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A picture of the contemporary combined arts festival landscape

By Rebecca Finkel


The last 10-15 years has seen the rapid growth of festivals in Britain and overseas. This article examines the current situation of combined arts festivals in the UK in an effort to understand what the British festival environment looks like in the early years of the new millennium. A number of questions present themselves regarding the history and development of the current festival structure, the number of festivals, their size, distribution, audiences, geographical locations, programming content, duration, seasonality, influences, objectives, future plans and so forth. Combined arts festivals are defined as those containing more than one genre of arts, e.g., Edinburgh International Festival. Research methods include a survey questionnaire sent to 117 UK combined arts festivals (56 per cent response rate) to discern audience demographics, programming history, funding and future plans. In-depth interviews were also conducted with festival organizers. Based on survey data, it is argued that a homogeneous combined arts festival “type” is developing and replicating across the country. This argument is supported by the similarity in programming choices and festival format of a majority of the festivals surveyed. One of the main reasons for the increasing formulaic approach to festival programming and design is the increasing competition for funding as public and private funding sources expect combined arts festivals to achieve socio-economic targets and become more sustainable from one year to the next. This can be seen to be contributing to the increasing professionalism of combined arts festival organization, which has resulted in the majority of combined arts festival directors favouring “safe” content options that emulate the successes of several large, long-established festivals. Such an approach has had detrimental effects on the creativity of the arts festival landscape on the whole and may also be altering the symbolic meanings of festivals for communities and places

Year: 2009
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