A few days ago the National Council for Culture (an independent counselling body for issues of culture, curiously abbreviated as NSK) organised a public session under the rather sweeping heading of “Slovene festivals in the context of Slovene culture and the national and local tourism strategies”. Considering some potentially important strategic documents on culture and tourism currently being drafted, the meeting seemed timely. Timely ‒ yet also quite ambitious considering how the festival is a rather broad concept that “doesn’t actually stand for any particular mode of culture production”. Instead it serves to denote a multiplicity of “forms through which arts and culture perform their daily striving for attention, recognition, funds, space, originality and survival” (as elaborated here).
The ensuing discussion by the various movers and shakers of the culture scene was rather broad, even too broad, in scope. Though the points raised were valid they rarely went beyond the dilemmas endemic to Slovene arts and culture in general. Among the presented issues were the great divide between NGOs and public institutions; the unpredictability and the one–size–fits–all logic of financing mechanisms; the volatility of municipal schemes for culture; the lack of systemic support for international breakthroughs (a topic somewhat randomly raised was the need for an overview of internationally active Slovene artists, a project undertaken by Culture.si via its Worldwide events section for some years now*); and the dilemma of quality vs. quantity in public funding.
This last point was possibly one that got a bit more traction and developed as an idea that certain festivals should be defined as strategically important on a national (or regional) scale. This should allow for more stable financing arrangements as well as facilitate possible collaborations with the local authorities and various institutions like the Slovenia Tourist Board. Though this idea certainly has some merit, such an establishment of yet another two-tier system for the production of culture (as in the case of non-governmental and public institutions) also seems as a rather potent realignment of the existing power grid in the cultural ecosystem.
Yet, there is another (also possibly tourism related) festival realignment seemingly already taking place. Our graphic portrayal of how Slovene festivals are aligned throughout the year shows significant changes in its geometry. While our database is certainly not 100 percent comprehensive and the infographic itself is but its approximation, there is a very obvious trend of festivals moving into the summer months. With the roughly same number of C.si-featured festivals in 2012 (190) and in 2016 (182), the average number of festivals going on at any given summer week (the weeks between the second half of June and the end of August) was 18.7 in 2012 and 22.3 in 2016. In spite of marginally fewer festivals enlisted for 2016, there is an almost 20 percent absolute rise in their summer density, with also the peak weeks themselves being considerably more festival-intensive.
What this trend (visible throughout the years 2013, 2014 and 2015) shows us is a certain remodelling of the festival landscape, one that could be provisionally (even if just for the sake of its funky buzzword character) called the summerisation of festivals.
There are many possible reasons for this, not least among them the measuring methodology. This possibility aside, the observation does merit some consideration and reflection. Is there any correlation between the growing importance of the tourism industry in the Slovene economy and this trend? Does this reflect the changing habits of consuming culture amongst the local population? Is it but an adaptation to the infamously late (municipal) public tenders for cultural programmes that hinder organising events in the first half of the year. Could we possibly even blame the nature of the neoliberal, labour intensive work regimes of today? In order to craft properly informed strategies of festival tourism (whatever that may be) this remains to be answered. Our extensive database of spatial, temporal and even financial properties ** of Slovene culture and festivals is quite possibly a good way to start.
Foto: Katja Goljat @ PIFcamp
* Culture.si collects information about upcoming cultural events and activities abroad, involving Slovene artists and researchers. The Culture from Slovenia World Map is a unique source of information that offers a preview of upcoming events around the world and maintains a growing archive of the international activity of Slovene-based artists in the field of arts and culture.
** A graphic and interactive visualisation representing the data related to the EU funding for Slovene culture (also festivals), film and audiovisual media in the period 2002–2016. It is a result of a data mining project prepared by Creative Europe Desk Slovenia and Ljudmila Art and Science Laboratory with the aim of presenting the data as well as making information available for further analyses and comparative researches.