What Future for Festivals? Report

Final report of the Salzburg Global Seminar I co-curated in 2020, asking the question ‘What future for Festivals?

The seminar involved weeks of intense discussion with festivals leaders and scholars from around the world. It was an intense and tough process as this event was supposed to take place in Salzburg in March of 2020, commemorating the 100th anniversary of the Salzburg Festival, but it had to be postponed and take place online. During the pandemic and in lockdown, the issues we were to discuss became all the most pressing and pertinent.

Little did we know while developing the session in 2019, just how compelling and urgent the question at the center of our program – what future for festivals? – would be. Few sectors have been hit as hard by the pandemic as the cultural sector, with festivals being particularly vulnerable to the fallout from the compounded global crises – not just COVID-19, but also the climate crisis, and worldwide social and economic upheaval.

Salzburg Global Seminar 2020

The final report collects the views of 50 leading thinkers and practitioners in this field.

” We know that festivals … have energized communities since time immemorial. Rooted in rituals, stories and faiths, they have embodied local and indigenous cultures and celebrated deep bonds to nature, land and the seasons. Modern festivals range from intimate experiments to gigantic mega-events, showcasing ever more diverse creative practices… Whatever their intended focus … festivals have always spoken to fundamental human needs. They have allowed us to share in a density and intensity experience, revel in specialness beyond day-to-day routines, and join – as the German word “Festspiele” infers – in “celebration and play.”

But what is the future of festivals as we look ahead to continuing travel constraints, unpredictable limitations on public events, and looming economic crises? … How will festivals adapt and cope with these altered circumstances? …

… One thing is certain: we need festivals now more than ever. The coronavirus pandemic has brought into sharp relief that festivals are not just “nice to have” – we must have them to thrive and not just survive.”

Salzburg Global Seminar 2020

I have also contributed a short piece on the future of mega-events specifically, building on the University of Liverpool public talk on the same topic I presented in November.

With Tokyo determined to press ahead with the Olympic Games this summer, while having no choice but publish a new ‘playbook’ on appropriate behaviour for our ‘new normal’ times (eg. requesting delegations to ‘clap, but not sing’ at venues!) the notion of what it means to be festive and how to celebrate in public is all up for grabs…

This is a fascinating time to research & document the concept of collective euphoria and our human need for festivals and major-events.