Last week, ISACS Director Lucy Medlycott was invited to moderate So Many Roads: The future of European Street Arts Festivals. An International discussion hosted by  SO Festival (UK) supported by Magna Vitae Trust and PASSAGE Festival (DK+SWE); an international panel from North, South, East and West of Europe was drawn together to discuss the future re-imagining of Street Arts festivals across Europe in this present time.

Panelists Included:

  • Catherine Mitchell: Arts Council England’s National Director for Combined Arts (UK)
  • Lars Seeberg: Danish Arts Council, Head of the Stage Arts (DK)
  • Jens Frimann Hansen: SO Festival (UK) and PASSAGE Festival (DK+SWE)
  • Anna Giribet: Fira Tàrrega (CAT),
  • Federico Toso: Federazione Nazionale Arti in Strada (I)
  • Fanni Nánay: Placcc Fesztivál (HU)
  • Joe Mackintosh : Out There Festival (UK)
  • Kathrin Bahr: Tête à Tête Festival (D)
  • Denis Lafaurie: Le Cratére Surfaces, Alès International Outdoor Arts Festival (FR)

The discussion ranged across a variety of topics which touched on the essence, purpose and values of Street Arts, along with the core realities of creating same in these times with concerns around local economies, as well as the obvious public health and safety.

What Are We Discussing When We Discuss Street Arts?

The definition of form was identified as requiring clarity –  is it the same as Site Specific Art or Performing Arts in Public spaces? A feeling emerged of street arts being without a distinct solo form, but rather as being a creative action which takes place outside traditional arts institutions. It doesn’t belong to any one genre, but rather it blurs form and removes perceived barriers for access to the arts.

Diversity and Inclusion

This became a clear thread; the connection between artists and public through Street Arts which radically transforms the audiences which engage with art. Catherine Mitchell, Arts Council UK identified in their recent audience research that the demographic of the street arts audiences directly reflect the demographic of the wider UK population, therefore:

‘Street Arts underpins getting more Arts and Culture to more people.’ – Catherine Mitchell, Arts Council England.

The Question of Space

Another common theme during the discussion.  Where street arts takes place; animating smaller, local, rural environments through cultural engagements and initiatives challenging the concepts of where artistic experiences exist. A wide spread feeling permeated that small is beautiful and that local actions can transform communities dynamically and radically.

‘A show is good when you are different after seeing it than before.’ – Denis Lafaurie, Le Cratére Surfaces, Alès International Outdoor Arts Festival.

Artists as Visionaries

This theme of artists as visionaries, as agents of change was explored at length with the question being what is our role as festival makers in facilitating this.

‘Festivals work with artists, it is not just about  how we imagine the future of the festival, it is also about how artists build the work they create.’ – Joe Mackintosh , Out There Festival.

We look to  artists who can draw a vision for the future with solutions, not simply identifying that a certain situation is ‘bad’, but rather  re-imagining our futures.

This was explored further by Fanni Nánay who clarified the challenges faced in Hungary and the political context which that presents, in particular restricting international movement of artists between regions.

Kathrin Bahr also identified the need for more political work to emerge in Germany. There is a strong need for festivals to lead in this regards and that it is essential not to be afraid of programming overtly political work, work which aims to address core societal issues, and work which brings together and combines artistic skills and entertainment with a political message.

Artists Mobility and Internationalisation

‘We need to support artists and mobility. We must, but we need to find a more sustainable way to do that, and we as the managers of the festivals must lead that .’ -Anna Giribet, Fira Tàrrega.

In response to the worrying issue of mobility and internationalisation between territory, both Arts Council representatives of Denmark and the UK articulated the absolute need to maintain and indeed nurture international relations, even in light of all these challenges including Brexit, stating that it is the role of all Arts Councils to advocate to the European Union and ensure equality across our regions for continuing international artistic relations.

Finally, it was felt that while for sure this moment has transformed how we behave and how we present work as festival makers, that the purpose of street arts and of the festivals that work in this field will remain about engaging and transforming people, places and communities. To this end Federico Toso passionately emphasised a common thread across Europe where people speak about returning to ‘Normal’, however as Federico pointed out:

‘Normality doesn’t exist….what exists is the nature of people and places and our nature is to come together and to stay together. It is our job as Festival makers to bring people back together.’ – Federico Toso, Federazione Nazionale Arti in Strada.

Watch the whole discussion