tips for running an arts festival
Tania Harrison, arts & special events promoter, Festival Republic
Think like your audience and then go one step further: When programming, I have to think very differently for the 15-25 age group at Reading Festival to when I think about a Latitude audience. At Latitude there are a number of ‘tribes’ if you will and the common thread is how they think and their experience of the arts – the aim is to think like your audience and then raise it one level to bring in new ideas that might appeal to their sensibility.
Start with who and what you know: It’s very important to have familiar faces on the bill that will draw in your audience and attract them to the festival – it’s a great starting point. From there is where the fun starts and I love discovering new acts and shows that I can carefully slot into the programme I’ve already started.
Iain Simons, director, GameCity, Nottingham Trent University
Turn budget cuts into something positive: To be honest, cuts can be helpful too. In our case it has forced us to really mine the value of the event, and while that can feel a little brutal, commercial and calculating, it can really help you discover some hidden treasures in things you’re already doing.
Organise with open source: What was happening with us for a few years was that everyone was ringing and emailing us and wanting to have a discussion (which we’d invited) about how we might do something unique and amazing with their work. That’s a great problem to have, but it’s an incredibly erosive one.
We ended up looking to open source philosophies and tools to help people create it themselves – lessening the burden on us (which was unsustainable otherwise) and creating a production pipeline that was transparent, inclusive and scalable, while not being or feeling like some sort of awful festival-o-matic. That works great for people who ‘get’ open source philosophies, but we need to work a lot harder at translating that idea to people who aren’t conversant in them, which is the majority.
Susanna Roland, festival director, Shoreditch Fringe Festival
Consider your partners and sponsors: I think the reality is that when you work across a range of partners (especially funders) they all have their own set of objectives. You have be strategic to ensure their objectives are met alongside yours – I’m not saying you should bow to a sponsor but you need to work in partnership to get it right. Public funding also has its boxes to tick – money doesn’t come free.
Allison Gardner, co-director, Glasgow Film Festival
Know what not to do: Don’t see others as rivals – if your festival is good it will be recognised. Another no-no is not keeping your staff on message or updating them with your current plans and problems, so make sure you keep communicating.
Don’t forget to enjoy the festival: Otherwise what’s the point?
Make collaborations count: You can’t run a festival without effective collaborations. The key is ensuring both parties are crystal clear on the part they have to play – regular contact and keeping people in the loop is essential. Helping partners/collaborators to bring their creative ideas to the table and making the logistics of these work for both organisations is also vital. When it works it’s wonderful!
Consider the cultural and physical paths: The footprint of the festival (the distance between venues) is very important in planning; you’ve got to allow people time to get between the venues for the screenings/performances without having to run.
The cultural path is just as important. You can’t predict them all, but a wee trick I use to aid my knowledge is looking at the box office reports for what people are buying – best using those who buy 10/20 ticket passes – and seeing which route they have chosen through the programme.
I’m often really surprised as the audience at GFF has wide ranging and esoteric tastes. Never underestimate a smart, knowledgeable audience because they rise to the challenge every year, and then we have to up our game to meet their expectations.
Ulrike Chouguley, consultant, BOP Consulting
Partner up: Working in partnership can be really effective in these tight financial times and it can address a whole range of practical or organisational issues.
A good example is the Without Walls network, which brings together outdoors arts festivals and they jointly commission and then tour events. Another is Festivals Edinburgh, which works together around key strategic issues such as increasing environmental sustainability or developing technologically innovative solutions – all of which they wouldn’t be able to do on their own.
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