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Programming Arts Festivals in Asia and Europe (ASEF, 2011)

The word ‘festival’ is often received with enthusiasm and excites people; it might be

the association of the concept with ideas of celebration, gatherings, social ritual, and merrymaking. Today, festivals are eagerly welcomed by tourism boards (and tourists themselves), city authorities, businesses, and governments recognized for their revenue-generating potential and profile-raising possibilities.

Festivals come in different forms — food festivals, book and literary festivals, festivals celebrating particular cultural traditions or heritage, film festivals, religious festivals, etc. What about the ‘arts’ festival? What is its role in society, and why should we care about the how and why of making arts festivals?

One reason to care may be that a festival often surfaces or raises public awareness of specific issues necessary for a society, neighborhood, or other groupings. These issues may already be known and revealed publicly or

remain latent, still to be articulated in the public domain. Issues of identity, representation, power, authority, marginalization, boundaries of expression, ownership (whether ownership of certain expressions of culture or, more literally, ownership of property and land that festivals may occupy), and social relevance are just some of the common topics of debate around the manifestation of festivals. A festival and its modus operandi — how it is programmed, who programs it, who founded it, how it is marketed, who attends it — can be put under the microscope by those who feel they have some stake in it, whether they are the government, funding bodies, sponsors, artists or audiences.

As cities compete globally for economic position (where arts and culture have become part of the terms of the competition), a festival can be a contested terrain for different interest groups. The terms “creative cities” and “cultural capitals” have entered into the discourse of politicians and the public and, indeed, into the language of some arts practitioners. Against such an environment, it is worthwhile to take a step back and reflect more deeply on what lies behind the art of running, managing, and programming festivals. The focus of the European Festivals Association’s Atelier for Young Festival Managers on the ‘work’ of enabling creation within the context of a festival reminds us that at the heart of an arts festival lie the art and artists themselves. What does this mean? This publication focuses on searching for answers to this question.



Asia-Europe Foundation (ASEF)

The Asia-Europe Foundation (ASEF) promotes greater mutual understanding between Asia and Europe through intellectual, cultural, and people-to-people exchanges. Through ASEF, civil society concerns are included as a vital component of the deliberations of the Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM), which currently comprises 49 member states plus the European Commission and the ASEAN Secretariat (

ASEF was established in February 1997 by the participating governments of ASEM and has since engaged about 17,000 direct participants through about 600 projects in human rights and governance, economy and society, environment, arts and culture, and education. (

European Festivals Association

The European Festivals Association (EFA) celebrates its 60th anniversary in 2012. Since its foundation in 1952, EFA has grown into a dynamic network representing today 111 music, dance, theatre, and multidisciplinary festivals, national festival associations, and cultural organizations from 42 countries. EFA is one of the oldest cultural networks in Europe: 60 years of connecting festivals from across Europe and the world — in a globalised world, festivals bridge boundaries; 60 years of active participation, artistic co-operation, professional development and action for the arts.

EFA’s aim is to raise awareness of festivals and their important role in society and for cultural cooperation worldwide. EFA initiates and implements various international activities, such as the Atelier for Young Festival Managers, the European House for Culture, and the EFA BOOKS series. EFA collaborates with festival organizations in Asia, the Arab world, Africa, and further afield. (

LASALLE College of the Arts

Founded in 1984 by De La Salle educator Brother Joseph McNally, LASALLE College of the Arts is a specialist tertiary institution leading contemporary arts education in the Asia Pacific's fine art, design, media, and performing arts. Contemporary in focus and innovative in approach, LASALLE has been nurturing some of Singapore’s leading creative practitioners. It offers the most comprehensive range of 26 diploma and degree awards in design, fine arts, film, media arts, fashion, dance, music, theatre, art history, art therapy, and arts management in the region. (

The Atelier for Young Festival Managers, initiated by the European Festivals Association (EFA) in 2006, is specially designed for those working or with ambitions to become involved in programming or in programming-related departments within a festival. During 7 days, 45 carefully selected participants from a broad diversity of countries can widen their horizons, broaden their programming skills, and develop exciting new ideas under the professional guidance of renowned festival managers worldwide to share their rich experience. Next to a high-level reflection in small topic-based working groups, lectures and debates, practical activities and case studies, interactive exchanges based on papers that participants prepare for the Atelier, informal talks, and contacts with artists and with leading cultural institutions from the region create an outstanding opportunity to link insights gained in the working groups with the concrete environment.


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