Sunday, July 05, 2015

Creating a New England fringe festival

The Edinburgh Fringe Festival claims to be the largest arts festival in the world. At yesterday's inaugural  meeting of the New England (Northern) new state group Sydney group ( New England New State Sydney discussion group formed) it was agreed that we should:
1 Raise the prospect of a New England Fringe Festival that may include a combination of cultural, political and intellectual events amongst our networks in order to gauge the responses and prospects of participation and support.
This post looks at some of the issues involved.

What is a fringe festival?

 The Edinburgh Festival describes itself in this way:
“Every year we think we know what it’s going to deliver, but every year it surprises, delights, amazes and inspires. The Fringe is a festival like no other. Completely open access – where artists don’t need to wait for an invitation, where anyone with a story to tell is welcome. Where there’s no curator, no vetting, no barriers. Just incredible talent from almost fifty countries all over the world"
Edinburgh is a well established and in many ways unique festival. However, the concept of openness, of letting the world come, is important.

Why a New England fringe festival? 

New England has many generally small arts festivals.It is also made up of many towns or cities, each in rivalry with each other. There is remarkably little cross-promotion. If you have an official festival, then each place will seek to maximise its gain. to sell itself against others. I know that may sound harsh, but its true. Each place has its own story, but that is lost in  the competitive cacophony.  

 If you have a structured festival that is independent of place ore indeed of event, that competition can feed into a better experience for all.

There is a further factor, one referred to in in passing in the meeting summary, the combination of events that spans artistic experience. New England, the broader North, has its own history and culture, but this is fragmented along particular cultural lines, fragmented between communities. Over the last four decades, our knowledge of our own history and culture, the sharing of cultural experiences, has declined. There are many reasons for this, including the decline in the separatist cause that once provided a unifying element, changes in media ownership, changes in Government structures and funding arrangements that tend to fragment. 

We want to turn this around.This doesn't mean that the festival must have a central New England focus, although some of that should be there. To dictate what should go into a fringe festival is anathema to the very concept. However, the idea of a festival that might combine the local and the regional with broader endeavours and trends is very attractive. It might both promote local cultural endeavour and skills and integrate that into the broader world.

Is there enough local endeavour to  provide the required base?

The fact that I have posed this question is itself a sign of the decline we are attempting to address. Of course there is! A fringe festival is not about artistic excellence, although that might be there. It is about sharing what we have, about encouraging others to come.

This shot comes from the Walcha. The whole of Walcha is becoming a sculpture town. It's just one example of the things to see that already exist.

How might it be organised?

It needs to start small. It shouldn't take away from other festivals or activities, but to be used to promote them.

We need a number of participating communities to provide a focus. This need not be large to begin with. Local Government support would be helpful as sponsors and to help coordinate. The regional arts and tourism bodies would also need to be involved.

There would also need to be some form of central organisation to coordinate central marketing, promotion and fund raising.. 

We would also need active support from the local media.  

What might go into the program? 

Each community would look at the things that they have already or that they might do.We need a base package of activities that could be added to a program and cross-promoted, something to build from.

 This  painting, Oxley Highway 2007 is by Walcha artist Julia Griffin. 

At least for the first few festivals, it might be desirable to have one or two key themes to provide a degree of unity. 

We are talking not just about a festival, but a fringe festival. By their nature, fringe festivals are slightly funky, edgy, involving new players and local participation. That makes them fun.

Edinburgh has a recognised brand, it is a capital city and has a large relatively close population base. The fringe also spun off an internationally recognised festival, the Edinburgh International Festival.In the Edinburgh case, fringe means on the margins of an existing festival. In the New England case, fringe means on the margin of multiple activities and attractions spread over space. That's a very different challenge. Available venues are also smaller and may lack facilities. 

 To overcome these problems while keeping the funky, edgy feel,  we would need a community focus that welcomes visitors while giving locals the chance to strut their stuff. We need a combination of main stream with new. And we must cross-promote so that people will travel. 

All this will take thought, imagination and time.

Next Steps

At this point, we are just floating the idea to get people thinking. Over the next few months we will continue to brain storm. In the meantime, we would like feedback on the things that people might like to see or do.    

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Anonymous said...

I suspect expecting funding from any level of government for a fringe festival, during a fascist regime, is wishful thinking, captain.

Unknown said...

A brilliant idea! Let's see this happen!

Melisa Menzel said...

I'm with Alex - great idea. One doesn't need funding from government to make anything happen! The world of funding is changing, several private philanthropic funds are very keen to fund innovate arts projects - and crowd funding can be very powerful.

Good on you!

Jim Belshaw said...

Hi all. First, and just for the record, the person who raised the idea was Tamworth film maker Matthew Harvey

Captain, while we will need support from Arts North West, I am sure that they will give it, getting money out of government is complex and time consuming at the best of times.

Alex and Melissa, my thanks. Melissa, given my response to Alex, you will gather why I think crowd funding is a good idea. The idea of editorial control by anybody is anathema to the idea of a fringe. However, crowd funding takes time and effort (a lot) as well.

Based on responses to this point, and if that continues, I suspect that the next stage is the creation of a public Facebook page to provide a central point for connection and the gathering of ideas.

Jim Belshaw said...

Oh, and I will keep forwarding ideas on this blog as well.

Johnb said...

Surely a Fringe Festival is largely self-funding and any structure is there to be a facilitator in terms of directing willing participants to possible venues for instance. Availibilty of accommodation is imperitive for both those choosing to participate and for any prospective audience.
The following link may give ideas as to how to 'kick off'and find out just what support there might be out there.

Jane said...

I'd be up for pitching in at some level. I used to do press/PR for venues at the Edinburgh Fringe, waaaay back... and a few other UK festivals too. Do you have an email list that we can join?

Jim Belshaw said...

Hi Johnb. Good thoughts (and link). I will use that as a base for a post.

Jane, what began as an idea has taken off faster than any of us expected. Could you email me ndarala(at)optusnet(dot)com(dot)au and I will ensure that you are kept in the loop.

living by design, chance and luck said...

If Kandos can, we can - check this out

Jim Belshaw said...

Thanks, lbd. Interesting and instructive link.