As one of the oldest cultural networks in Europe, the European Festivals Association’s mission has always been centred around artistic quality and long-term impact, says Kathrin Deventer.

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Participants of the Atelier in Edinburgh at The Hub, home of the Edinburgh International Festival

Clark James

Today it is more and more challenging to run a high-quality, active and efficient festival. Not only because of challenging financial times but also because of the risk of short-term thinking. Often the immediate turnover of festivals is the primary interest. They look at facts and figures – numbers of audiences and tickets sold. Too often the economic impact weighs much more than the artistic quality and the sustainable, long-term impact of festivals on the artistic development of a place and the wellbeing of people. Every festival today faces the need to justify its existence.

In its mission and initiatives, artistic excellence and internationalisation are European Festivals Association’s core objectives. We are convinced that festivals need to join forces to ensure their professional development as well as to support the continued existence of high-quality arts. They need to collectively address public authorities and sponsors about the value of festivals for society, their essential contribution to artistic development and their longer-term impact on people and society. We allow for such a collective voice.

We are convinced that festivals need to join forces to ensure their professional development as well as to support the continued existence of high-quality arts

One of the oldest cultural networks in Europe, we were founded in Geneva, Switzerland, in 1952 as a joint initiative of the conductor Igor Markevitch and philosopher Denis de Rougemont. We now represent 102 music, dance, theatre and multidisciplinary festivals, national festival associations and cultural organisations from 41 countries. Each festival, be it a niche event or a large established institution, has its own specific context. The diversity of the festival landscape is reflected on our blog Festival Bytes, a space for storytelling about festivals.

We have initiated several flagship projects over the past years. European House for Culture was created in 2008 to enhance synergies within the cultural sector; EFFE – Europe for Festivals, Festivals for Europe was launched this year to offer a gateway into Europe’s festivals. It is an EU-backed programme that aims to broaden awareness of what is going on in the festival world. It invites artists, directors, managers and audiences worldwide to discover Europe’s very best, most creative festivals. It is also a festival journey through Europe’s diversity. EFFE is a new international festival community in the making looking to connect festivals that are deeply committed to the arts and their communities. A European-wide application process is now open to gather interested festivals which are invited to apply until 15 November 2014.

The Atelier for Young Festival Managers is a training programme established in 2006, which is now running under the umbrella of the Festival Academy. The Festival Academy and the Atelier are guided by a statement made by Bernard Faivre d’Arcier (former Director of Avignon Festival): “The true role of a festival is to help artists to dare to engage in new projects.” The skills of festival managers needed for the artistic development of festivals is at its heart. At training events invited participants work in small groups, attend lectures and debates, learn from case studies and implement practical activities. Atelier mentors and presenters – all renowned, trail-blazing festival managers from all over the world – share their experiences with the participants.

The last Atelier was held in April in Edinburgh. Hosted by the Edinburgh International Festival, it brought together 51 young festival managers from 28 countries. The next Atelier is to be held in October in Poznan in Poland. The Poznan participants will join the alumni network which today counts 223 young festival leaders and 32 festival directors from 56 countries worldwide. This network ensures sustainability beyond the training formats and allows for the development of new cooperation projects and broader networks.

Atelier Presenter and former Artistic Director of the Liverpool European Capital of Culture 2008 Robyn Archer said: “The idea of legacy is important, that a festival is not only an intense and immersive experience for a short time, but that the seeds that it plants continue to flourish and grow. It is a hothouse for the exchange of ideas which we all hope will gain strength during the Atelier and way beyond.”

Kathrin Deventer is the Secretary General of the European Festivals Association.

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