We can all agree that the response of the art and culture sector to the Covid-19 pandemic was inspiring; from art centres turning into vaccination sites to museums delivering tours online, ensuring the public doesn’t miss out on the well needed entertainment and education. But for festival organisers the last 15 months have been particularly challenging, as most of them rely on the audience to deliver the art in-person. So what do you do as a festival manager when your only option is to take your event online?
We sat down with festival organisers Zen Bharmal from the British Film Institute and Michael Csar from Bregenz Festival to discuss the impact of lockdown on their organisations and the future of festivals.
Online and hybrid events became a game changer for many organisations. They allowed the venues to reach audiences further than even before and be more inclusive.
For BFI, opening up their usually London-based film festivals to the wider audience helped expand their reach, but also allowed them to be more accessible for people with disabilities – which is a fantastic benefit of virtual events.
Zen agrees there is an appetite for the return of in-person events, but does it mean the end of virtual performances?
"My own personal view is that it's hard to put that back in the can. Once people know what they can access, to take that away from people would be quite difficult."Zen Bharmal, British Film Institute
BFI took every opportunity to learn while delivering Flare, one of the biggest LGBTQ+ film festivals in Europe. With the London Film Festival just around the corner, staying agile provides a sense of comfort to organisers and attendees.
"For us it depends on people being in the venue. That’s what makes the experience and really represents the art in the way that it was intended. We are quite fortunate that we will always have the opportunity to pivot to the hybrid or digital model."Zen Bharmal, British Film Institute
Having the ability to turn to digital provides many organisation with a safety net, but it’s not “one size fits all”. For Bregenz Festival there was never an option of transferring into the digital sphere. After all, their unique location is part of the immersive experience and you simply can’t recreate that online.
So if virtual is not an option, what can you do to make sure your in-person event is safe for your audience, staff and partners?
Michael says there are two key things festival organisers should focus on: preparation and communication.
"One aspect is developing a health and safety plan and prevention plan: what do you do with the audience? How do you rehearse? How do you accommodate a chorus and orchestra working together without the risk of infection? Develop a plan and very clear guidelines of what you can do.
[…] keeping the relationship with artists, with partners, with official authorities alive and the communication going is very important... We invest a lot of time and energy in those relationships and the worst thing you can do is not keeping them involved."Michael Csar, Bregenz Festival
Want to learn more? See the full conversation here.
Rescheduling your festival may cause a ripple effect, especially if you plan your programme years in advance.
Changing a single date means altering contracts and checking artists’ availability for several other events. It may feel like putting together a puzzle without a picture to guide you.
Our Artistic Programming module will help you manage those last minute changes, giving you a peace of mind now and in the future.
See it in action on Thursday, 9 September at 16:00 BST in our FREE webinar. Save your spot here.
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