Melbourne has many arts and culture festivals: arts, film, music, food, comedy, fashion, stencils, flowers and gardens… They range from the “international” to the “underground” or “fringe.” There are so many arts and culture festivals in Melbourne that many overlap on the calendar. Currently the Melbourne International Jazz Festival and the Melbourne International Comedy Festival are both on.
Do all of these festivals add depth to Melbourne’s culture? Do they attract a wider audience and so build a larger audience base for art, music, comedy etc.? Or, are they rather a thinner, superficial, marketing exercise? The festivals pretend to curate and promote an aspect of culture while actually reducing it to a spectacle.
The arts festival is spectacle that can be marketed and managed rather than an organic culture. That the Melbourne International Arts Festival (MIAF) is dominated by marketing was clear to anyone who filled in the MIAF online survey; the questions were all about classifying the audience for the advertisers. There were questions about cars and travel rather than anything about the artistic content of MIAF. Sponsors and advertisers are important to fund a festival but the position should not be reversed; festivals should not become types marketing and publicity.
Part of the problem is that festivals have staff. The festival organisers try to prove that they are doing a good job at running a festival by running a bigger festival. The festival organizers try to attract more sponsorship, organize bigger festivals with more venues, more events and less and less definition of the festival. Many of the festivals lack of any curatorial supervision; whoever applies will be included.
Every year I get emails from artists complaining about the Melbourne Fringe Festival. The “Melbourne Fringe Festival” sounds very exciting, cool and interesting; the word ‘fringe’ is a good selling point. However the Fringe Festival is a criticism free zone, it is all-good, it is all promotion for the festival.
At least many of the Comedy Festival shows will be reviewed on the Groggy Squirrel; the Groggy Squirrel reviews live comedy in Australia. I went to one performance that was part of the Melbourne International Comedy Festival but I’m unlike to go to another. Janeane Garofalo bored me with her observational comedy that relied on reactionary television shows that I’ve never watched.
Melbourne’s festivals are just a marketing vehicle, another promotional expense for the participants, another advertising and sponsorship vehicle, and another festival package for the consumer. It is not as if you would notice these arts festivals walking down Melbourne’s street, not like the festivals of Xmas or Easter. Well, you might have noticed the Comedy Festival if you were walking past the Melbourne Town Hall last night with a stilt-walking Cthulhu but if you were on the other side of Swanston Walk you might have only seen the regular buskers. The existence of these arts festivals is an exercise in marketing rather than an organic result of the culture. They are a distraction from the creative process, not an enhancement.