Reflecting on Atelier Merano 2017
It's been just over a week since the closing of Atelier Merano 2017 and I have been thinking of how best to condense a week's worth of experience and dialogue into this post - I aim to offer some insight into the main points of discussion and bring awareness to some of the issues raised. It would be impossible to detail everything here so I'm keen to keep the conversations going and invite anybody who is interested in finding out more to get in touch.
Firstly, I want to give a brief run down on what was a truly inspiring, intense, affirming, idea sparking, courage giving, passion sharing and thought-provoking week. The Atelier brought together 22 early career festival managers along with 8 experienced and generous international festival directors; it immersed us in the beautiful, half german /half italian speaking, city of Merano in the autonomous Italian province of South Tyrol; it took place within the context of the Meraner Musikwochen/Settimane Musicali Meranesi festival, who were outstanding co-organisers and hosts and organised a plethora of activities for us to experience local art and culture, cuisine and of course, great wine. On the experience as a whole, what stood out for me was the uniqueness of the opportunity to bring focus towards reflecting on what we do and why and how we do it - offering an invaluable insight and providing instant access to a diverse range of perspectives, practices and approaches. I loved the atmosphere the festival academy created too - which at times (in a fun way) felt like we were all back at school again - bonding with likeminded people, learning lots, coming up with ideas and perhaps even rebellion.
So...what did we speak about? Each participant was invited to present a short paper on their interests or ideas and the week was shaped around those. The themes were very much participant led, even beyond the scheduled discussions and mentor talks these conversations often carried on late into the evening over dinner and other evening activities. You can find my paper here. The necessary topics that transpired were, in no particular order of priority; Politics, Practicalities and Resources, Curating, Audience (Development and Engagement), Accessibility, Internal and External Communication, Team Building and Retention, Identity/Vision/Mission, Artist Development and Ecology.
Here's a round up of the discussions...
Ethics in line with aesthetics in all areas; sponsorships, partnerships, artistic choices.
Attention to the political context in which a festival takes place.
Realisation of a festival must be motivated by a strong social and political vision and an understanding of how this reflects in the programming, communication and other activities.
Censorship and it's impact – political, economical and self.
PRACTICALITIES AND RESOURCES
Communicating with potential partners, sponsors and stakeholders and the importance of investment in this.
Nourishing relationships with existing partners – actively involving them in festival activities and collaborating on ideas for this.
Developing relationships with international institutions.
Collaborating with other festivals.
Volunteers – Investment in relationship building with volunteers, which has to be a two way relationship - providing volunteer engagement and development opportunities.
Practicalities in taking experiences out of traditional spaces.
Project management and communication systems and programmes.
Artist's impact on the direction of the festival.
Taking risks – look to artists who are taking risks whilst remembering that cultural organisations have to take risks too.
Resistance to growing populism – avoiding fashionable moves.
Investment/ developing opportunities to see work and not programming from behind a desk.
Trust in personal direction and vision.
Artists' as co-currators.
Festival as public property
Investing in audience relationships.
Engagement and participation opportunities.
Preparing audiences for new experiences and work they might not be familiar with.
How to relate international work to a local community - not assuming there is a pre-made audience or connection.
Knowing how your audience behaves.
Thinking about this from the start and ingraining inclusive thinking into our practice.
Considering who may be excluded from a particular activity, why and what can be done?
Audience – how physically accessible are venues/sites? Where are the provisions for sign language interpretors, audio descriptions, large print hand outs, subtitles?
Who is represented onstage and in the wider workforce? Promoting and advocating for diversity through diversity.
INTERNAL AND EXTERNAL COMMUNICATION
Having a declaration of procedures and processes available publicly.
Festival conditions for artists clearly communicated from beginning of negotiations.
Ensuring knowledge of technical requirements and getting technical confirmation, in advance of programming decisions.
Examples of communication approaches, both within the festival team and with artists.
TEAM BUILDING AND RETENTION
Finding people who trust in the work you want to do, who share the vision and the passion.
Investing in team nourishment
Checking in and updating on as regular a basis as possible.
Ensuring continuity of the working group and that they are completely devoted to the project.
Convincing all staff that everyone wins and loses together.
Having absolute clarity of roles.
Communicating to the team when any decision/change is made.
IDENTITY, VISION, MISSION
The importance of having a clear and transparent festival identity, vision and mission.
Thriving to change, develop, grow and be innovative – identity, vision and mission is in perpetual development.
Acknowledging that everybody (festival team, wider venue staff, artists, audiences) are representatives of the identity and mission, which has to be communicated and shared.
ARTIST SUPPORT AND DEVELOPMENT
Placing artists' specific needs at the centre of our work.
Providing space for experimentation, where artists can create freely.
Placing artists in the best conditions to perform - making it as easy as possible with arrangements and hosting.
Understanding the important role of festivals in the growth of local artist community and as a place for development and international visibility.
Artists mediation – maximising opportunities for artists to access festival and spend time there.
A festival not just showing work but also developing new work.
ECOLOGY AND SUSTAINABILITY
Awareness of changes happening in society that might impact on festivals - economics, politics, transport etc.
'Ethical buying and working' - Thinking about energy, waste, transportation, carbon footprint.
Self care for managers/producers and sustainability of practice in this area – building networks of support.
Healthy relationships/partnerships/connections across the sector to increase productivity and efficiency.
Factors affecting big institutions impacting on smaller ones and vice versa.
Organisational policies and their impact on artists at the heart of the ecology.
As you might have gathered, the week was jam packed and bursting at the seems with shared passion, ideas and inspiration - a place where many seeds were planted. I would recommend anyone working in festivals to apply to participate in a Festival Academy Atelier (you can find more info here -www.thefestivalacademy.eu). They also run courses for festival production managers.
Thank you to everyone who made the week possible; the Festival Academy team, European Festivals Association, the mentors, Meraner Musikwochen / Settimane Musicali Meranesi and staff, all of the participants and of course our wonderful guides.
Personally, I send a big thank you to Creative Scotland for supporting me to attend and to Anita Clark at The Work Room for her continued advice and recommending the course to me.
Thank you for reading!