Festivals are international cultural practices, taking plural forms and expressions across the world. They offer an empirical lens to enrich our understanding about how tangible and intangible cultural heritage combine, collide, conflict and cohere. Festivals are a spatially and temporally bounded public sphere, a break from normality that surfaces and reveals understandings of and approaches to culture and heritage in very different contexts.
A new report produced by the Urban Institute with partners at the African Centre for Cities explores how festivals are integrative sites between tangible and intangible heritage in the context of the Sustainable Development Goals. Professor Beth Perry has been working with a network of academics and practitioners in South Africa, Kenya, Sweden, the Netherlands and the UK to explore how culture, and cultural heritage in particular, can play a role in supporting more just urban transformations. The network has addressed this question through the lens of festivals, drawing on international cases from CHIME. The 18 festivals in the report focus on the relationship between global frameworks for action and local cultural practices and learning.
The report highlights concerns over implicit cultural and instrumental biases which inform policy statements at multiple levels. Whose culture, whose heritage matters? How do international frameworks reflect cultural diversities across the Global South and North? What tensions and issues emerge in the instrumentalisation and essentialisation of culture as a tool in sustainable development? What does this mean for action at a local level, within and beyond state actors, to support cultural diversity and support cultural democracy and justice? In raising these questions, the report sets out an agenda for research, policy and practice to ensure that coordinated action supports the search of more just, inclusive and sustainable cities.
The impact of our research is important for us as researchers, for our industry and public partners, and for our funders—from the inception event at the EFG London Jazz Festival (a project partner) in November 2015 on we have been talking about impact as well as ‘doing’ it. In fact if you click the following link you can see and download the short presentation I gave about what ‘impact’ means and its scope in the British research landscape from that first event.
We wanted to capture and to easily visualise a sense of impact as a process through the development of the project. We thought a simple infographic-style map could do that, and gathered information from each researcher about their key collaborative relationships and anticipated work at the start of the project, and asked them to update that a year or so later. So we have produced two impact maps to date, one from November 2015 and second from March 2017. The aim is to capture how the work packages have developed as work is undertaken and activities completed. The maps capture the project’s scope (how CHIME is indeed chiming), but also in a way they visualise its development, its story. Here are our impact maps, side-by-side, 2015 and 2017.
Rachel Daniel, my AHRC Connected Communities administrator, who also happens to be a creative artist and researcher (see Rachel’s own work exploring drawing and medicine here), made the maps happen. We thought about using Coggle or some other infographic/mapping programme, but in the end it didn’t need to be done like that, and she used Adobe Illustrator actually. So relatively simple, I’m told—though I gather the second one was slightly (…) more fiddly. Thank you, Rachel.
Gathering the information from each researcher, and then selecting from what each submits, and double-checking with them that we’ve got it right, takes a bit of time. From one of the team we received an email headed ‘Can you read this?’ and a photo attached of a pen-on-paper sketch of her collaborations on the project. Yes, we could.
What constitutes a music festival? The answer to the question would likely generate a number of answers, for example a limited geographical space, a question that soon turned out to be focal while conducting fieldwork on the 2016 installment of the GMLSTN JAZZ festival.
The 2016 installment of the festival took place on no less than 17 stages. The festival was dispersed all over the town of Gothenburg; spanning from pubs and churches in the suburbs, to established, renowned venues in the core cultural center. During the festival week in April 2016, we tried to map the festival as a whole in order to depict how it was distributed in the urban space and, equally important, how it appropriated it.
By interviewing members of the audience and analyzing answers from the online query we (Olle Stenbäck, Niklas Sörum and Helene Brembeck) made accessible during the festival week, we soon found that the lack of a limited, geographical space, raised questions among the festival goers. Some said that the festival, due to the dispersion, lacked a sense of community; a festival atmospheric.
Focus soon turned towards the theoretical term festivalisation, which is often used as a tool for critique. Researcher Nikolay Zherdev observes that urban planners attempt to “galvanize local cultural life” and “build a continuity of ‘happening’” to attract creative individuals (Zherdev 2014:5). Festivalisation have become a key concept for urban cultural production, whether it’s within the sports sector or city development; a part of the creative economy. Festivalisation marks a translation of sorts; transforming an ordinary event into something else, to differentiate. The term can also be used as an empirical, investigative tool to map the audience’s understandings of what a musical festival is and what it can be, which is how we operationalized it during the festival week.
“There is no generally accepted typology of festivals (Getz 2010:2, Mackley & Crump 2012:16f). From a North European perspective, there are several easily distinguishable types of musical events that are labelled festivals. One, especially common in the field of rock and pop, presents many acts on a few large stages over a rather short period of time (often a weekend) and in a limited, often fenced, space” (Ronström 2016).
Though there might not be a generally accepted typology of festivals, there’s obviously some understandings more dominant than others; the limited, often fenced space, being a distinct example of such.
While conducting fieldwork we were especially interested in finding out how – and/or if – the GMLSTN JAZZ festival committee worked to communicate the festival as part of the temporally translation of the Gothenburg jazz club scene into a more coherent festival space.
However, one of the focal ideas behind the GMLSTN JAZZ initiative is to function as a promotor, a unifying network, for the local jazz scene. Emphasis is put on tying scenes and venues together, where jazz – as a musical (yet broad) genre – is the unifying factor. The scenes/venues are not necessarily transformed into something else, but remains the same. They’re made part of the festival mainly by being represented in the festival program.
Apart from posters and festival programs, there wasn’t much that glued the 2016 installment of the festival together. In terms of communicating unity, there could have been more obvious visual-symbolic cues, moderating the festival goer’s experience, thus generating a uniform festival atmosphere.
GMLSTN JAZZ is still looking for its form. The festival is a young player on the musical festival field, which means there’s more – for them and us – to explore. In terms of branding mechanisms, the festival currently act mainly as an occasionally prominent, other times subtle, jazz promotor.