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The future of festivals in Adelaide

Festivals Adelaide CEO Justyna Jochym

As the Adelaide Fringe and Festival wrap up, most of those involved are looking forward to some well-earned downtime. But for Justyna Jochym it’s just the beginning.

The newly appointed CEO of Festivals Adelaide has just completed her first full festival season here, and she’s already looking forward to what comes next. “The job of Festivals Adelaide can never sleep because all I see is opportunity,” she says with a smile. “Every person I talk to sparks a new light bulb in my brain. So I don’t think this is going to be a restful year for me, but I say that in the best possible way.” 

Jochym first visited Adelaide for four days at the height of 2017’s festival season. That was enough to see her fall in love with the city. “Afterwards I went to Melbourne and Tasmania but Adelaide was still at the forefront of my mind,” she recalls. “I went back to Krakow and within a few weeks was planning my return.” As the head of the Department for International Cooperation and Development at Krakow Festival Office, she was particularly interested in exploring the strong international connections within Adelaide’s festivals and creative sector. 

The plan was to stay for a year, during which she worked on projects with the City of Adelaide, University of South Australia and Adelaide Festival Centre. By the time the Festivals Adelaide position became available, she “had committed to the fact that I’m head over heels” and was already in the process of applying for a skilled migrant visa. That initial year will now be followed by at least three more, and Jochym couldn’t be happier. “What can I say? Things just got out of control,” she laughs with undisguised delight. 

She points to the “broad spectrum of opportunity for things to see, experience and explore” as part of Adelaide’s appeal, and this extends far beyond festivals. “To have this integrated offering across gastronomy, wine, festivals, culture, arts, nature, wellbeing, it’s really unique.” As the CEO of Festivals Adelaide, Jochym will search for the “golden threads” that link these sectors. 

Festivals create an atmosphere and an opportunity for audiences to see something new, they can be really effective in changing a narrative and supporting tourism. It’s a necessary pivot point that can offer a more optimistic message, especially in this very difficult time.” 

Festivals Adelaide is an umbrella organisation that works with 11 of Adelaide’s major cultural festivals (members include the Adelaide Festival and WOMADelaide as well as OzAsia, SALA, Feast and Adelaide Film Festival). Much like the International Festival City Network that first brought her to Adelaide, Festivals Adelaide “deals entirely with the things that happen behind the scenes, so it’s the unsexy bits”. That means advocacy, policy, support and the creation of a cohesive message within the sector. 

And while she is circumspect about what exactly the future might hold, Jochym has no doubt as to the way to move forward. Given her background in international cooperation, it’s no surprise to hear her say that “competition is just not going to serve individual institutions, cities and countries any more”. Instead, collaboration is one of the “pillars” of her strategy. 

Supporting the sector means “strengthening the case for why festivals are integral to all sorts of areas of life… Whether it’s the health and wellbeing industry, international students and education, driving tourism in the state, we really need to position ourselves as central to those processes.” 

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As they have for the past few years, media releases throughout the Fringe and Festival trumpeted significant sales milestones and box office records. These are far from the only measure of the health of our festivals, and there are pertinent questions to be asked about how sustainable this growth is. But these figures are also a very visible sign of how willing Adelaide (and interstate) audiences are to support our flagship events. 

“In terms of positive narratives about Adelaide and South Australia, we need to talk about those numbers,” Jochym says. “I think attendances and tickets and the perspective on visitation are important to demonstrate the fact that people are coming out, that people are patronising the arts.” In addition, her definition of success includes developing a narrative around the social health and wellbeing impacts of our festivals. “It’s a lot harder to quantify, but with such an impressive medical and health sector, we can collaborate on how to develop benchmarks that could be potentially used elsewhere around the world.” 

Since being appointed as CEO earlier this year, Jochym has overseen a decidedly unusual start to the year. First there were the bushfires, then Covid-19 swept through Australia’s cultural calendar with devastating impact. It’s been a challenging time to say the least, but this only emphasises the importance of her work. 

“Festivals offer us the opportunity to pivot to optimism, to the future, to creation. In the light of the bushfires, droughts, and the Covid-19 outbreak, festivals are centripetal forces, bringing people together, to the centre. While we don’t yet know how Covid-19 will affect festival development and making in the unfolding future, we can be confident in our festivals creating connection and testing the boundary of what is probable or possible through art. It is their DNA.”

Alexis Buxton-Collins

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