I’ve been enjoying the 2011 Melbourne Festival, especially “The Manganiyar Seduction” for both the music and the spectacular presentation. No sooner had the Melbourne Fringe Festival finished then the Melbourne Festival started; sometimes it seems that there is a film, fashion or other cultural festival planned for the whole year.
This year at the Melbourne Festival there was a parade of giant black baby demon statues. The demons took on another meaning when Melbourne City Square was briefly occupied by protesters joining in the Occupy Wall Street movement. The baby demons have been touring other arts festivals around the world. That started me thinking about the globalization of art festivals.
I was reading Richard Broome, Coburg – between two creeks, (Lothian, 1987) and I was I was surprised to find that Coburg had held the first arts festival in Australia. I was also surprised to find that this was in 1944. Coburg held five arts festivals in the following years. In its second year the arts festival had an art exhibition, curated from pictures on loan from the collections of Coburg residents; the art included work by Louis Buvelot, Rex Battarbee, Harold Herbert, Daryl Lindsay and Sir John Longstaff. (Look up these guys up to understand the high quality of artists that were on exhibition.)
The transformation of the community based arts festivals, like 1944 Coburg Arts Festival, into the corporate sponsored tourist attractions, like the Melbourne Festival, is remarkable not just for the growth. The contemporary arts festivals requires greater infrastructure than venues for the events, there has to be restaurants, cafés and bars for the audience before and after the events, there has to be transportation, hotels and other facilities. This kind of arts festival has become an international travelling tourist attraction as the acts, like “The Manganiyar Seduction” and the “Tom Tom Club” travel the international festival circuit. In the process festival directors have become stars and their role has developed from an administrative to a curatorial role.
In 1986 the Cain state government started the Spoleto Festival of Melbourne. Four years later the festival changed its name to the Melbourne International Arts Festival and the “international” and “arts” has gradually faded from Melbourne Festival’s title. 1986 was the same year as the California’s Burning Man festival was established. As festivals became more similar, with the same acts, around the world, very little attention was paid to creating different kinds of festivals. Not the Alexandrian approach of a festival for every category from the Armenian Film Festival to the Zombie Art Festival. Rather to take a creative approach to creating festivals, as Burning Man has done.
What do you think about the globalization of art festivals?