ljubljana Festival was organised in 1953. It included a series of cultural, economic, folkloric, tourist and sport events. A year later the organisers realised that the programme should not be crammed with all kinds of events since permanency could be secured only through quality. The municipality Ljubljana soon realised that the Festival requires its own permanent premises for performances, so it asked the architect Jože Plečnik to transform the the Križanke monastery's garden into a place for the Festival's programmes. By 1956 Plečnik had managed to masterly turn the Križanke into one of the finest open-air stages in Europe. The Festival was thus provided with the space and form which gradually secured its quality and prestige. The Festival has been changing and growing, it has exerted strong influence on the cultural life in Slovenia. Ljubljana Festival is thus today one of the most important cultural-art organisations in Slovenia, while the traditional summer festival is the central cultural-art event of the capital and wider. The Festival has reached a high artistic level – it hosts the greatest artists from Slovenia and abroad such as such as Lord Yehudi Menuhin, Mstislav Rostropovich, José Carreras, Slide Hampton, Pierre Amoyal, Yuri Bashmet, Misha Maiski, Shlomo Mintz, Krzysztof Penderecki, Riccardo Muti, Gidon Kremer, Valery Gergiev, Vladimir Askenazi, Julian Rachlin, Angela Gheorghiu, Maceo Parker, Wynton Marsalis, Celia Cruz, Gilberto Gil, Alexander Vedernikov, Marcelo Alvarez, Bernarda Fink, Vadim Repin, Zubin Mehta, Lorin Maazel, sir Andrew Davis, Midori, Ennio Morricone, Manhattan Transfer and many others, as well as the world greatest symphony orchestras such as New York and Israel Philharmonic Orchestras, The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra from London, Orchestra of the Mariinsky Theatre from St. Petersburg, the Lithuanian Symphony Orchestra and some opera houses, among which were the famous Academic Bolshoi Theatre from Moscow and Milan's Scala . . . In recent years the summer festival has each year organised between 50 and 70 events of various kinds (operas, ballets, plays, concerts of symphonic, chamber and vocal music, concerts of opera arias, jazz, ethno, latino concerts, exhibitions, international fine art colonies, open-air cinema…) which attracted approximately 50,000 Slovenian and foreign visitors; this confirms the notion that the Festival has reached the level appropriate to the capital of Slovenia. The year 2000 marks an important milestone as the municipality Ljubljana entrusted the Festival with the management of Ljubljana Castle – the third most frequented tourist and cultural attraction in Slovenia. More than 500,000 people visit it every year. Thank you very much for your attention! Related documents and links: • Speech Darko Brlek, EFA President and Artistic and Managing Director of the Ljubljana Festival • News “EFA for the fourth time at the Shanghai Arts Festival and Fair” (19 October 2009)