Interview: Mexican festivals stress importance of international collaboration

23 November 2009

Innovative and creative projects are initiated by festivals all over the world. The two major Mexican festivals - Festival Internacional Cervantino and Festival de México – are two excellent examples of development of new and challenging programmes. They are aware that collaborating with festivals from different countries and continents can only be enriching – both for artist and audience! The Festival Internacional Cervantino is a multi-artistic festival held in the colonial city of Guanajuato and one of the most dynamic and creative art festivals in Latin America. The programming of the festival includes music, opera, theatre, dance, art exhibitions, literary seminars and film. It tends to balance popular and classical art forms, and offers both traditional and avant-garde performances. Every year, more than 70 different productions and 100 performances are offered in 10 venues by artists coming from some 30 countries. Special productions of opera, theatre and dance are offered, along with new music works. The Festival de México is the most important cultural event in Mexico City and one of the most dynamic and creative art festivals in Latin America. Each year since 1985, the festival organises events that foster connection and reflection in the largest Historic Downtown area on the continent. These events include: Performing Arts, Visual Arts, Children’s Activities, Academic Events and Open-Air Events. All are distinguished for their excellence, innovation, diversity and the balance they strike between tradition and the avant-garde. Both festivals are perfectly embracing the objectives of the FestLabPass - given to festivals in the framework of the EFA 2009 flagship project FestLab for Creativity and Innovation - as they enhance the mobility of artistic ideas; provide opportunities for the creation of new works exploring cross-disciplinary, interactive approaches; and as they take into consider¬ation intercultural dialogue as a mean for the promotion of cultural diversity by developing strong cross-border and cross-continental collaboration projects. Read ahead to find out what they did in 2009 and what they envision for 2010! In dialogue with… …Lidia Camacho, General Director Festival Internacional Cervantino, and José Wolffer, Director Festival de México European Festivals Association (EFA): The interdisciplinary Festival Internacional Cervantino and the Festival de México are the most dynamic and creative art festivals in Latin America. What makes the festivals unique? Lidia Camacho (LC): Every year, the Festival Internacional Cervantino has as special guests a country or region and a state of Mexico. In 2009, we had Quebec and Zacatecas. The City is considered Cultural Heritage by UNESCO - this explains its beauty. The festival has taken place uninterruptedly since 1972 which makes it highly expected by the national and the international community. The public that attends the festival is manly constituted by young people and every year increases. José Wolffer (JW): The Festival de México takes place in one of the most dynamic urban areas in the world, and in particular in the oldest and one of them most impressive historical centers (catalogued by UNESCO) on the American continent. This setting provides a fantastic background for an intensive two and a half week programme which includes a wide sampling of the performing arts as well as animation, film, literature, the visual arts, and many activities for children. The festival devotes a large part of its programme to contemporary art forms (as well as including other more traditional expressions) and has positioned itself as a dedicated promoter of new and challenging projects, many produced directly by the festival. EFA: Mrs Camacho, each year, the Festival Cervantino invites guests of honour – always one region of Mexico and one foreign country/region. In 2009 it was Quebec and Zacatecas. Why do you think internationalisation of a city/country through the efforts of a festival is important? LC: This was the need of giving the festival more personality showing the culture of a specific region/country and at the same time to allow them to show the audience their diversity and richness. EFA: Mr Wolffer, in 2009, the Festival de México has established a partnership with the Linz-based, very innovative “Ars Electronica Center”. Could you tell us a bit about the collaboration? Why is collaboration with Europe and European festivals important for you? JW: Ars Electronica is the oldest festival dedicated to electronic art forms and as such has been a trailblazer on a world-wide level. Ars Electronica and the Festival de México have jointly curated an ambitious exhibition which showcases signature works developed by European artists who have opened new avenues of artistic exploration. And it also adds a particular twist: the works will be presented in March of 2010, a year during which Mexico and other Latin American countries celebrate the Bicentennial of their independence. This represents a wonderful opportunity for creating a meaningful dialogue between European artists and their Latin American counterparts, who will be featured as well in the show. EFA: The installation project “White Shadow” and the animation competition “Animasivo” are great example for your openness towards new art forms and new technologies – which is often still a challenge for the audience. Is it important to ensure a balance between tradition and the avant-garde? JW: The White Shadow project, developed during March 2009, represented a preview of the larger collaboration with Ars Electronica slated for 2010. I feel that festivals such as the Festival de México need to play a leading role in introducing new art forms and new ways of thinking to the wider public. At the same time, a festival as diverse as this one must also maintain a balance between tradition and innovation; this is clearly expressed each year in our programme, which covers a wide spectrum ranging from opera to alternative rock and animation. EFA: The Festival Cervantino also aims to balance new and classical art forms, and offers both traditional and avant-garde performances. Why do you think the creation process offered through a festival is important in terms of the artistic impact on the community in Guanajuato? LC: The Festival Internacional Cervantino is a forum for constant reflection and analysis of the different artistic proposals. This has allowed the local artists to compare their creations and themselves as artists so they can enrich and update their way of conceiving art. In the same way the audience has become more critical and demanding. EFA: The Festival Cervantino is often compared with the Edinburgh International Festival, one of the most important and innovative festivals in Europe. In 2010 you are collaborating. Why is the collaboration between festivals on an international level so important and how do you approach this collaboration? LC: The characteristics of both festivals are very similar. This kind of collaboration represents for us an essential way of the interaction that all festivals should have. We will work with the Edinburgh Festival in some co-productions and advisory in exchanging experiences which will result in mutual benefit for both organisations. EFA: Mr Wolffer, the Festival de México runs again in March 2010. What is your next approach to stay an innovative trigger for artists in your country? JW: The festival is now regarded by Mexican artists as one of the prime venues for developing new and exciting projects which reach a wide audience. This is an avenue of programming which we will intensify in the following years, though at the same time we will be careful about maintaining a well-considered balance with expressions brought from abroad. Large-scale foreign productions are of course one of our mainstays, but I feel that we will be especially relevant for the Mexican artistic community insofar as local artists regard us as an adventurous and open-minded partner for developing new proposals. • Related document: FestFlash on Creativity and Innovation 6 / 2009