You’re talking climate change, fast fashion, global surveillance, unemployment, the gender pay gap and the problems of plastic waste. We’ve all been there, right?
We know that we certainly have. Long-lasting, impactful ideations come when you’re relaxed and in a highly creative space. This is why we’re firm believers that festivals are one of the best opportunities to genuinely inspire people to take action and change their personal lives for the better. The one weekend they’re wrapped in glow-in-the-dark disco balls is the perfect time to encourage them to make changes for the 363 days they’re not!
And, here in Aotearoa, we not only have an immensely strong alternative festival circuit with the likes of Womad, Splore, Auckland Arts Festival, NZ Spirit Festival and Earth Beat, to name a few, but, we can actually enjoy them, even during a pandemic!
Apart from being amazing multi-day parties, festivals create exciting spaces to experience art, music, culture and film. At their best, they perform a transformative role in society, celebrating traditions and powerfully expressing the meanings that places hold for people. Festivals can disrupt established ways of thinking about heritage. Taking place in regional parks, city streets, railway arches, and community centres, they can help residents explore different ways of belonging in cities, re-engage with the past and imagine the future.
As consumers and leaders become increasingly eco-conscious, and as we begin to see progressive global strides in environmental sustainability, we’re seeing more and more festivals starting to tackle their own purpose and footprint head-on. And rightly so! We need an industry like the festival world to continually pioneer and push these boundaries.
Places like Wendy’s Wellness (Splore) and the diverse program of Auckland Arts Festival are essential forums of idea exchange, co-learning and deeper community understanding. At a time when people have lost faith in traditional governance, hierarchical institutions and megalithic corporations, festivals play a vital role in bringing people together to think outside the mainstream narrative to envision a future of possibility, creativity and inspiration.
In 1990 the founders of Burning Man drew a line on the ground of Nevada’s Black Rock Desert and told each other, “On the other side of this line, everything will be different.” With its artful chaos and core principles of participation, civic responsibility, radical inclusion and self-reliance, Burning Man has not only lived up to its charter — it’s inspired gatherings around the globe. In a 2010 TEDx talk in Vancouver, documentary filmmaker Jeet Kei Leung coined the term “Transformational Festival” to describe this “remarkable cultural phenomenon.”
The annual Kiwiburn festival in New Zealand carries forth this kaupapa here in the southern hemisphere. People talk about learning more about the world and themselves in 8 days at a ‘burn’ than in 2 years of academic university studies, when often the textbooks are out-of-date and the teachers’ listless and simply running through the motions.
Festivals often act like a microcosm of society as a whole. Where the organisers have to deal face-to-face with issues of governance, economics, environment, education, health & wellbeing and so on. All the issues a nation state needs to address. However, there is a scope for experimentation, innovation and doing things differently in a way that isn’t always possible for antiquated governmental bureaucracies. And, sure enough sometimes festivals get it wrong. Today they are commercialised offerings without the counter-cultural discourse of the early days.
Contemporary music festivals, like the medieval festivals described by Kim and Jamal (2007, p. 184), provide experiential settings where “participants are free from the constraints of daily living and can behave in a way not governed by conventional social norms and regulations that structure everyday life”. This experiential opportunity to transcend normative constraints within a liminal setting is central to alternative festivals.
Festival organisers are in an incredible position of being able to positively influence their attendees outside the boundaries of their event. In fact, 43.1% of NZ festival audiences said that they had changed their behaviour as a result of green initiatives or ideas they had discovered at festivals, and with the ever-growing Gen Z rising through the ranks, these facts will only become more important.
In this case, the whole is certainly greater than the sum of its parts. When the music, the people, the smiles, the dancing, the place and the art all come together, the combination is unmatched. New Zealand celebrations and festivals are more than just music, they are a meeting place for kindred souls. They are a place of joy and laughter and creativity. Most importantly, the experience of a New Zealand festival leaves your heart full and your mind inspired.
We hope to see you amongst the crowds of smiling faces soon.
By Sata Nama