Festivals: the Heart of Europe

An Exhibition of the EFFE – Europe for Festivals, Festivals for Europe Platform

By European Festivals Association

European Festivals Association

EXTREMALISM at Montpellier Danse (2015-06-26) by Emio Greco & Pieter C. ScholtenEuropean Festivals Association


Since the end of World War Two, festivals have spread across Europe just as monasteries and cathedrals did in the Middle Ages. Thousands of festivals now feature the most recent, marginal and cutting edge art forms. Established events like Bayreuth, founded in 1876, Salzburg in 1920 and Edinburgh in 1947, rub shoulders with the new and the ephemeral. Their diversity is extraordinary – from the most classical to cutting-edge contemporary; from elitist to popular; from huge pop and rock gatherings to micro-festivals hosted in remote villages - at the heart of European identities.

- Bernard Foccroulle, director of Festival International d'Art Lyrique d'Aix-en-Provence

Performance at the Festival Internacional de Música y Danza de Granada (2015) by Festival Internacional de Música y Danza de GranadaEuropean Festivals Association

Festivals are often launched to celebrate a particular historical heritage, and have helped people discover art cities and their outstanding landmarks. They have met with tremendous success in southern Europe where they can attract mass tourism. Now, they are almost everywhere – north, east and west of the continent in art cities, but also in places not particularly distinguished by natural setting or historic heritage.

- Bernard Foccroulle, director of Festival International d'Art Lyrique d'Aix-en-Provence

A Performance of "The Wall" by Pink Floyd (1990-07-21) by Image: Robert RoeskeEuropean Festivals Association

As the war ended, and while Europe mourned its millions of dead and discovered the horrors of the concentration camps and the Holocaust, cultural Europe got back on its feet by seeking to revive the bonds destroyed by war, to heal wounds, to guide people towards new dynamics of peace, cooperation and humanism. This new cultural dynamic preceded, and most likely prepared for, the political decisions that led to the foundation of the European institutions. It enjoyed another boom after the fall of the Berlin Wall. It can be said that European festivals crystallise the values underlying the civilisation from which they stem. They have had a profound influence on Europe’s cultural life, and have also contributed to new art forms and helped promote world-class creators and performers.

- Bernard Foccroulle, director of Festival International d'Art Lyrique d'Aix-en-Provence

A Performance of Nelken by Choreographer Pina Bausch by Performance: Pina Bausch and Image: Clau DamasoEuropean Festivals Association

In the 1950s and 60s, traditional forms of drama and stage performance were challenged by festivals like Bayreuth, Salzburg, Glyndebourne and Aix-en-Provence, among others. Is that role now a thing of the past? I don’t think so, but forms have changed. While some festivals are tempted to concentrate on safe values, others still explore radical new forms and still others try to attract larger audiences and favour inter-disciplinarity.

- Bernard Foccroulle, director of Festival International d'Art Lyrique d'Aix-en-Provence

The Cloud by Simon Banham at the Prague Quadrennial of Performance Design and Space 2015 (2015) by Prague Quadrennial of Performance Design and SpaceEuropean Festivals Association


"Why does one need a festival when so many other things are already happening? The only reason may be that a festival is more than the sum of its parts; not a repetition or simple improvement, and therefore falls out of step, reflects, and comments on what is already happening. In this way, a festival becomes - when it is a good one - a teller of stories about our cultural inheritance and the way we have to deal with it, but first and foremost it is an expert in creating meanings.”

- Denis de Rougemont, cultural philosopher and founder of European Festivals Association

A Performance of Written on Skin by George Benjamin at the Festival d’Aix-en-Provence (2012) by Image: Victor ArtcomArt and Festival d’Aix-en-ProvenceEuropean Festivals Association

"We live in a world that is changing rapidly. How can we make the tensions, conflicts and differences that are part of these rapid changes comprehensible, and learn to understand them? Art can play a big role here. Festivals connect the unknown with the known. They provide keys to unknown languages and create new possibilities for communication."

- Tillmann Broszat, festival director of Spielart, Munich (report on FIT – Theatre/Festivals in Transition)

Ryoji Ikeda: "Test Pattern [100m Version]" at Ruhrtriennale 2013 (2014-08-24) by VernissageTVEuropean Festivals Association


The future of festivals is increasingly multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary: we are witnessing a break-down of genre definitions and collaborations between art forms at the heart of contemporary artistic practice. Festivals are places where audiences can dare to discover new artists and new work, and to take a step outside the comfort zone of the familiar. Audiences with an interest in a particular art form can encounter a whole new range of art forms previously unknown to them.

Singalong at a Purple Rain Screening at the Midnight Sun Film Festival by Image: Blue Juutilainen and Midnight Sun Film FestivalEuropean Festivals Association


Many of the great European festivals were imagined and created by artists, like Jean Vilar in Avignon and Herbert von Karajan in Salzburg, and many remarkable artists have created and directed festivals as part of their artistic practice. Recent examples include the Midnight Sun Film Festival in Lapland which was conceived by the acclaimed film directors the Kaurismaki brothers, and Big Bang, a travelling international festival of music and music theatre for children which was created by the theatre and opera director Wouter van Looy.

A Performance of "A Coming Community" at the NEXT Festival by Image: Reinout Hiel, NEXT Festival, and "European Festivals Association


Ideas of national and transnational mobility are becoming increasingly important for festivals today. Many festivals take place in multiple locations each year, within a country or across international borders, bringing the work of innovative artists to different audiences, and creating more opportunities for artists to present their work. Some festivals even take place across international borders, including NEXT festival which connects cities in France with the Belgian provinces of Flanders and Wallonia, and Manifesta, the European bienniale of contemporary art which changes location every two years.

Image from the Ars Electronica Festival by Ars Electronica FestivalEuropean Festivals Association


Major international showcases and platforms such as Ars Electronica and the Prague Quadrennial are hugely important for the development of innovative practice and international networking in the contemporary arts. They are an opportunity for artists active in a particular field to discover each others practice, learn about new trends and invent new ways of working for the future. They are also hugely important for the cities in which they take place, who gain significant social and benefits from the influx of visitors from abroad.

Francis Alÿs's Lada Kopeika Project at Manifesta Wolfgang Träger (2014) by Image: Wolfgang Träger and Manifesta International FoundationEuropean Festivals Association


Festivals are an opportunity to bring contemporary arts outside the institutions and into public spaces, attract new and diverse audiences and creating a strong festival atmosphere in the cities in which they take place. Artists are imagining new ways of engaging with public space, including interactive and digital projects as well as more traditional forms of performance and visual art, and festivals help give a context for these kinds of projects to be presented.

Performance by Christina Georgiou, "Eternal Return #8" at the 2nd Cyprus International Performance Art Festival (2014) by Christina Georgiou and Image: Sophia ZapitiEuropean Festivals Association


Many festivals take place against the backdrop of extremely difficult political and economic climates, where contemporary art dealing with controversial social issues faces criticism and censorship. Festivals play a crucial role in ensuring that challenging and provocative artists’ voices are heard. In 2014, the Argentine theatre production Golgota Picnic faced condemnation and cancellations across Europe due to its treatment of religious material, and in 2015, festival director Olivier Py threatened to move the legendary Festival d’Avignon to another city in protest at the growing support for right wing political groups in the area.

The Book of Sand (2015-05-29) by Michel van der AaEuropean Festivals Association


Festivals are opening up new digital spaces for performance and commissioning artists who are using the internet as stage, with the support of organisations like the Google Cultural Institute. These festivals see new possibilities for artistic creation in the digital sphere, and are enabling audiences to discover work that could not exist without these new technologies. In 2015, Amsterdam’s Holland Festival programmed an interactive song cycle that existed only as an app, a music theatre production in which the score was generated by algorithms every night and interpreted in the moment by the singers, and a digital opera starring the animated pop star Hatsune Miku.

The Golden Vanity et autres récits (2015-04-30) by Festival d'Aix en ProvenceEuropean Festivals Association


Many festivals run pioneering academy and educational programmes, such as the Académie du Festival d’Aix of the Festival d’Aix-en-Provence, which every year hosts masterclasses for young performers in music, singing and opera creation, and the Prague Quadrennial, which invites students of stage design from all over the world to share ideas and discover new trends through their Scenofest education programme. Equally important is presenting ambitious and high quality contemporary arts experiences for children and young people, to inspire the artists and audiences of the future.

EFA Atelier for Young Festival Managers in Edinburgh (2014-04) by Clark JamesEuropean Festivals Association


The European Festivals Association is the umbrella organisation for festivals across Europe and beyond uniting about 100 music, dance, theatre and multidisciplinary festivals, national festival associations and cultural networks from 40 countries. One of its many initiatives is EFFE - Europe for Festivals, Festivals for Europe. On Sunday 27 September 2015 in Paris, Europe’s festival community was invited to the EFFE Award Ceremony and EFFE Community Launch to celebrate the first edition of the EFFE Labels and Awards.

An image from the SICK! Festival by Image: Phile DeprezEuropean Festivals Association


“Nobody, but NOBODY can tell you about the festival of the future. It won't exist if you yourself are not reinventing it.”  – Ritsaert ten Cate, founder and director of Mickery Theatre and DasArts, Amsterdam

Credits: Story

EFFE is a European Commission pilot project for a European Platform for Festivals in the field of culture initiated by the European Festivals Association (EFA).

EFFE and EFA would like to thank all the festivals that applied for the EFFE Festival Label for making this project possible and our 12 EFFE Festival Award Winners, supported by the Google Cultural Institute, for setting festival trends across Europe.

This exhibition was curated by Tom Creed with Zachery Bishop, EFFE's Content Manager.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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