Is South Australia still the Festival State?

Between 1981 and 2008, South Australia plastered the Festival State slogan on all its vehicles. We celebrated the Adelaide Festival of Arts and the associated blooming festival culture.

Between 1981 and 2008, South Australia plastered the Festival State slogan on all its vehicles. We celebrated the Adelaide Festival of Arts and the associated blooming festival culture. While our number plates no longer spread the word, South Australians have made festival-living part of their identity. Festivals have taken all forms: high-art, low-brow; metropolitan and regional; film, literature and cabaret; ideas and words; food and wine. While the major 10 festivals are growing, a concurrent trend sees mid-sized niche events fading out. In recent times, Adelaide has seen the cancellation, hibernation or relocation of the Festival of Ideas (FOI), Adelaide Food & Wine Festival, Word Adelaide and the Australian International Documentary Conference (AIDC). The buzz at the moment surrounds South Australia’s knowledge economy, and our cultural capital ought to be considered a major part of this. As far as tourism dollars and feet-on-the-ground, it’s hard to look further than our festivals as worthy recipients of praise. With the conclusion of AIDC’s seven-year term in Adelaide, our city has seen a powerful industry network slip interstate. The conference, which former Executive Director Joost den Hartog says brought together “creative ambition and platforms – ideas and money”, complemented Adelaide’s calendar of film festivals and introduced non-fiction films to a popular audience through DocWeek. In a statement about the Melbourne move, AIDC says the triennial funding received from Arts SA and the South Australian Film Corporation (SAFC) was “vital to the growth and development of the event”. However, before the public announcement of AIDC’s departure, steps were being made to prepare Adelaide for its absence. DocWeek was this year produced by the Hawke Centre and Media Resource Centre. “The whole purpose of that was to try and preserve it [DocWeek] for Adelaide when the conference leaves the city,” den Hartog tells The Adelaide Review. “We built a significant audience over the last three years; it would be a real shame to throw that away. We saw there is a hunger in Adelaide audiences for documentaries. There’s a great opportunity to keep DocWeek going.” However, in July last year, the Media Resource Centre was dealt a blow: Screen Australia, the major funding body for Australia’s film industry, had ‘taken stock’ of their commitments and decided to withdraw support for the nation’s Screen Networks, of which the MRC is one, from 2016. This funding decision is currently under review. While Screen Australia’s – and thus MRC’s – funding troubles stem from federal cuts, the state government is not guiltless in the downsizing of the festival moneypot. Adelaide’s biennial Festival of Ideas, facilitating discussion and presentation of ground-breaking and important thinking, was due to return this year. However, it has been put on hold as State Government re-evaluates funding commitments. State Minister for Arts Jack Snelling tells The Adelaide Review that festivals receive “a reasonable chunk”, though not the most amount, of SA’s $100 million arts budget. Cultural institutions like the State Library, SA Museum and Art Gallery of South Australia are the biggest recipients. The $90 million investment into the Festival Centre has also had a marked impact on the budget’s flexibility. “We haven’t got a bottomless pot of money, so that means that sometimes, to have a new festival come in, perhaps [there is] an old festival we can’t fund anymore,” says Snelling. “There is a bit of a turnover over the years.” While questions remain around FOI’s future, the State Government has announced an intention to “crowd-source” ideas for two new major events to augment the festival calendar by 2017. This gives Adelaide just over 18 months to imagine and implement the next Tour Down Under. Should they be interested, Adelaide Food & Wine Festival (AFWF) could use this opportunity to relaunch with government funding. The festival, which launched in 2013, has devolved into “satellite mode” for 2015. “The reality is,” festival creator Amanda Jane Pritchard explains on the AFWF website, “that the Festival has grown too big to be run by one person and an army of volunteers. It needs a team structure, new governance and significant financial support from commercial sponsors and government and these things take time to put in place.” The unfortunate timing of the hiatus means AFWF now seems to be serving as a foil to local dining and produce festival Tasting Australia, which will be returning as an annual event from 2016. While Snelling says he is still yet to decide the funding future of FOI, and while the 2017 initiatives are in their infancy, one thing the Minister can promise is that the 10 major festivals, including Fringe, Cabaret and OzAsia, are safe. “I’m not considering reducing funding to those successful festivals to try and divert it into other festivals,” says Snelling. “Obviously, it’s a balancing act. You want to put your money into where you know there is existing success. When you’ve got a successful operation like the Fringe, I can be very, very confident that it’s going to be a good investment of taxpayers’ money for them to continue to receive that funding because they do such a great job and bring so many visitors to Adelaide. “But obviously you need to balance that and be prepared to take a bit of a punt sometimes. But when you take a bit of a punt, it means you need to know when to pull up stumps: when a festival isn’t going to be a success perhaps you hoped it would.” This perception of success is perhaps warped against the megalithic Fringe, Adelaide Festival and WOMADelaide, which all had record-breaking seasons in 2015. WOMADelaide welcomed 95,000 people to Botanic Park; the Fringe saw 20 percent growth on last year; Adelaide Festival put estimated attendance figures at 560,000. Christie Anthoney “As far as the 10 festivals that form the Festivals Adelaide cachet is concerned, they are all solid, they are all part of our culture, and they are all growing,” says Christie Anthoney, Executive Officer at Festivals Adelaide. “Something’s in the water and they’re all continuing to grow.” Minister Snelling agrees. “I’m not that concerned, because we’ve got lots of other great festivals coming up and that are well established and are going from strength to strength,” he says. “I’m very comfortable with where we sit in the festival space.” Anthoney floats the idea that the festival growth speaks to an increased desire to come together in a physical space, but also says that Adelaide lends itself to a positive festival culture due to geography, culture and an acceptance ingrained since childhood. “The Come Out Children’s Festival brings internationally world-class acts, performances and visual art to schools and young people across South Australia, which means right from the outset they are given an experience of really good-quality work,” explains Anthoney. “I think that just helps underpin an understanding of culture and an appetite for it. From that, there are festivals that are all unique, that feed into this desire. “I do say, if you take the average South Australian and do a cross-section of them – gross as that might sound – the rings of cultural knowledge would be vast, not that they would even necessarily know it.” While the festival sector, like all industries, is subject to the flux and flow of time and money, everyone agrees that Adelaide has the audience and appetite for more unique and diverse events. “Audiences have proved themselves very adventurous, in the past, looking for new and emerging artists,” says Snelling. “We have a hungry audience,” says Anthoney, “an audience that understands that as part of being South Australian you do go and see work.”

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