Tag Archives: edfest

Edinburgh Festivals’ far-reaching impact revealed

Edinburgh has the best evaluated festivals: yesterday saw the publication of a major impact assessment report on Edinburgh’s twelve main festivals (those who make up Festivals Edinburgh). Following the small ‘via’ link above this text takes you to the Festivals Ed media release; there’s then a link from which you can download the full 100+ page report.

The media release will give you the key findings, so I shall restrict my comments to applauding the thoroughness of their approach in carrying out this research, being open in their methodology and seeking at every stage to reflect the breadth of each festival’s impacts. It’s a report of its time and an important foundation for future work. It also recognises that there’s a policy angle to this, and you could say it hits the right buttons for continued investment in these events.

(I suspect this report will shortly be coming to a Festival and Event Management course near me.)

SXSW 2011: The internet is over | The Guardian

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This article (click the guardian.co.uk link above) was punted my way by Bob (legendary friend from school days of yore, you remember Bob?). It’s an optimistic view of our online future, principally seen from the user’s perspective. It features many of your favourite authors, but ultimately perhaps marks a point where many of today’s trendy terms start to enter the mainstream. Unsurprisingly it’s SXSWi-inspired, so perhaps Austin, Texas has the best festivals of the future.

It finishes on the notion that we live our lives as though we were computers, working harder to keep up with the demands we’re placing on our internal circuitry. This is seen as a bad thing: on the contrary, we should recognise that human life can’t continue mechanistically like this – we need time and space to recuperate, a ‘pulsing’ and cyclical experience. Just like events then: build up > actualisation and experience > evaluation and recovery. Some combination of the above will do nicely.

#EdTwestival: bringing it all together.

Yesterday was Twestival, in cities across the globe. I’ve written about my involvement in Edinburgh’s Twestival before, so a quick follow up post is in order.

First up, here’s the event’s site: http://edinburgh.twestival.com/

The big numbers: over 300 people through the door and over ??5,300 raised for St Columba’s Hospice in Edinburgh. Fantastic stuff from all involved.

As I said in my original post, I avoided much in the way of responsibility and just tried to help where I could. I took on the silent auction, which brought in nearly ??600, and tried to ask sensible questions along the way. It was great to see some Edinburgh Napier students volunteering too and getting stuck in on the night.

I don’t have any profound ‘social capital’ related conclusions to draw from the night, particularly as I got little sleep last night and have eaten even less over the past few days. I can attest to the good feeling in the room and the floods of twitter-love that have been pouring in today. The event seemed to capture the sort of mood that people were looking for, giving them a chance to meet old friends, contribute to the fundraising pot and enjoy the music.

Maybe it’s Twitter, maybe it’s modern life, but it sometimes feels as though social media has given us a way to construct big networks of acquaintances, with only a minority turning into deeper friendships ??? I’m sure I’m not the first to make this observation. What I saw at #EdTwestival however was that although people spent much of their time in established friendship groups, there was an open invitation for others to join in the conversation. I was floating around drumming up bids for my silent auction and no one seemed to mind me interrupting their conversations.

There’s also been a lot of tweets through today of the ‘sorry we didn’t get to meet up’ or ‘it’s great to put a face to a Twitter name’ variety. The interplay of virtual and real communications is important to people and I wonder how this plays itself out for folk. I suspect that at one level people see Twitter and social tools as part of the ongoing flow of their lives: working, social and information gathering. But in order to try and make sense of that stream of information maybe they (we) rely on an internal map to tell us which signs to take notice of: the tweeters to listen to depending on our mood, the themes to watch out for, etc. (I also suspect this helps people tune out: I’ve spent most of my Twitter social capital by banging on about the event so much!) Back to the map: it’s a plan drawn out of experiences and connections, and I would hazard a guess that real life additions to the cartographic project count for more than virtual contributions. Is this a form of psychogeography, yet one that describes cerebral terrain rather than the physical?

Some people’s capital stock has risen considerably: they have been active online during the planning, committed to the project and visible on the night. (I doubt anyone has suffered through connection with the project, they’ve just slipped under the radar perhaps.) The opportunities existed throughout the process to invest in your community and to see the community return their appreciation. Connections were made, relationships established and networks strengthened. What’s more everyone had a good time.

Sadly however, there don’t seem to be any pictures on Flickr yet with a CC licence, so here’s @andrewburnett and @btocher from another event: the people, hat and possibly some of the clothing also featured at #EdTwestival 2011.

Open innovation.

Inspace, housed within the University of Edinburgh, has hosted a number of events that I’ve enjoyed over the past year – from mushroom-inspired improvised music to film screenings. On Wednesday 23 February I attended an ‘openness’ discussion: open innovation, open data, collaborations, etc. Lead organisations were Amb:IT:ion Scotland and the Festivals Lab. The event was also streamed live online, to people such as David McGillivray who has posted a thorough and thoughtful response on his blog.

Maybe you didn’t have to be there, man.

The venue is a few yards from Appleton Tower, which hosts Fringe Central during August and therefore the Fringe Society’s AGM. There was a tangible shift in attitude towards opening up data between the two events, with lead contributors to the more recent discussion much more enthusiastic. Of course, that also reflects the different relationships that exist between the people concerned and the data at hand: one lot are ready and willing to get stuck into playing with the numbers, locations, bits and bytes; the other have business decisions to make, bills to pay and stakeholders to satisfy.

I left the meet up with optimism that more organisations will take hold of the opportunities that freeing up their data makes available to them, so long as it is managed and controlled to their best advantage. David’s subsequent blog also applies these ideas to the Higher Education sector, including the idea of ‘Learning and Teaching Innovation Labs’ within institutions: I think this is a fantastic idea, but would caution that it may need to have its roots at a very local level, so that academics can see what’s being done by their immediate contemporaries. Nicholas Christakis has taught us of the power of networks, so the best way to do something really innovative and open in education is to seek out those who have already picked up the ball and started running.
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Image: ‘The Secret Sounds of Spores Spectacular! – Fri 21 January 2011 -0339’

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Current projects: Twestival and Breda.

I’m involved in two very interesting projects at the moment and this post is to introduce them both and record where we’re up to just now with them.

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First up is Edinburgh Twestival 2011. Every year cities around the world put together an event for a chosen charity ??? all the events take place on the same day and in alternate years they all share a charity as well. 2011 is one of the other years, where each city chooses a local cause: Edinburgh’s Twestival is raising money for St Columba’s Hospice, which is on the north side of the city. When the word went out for people to help it seemed too good an opportunity: this here blog is all about the mix of social media, events and cities, so where better to get involved… pretty in-depth research if nothing else. The date for your diary is Thursday 24 March, the main site for the event is here and you’re all welcome once the tickets go on sale in a couple of weeks.

It’s been really interesting seeing how the event’s taken shape, with a committee of around ten people drawing on their skills, expertise and contacts to quickly build momentum. Perhaps the most gratifying aspect to it all so far is the wealth of support that exists within Edinburgh’s Twitter community ??? each announcement (venue, choice of sponsor, etc.) is greeted with a surge of interest and many a retweet. My role is pretty marginal: I turn up and try to ask useful questions, or get in touch with people I know who might be able to help. So long as that’s enough I’ll carry on enjoying being involved.
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The other project I want to note here is my involvement in a forthcoming visit to Edinburgh by students from a Dutch university, along the same lines as the previous cohort enjoyed just before the 2010 football World Cup (where the Netherlands made it through to the final). The university is NHTV Breda, in the south of the country midway between Amsterdam and Brussels. Some 90 or so students are due in Scotland for ten days, where they will work in teams of about six to research one of four venues in the city. My job is to try and line up those venues, help with finding guest speakers, university room bookings and so on. 90 students… that’s quite a few.

I’ll also be going out to Breda for a few days shortly before they head to Scotland ??? my chance to introduce Edinburgh, eat well and enjoy a few days in a really lovely city. Call it a treat at the end of the year perhaps, though it’s one that takes some work to put together. I guess I’m really waiting for the last night party again and hearing about the great time that the students will hopefully have had. Last year’s group went to the Highlands, Murrayfield, ghost walks, all over Edinburgh and many were keen to come back for their Masters. That will take a couple of years at least; these are only second years, but very ambitious with it. (They could teach Edinburgh Napier’s students a bit about taking the opportunities that open up to them.) I shall finish here with a few photos of Breda and the university, with more to come later in the year when I head back there. There’s every chance that the next batch will have a few people in them!

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Events in the connected city (part three): add ingredients and mix.

Sometimes, when I’m delivering a lecture, I start a sentence knowing that I’ve no idea how I’ll finish it.  I’d love to say this is game my tricksy mind plays with my weary intellect, though I suspect the truth is somewhat less constructive: a compulsion to carry on speaking and hope the audience doesn’t spot the cracks.  It’s also a little masochistic I guess.

And so it is that I present a blog post that I haven’t planned, can’t guarantee a suitable conclusion or any sort of plot.  What I do have is lots of material to work with, which I’ll try to link to this idea of events, tech and the urban environment.
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First and foremost, Rohan Gunatillake (he of the Edinburgh Festivals Innovation Lab) and his July 2010 presentation on ‘Why the festivals are like the web‘ (video after the jump).  In twenty lucid minutes, Rohan’s talk brings together many of the themes I’ve been looking at on this blog.  I’d urge you to have a look, please do: I feel churlish even considering an appraisal of his work, but in the interests of discussing and archiving my contribution to the topic here goes…

– Technology is shown to have emphasised the importance of the live experience, witness the relative demise of the recorded music business model in the face of a thousand ways to share files and short-circuit the industry.
– Festivals come into their own in times of austerity, such as 1947 (and 2010).  What links here to a Roman vision of bread and circuses to keep the masses happy, or at least docile?
– The presentation poses the question ‘what is a festival?’ and challenges those in the industry to answer it as well as one looking in from the outside; a case of trying to see the forest and the trees.  Rohan’s answers include a need for content; the creation of a bounded space (by time and/or location); the use of social spaces, where attendees can contribute; with the acceptance also of a market place.

And so the stage is set for three more points to drive home the idea of Edinburgh and the web…

– Fringe as unconference: a democratic, participant-driven opportunity for one and all to contribute.  Yet an opportunity which exists because of structures which enable and facilitate it.  Take note of 1947, where a festival space was created in Edinburgh by the EIF and the city fathers, to which others saw an opportunity and a motivation to get involved – democratic and open access.  This reflects the same themes I explored in my undergrad dissertation (hosted on this site), with particular attention paid to Scottish national identity.  Rohan references What Works (2010) by Hamish McRae of The Independent and his identification of three (always three?) key contributors to this success: a willingness to listen to others; an openness about motivations and methods; plus a fluid relationship between top-down and bottom-up contributions to the overall picture.  Thus is it for Edinburgh, and likewise the web – encouraging contributions, within a structure that is sufficiently clearly defined to open up those social spaces where we may have our say.  The Fringe works so well because it has a festival (‘official’?) to react to and grate against – the two represent discrete yet complementary aspects of our culture.

– Edinburgh and web: there’s so much going on, how can you navigate it all?  How to separate the exceptional from the dross, or the irrelevant from the vital?  (Bearing in mind that for the person sat on the next bar stool your opinion of what’s good may be just a little wacky…)  For the web we have a multitude of tools at our disposal, from Google to recommendation sites – but what works in a festival environment where word of mouth is so powerful?  Do we seek to replicate the conversation with a stranger in the queue (‘seen anything good?’), or can we do more with the technology available to us?  Step forward the Innovation Lab of course, with an important contribution to make here.

– Collaborate or fade: Festivals Edinburgh was lauded as a collaborative model of great relevance and importance by Rohan (who is also employed by them).  The web encourages people to work together, despite some needing to be convinced.  I’d suggest that live blogging of major events is an example of this, pulling together links, contributions, quotations and insight from across a broad spectrum of sources to create a more valuable whole.  Likewise FE, who presents its twelve members (large and small) with a space in which to discuss their ambitions (often shared) and explore what they mean by a ‘digital festival’ and the opportunities it may open up.

So you see, you could just have watched the video and learnt more in a shorter time than you’ve spent reading this.  So some surface analysis: how to protect serendipity in these twin environments?  It is common to hear that web draws us together with others who think the same, share our passions, will rarely criticise our motivations and thus validate our views.  Real life isn’t always like that, but to what extent is the web real life?  …to what extent is a festival real life?  Do the conditions created by both these environments lead inexorably towards a blinkered, relatively safe world view?

The world wide web and Edinburgh’s summer festivals are so vast in scale and scope that they will happily accommodate a thousand different experiences.  Those who seek Shakespeare, vice, tradition, experimentation, or mass hero-worship can all find it in spades.  Even those seeking isolation and private reflection will be in good company – if that’s not too twisted a logic.  In Edinburgh’s case I’d say this is as a result of the underlying acceptance that everyone is entitled to the festival of their choosing, which (as with the founding of the web) is a product of the values which gained credence and validity at its founding.  The extent to which myths place their part in the founding story of the festivals is almost beyond human memory, so we must work with the evidence we have available to us.  Whatever, we now have a beast to contend with, which often people cope with by shutting off huge swathes without a second thought: simply by neglecting to pick up the Book Festival programme you’re denying yourself the treasures within.  Likewise the UK’s most popular newspaper website (www.dailymail.co.uk) is studiously ignored by huge sections of the nation’s connected population.  Serendipity calls into mind luck, accidental discoveries, flukes and happy coincidences: what can be done to promote this phenomenon against the tyranny of choice?

Tyranny of choice, as discussed by Mail Online and Scientific American – your choice.

This discussion would not apply if we weren’t discussing an urban environment, I’m sure of it.  Sure, there are large scale festivals in rural settings, bounded by time and space that offer a huge range of choice, but they’re not the world in which most of the visitors live.  We are an urban culture and it is through the festivalisation of our urban spaces that we can remake them, reimagine them and reassess them.  Festivals shake us out of our daily routines – a change is as good as a break.  While festival
cities may share many of the benefits and possibilities of the web, they risk the same pitfalls – we are complacent, lazy and lack the imagination/guts/knowledge to break out of our comfort zones.  Perhaps bringing the two together is our pathway to salvation; I shall be looking to Rohan to provide some of the answers.
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Back to Richards and Palmer and their Eventful Cities text.  They include a short discussion on virtual festivals, making reference to those in Second Life which have in the past run parallel to the ‘real’ experience – enabling the viewing of streamed video content to virtual spaces.  With added capital letters they also list Virtual Festivals (www.virtualfestivals.com):

Virtual Festivals is a very special creative endeavour to connect up the festival scene, and everyone who is a part of it, in a big collective embrace of positive energy, passion and collaboration.

Our mission with VF has always been to promote open information across the festival landscape and empower fans to influence the shape of the festival future.

And a thorough job they seem to be doing – the site has plenty of content, although a cursory look through just now surely hasn’t done it justice.

It’s good that such topics have reached the mainstream textbooks, although I think academia still has a lot of catching up to do with the industry.
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One contributor rarely behind the times is Paul Carr – formerly of the UK technology media, now in America as a writer for TechCrunch.  His recent article exploring the power of social media to truly change the world get to the heart of my topic – he’s looking at relationships.  Choice quotations (not always of Carr’s writing):

“The relationships start off weak – a retweet, @ reply, or blog comment – but often strengthen through further discussions and eventually become new friendships and business relationships.”  Precisely. The retweets, replies and comments started off as inherently weak connections but some of them have since led to actual discussions and friendships and business relationships.

On the contrary, like most of the relationships Dixon is describing, it [dating a flight attendant] didn’t become meaningful until we took it away from social media; first to text messaging, then phone calls, then an actual real-world date. The further away from Twitter the relationship got, the more meaningful it was. It’s the real world element that gave it value – something that, in their rush to flag-wave for technology, too many social media fanatics fail to realise.

Hence the need for the real world, real life experiences.  Social media is therefore a tool in these scenarios, or a collection of tools, to start the ball rolling, bridge building and other physical metaphors.  The live experience has primacy and is valued as such.

Is this a backlash?  A wake-up call?

[Ignorance of the value of the ‘real world element’] leads to the second, and more dangerous, attitude those same fanatics share: a confusion between Means and End; the idea that saying something is the same as doing something.

This could be a superficial, tokenistic gesture to change one’s Twitter avatar, or it could a confusion between the virtual festival and the real deal.  A tension exists whereby festival producers recognise the opportunities which lie tantalisingly within their grasp thanks to advances in technology, if only they could recognise them and somehow make sure they fit with their core business of creating that live experience.  On limited resources there’s a tendency to move slowly, yet a fear that this risks being left behind.

What Rohan had to say is relevant here, for it may not be up to those festival organisers to do the hard work, merely to create the space in which others can contribute: festivals of Edinburgh’s sort abhor a vacuum – there are too many people and organisations keen to contribute and help shape these institutions, fuelled in many cases by a sense of ownership that only comes with time and acceptance.  It’s a sense of ownership born of the real world element which Carr recognises.
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Three examples of festival/event opportunities being exploited through technology:

Think up, design, create and market a new tech idea in 48 hours.  Easy.  As attempted in Edinburgh in early November 2010, within the walls of the University of Edinburgh Business School.  Once again therefore an institution provides the space in which this creative and technical thinking can take place, relying on the close cooperation and rapid development facilitated by the real world event.

The plan, as outlined back in July 2010, is to use three carriages on a Virgin train to bring tech companies together with those who might fund, use, work for and love their ideas.  The train would travel from London to Edinburgh and back, with people getting on and off as it goes.  This will only work thanks to the critical mass that can be generated in the different cities along the route – it’s a case of taking this a step further and linking the cities together.

Lanyrd is ‘the social conference directory’, helping users to ‘get more out of conferences’.  For a potted introduction (and yet another link to The Guardian, so much for serendipity) see here.  The site (and its honeymooning founders) are using the links people have already formed through Twitter to open up a world of relevant conferences and events, which can lead to the hosting of slides, venue information and so on.  I’m about to sign in for the first time…  Well that was painless – a couple of clicks and I’m suddenly aware of many new conferences and events that might appeal, all through the power of the social network.  And yet it’s a tool – a means to the greater end of attending, experiencing, bonding with those like me and bridging to those who may not be.
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So there’s a blog post which didn’t have much direction to start with – hopefully the joy was in the journey and the value to come in the future from this investment in time and consideration.

A final conclusion…?  If the festival city is like the web it provides us with a wealth of experience on which to draw so that our understanding of one may inform our ambitions in the other.  The connections we make in either environment are real, but their full potential often lies hidden, latent, undiscovered until given a chance to develop.  The challenge is to create those opportunities such that people may invest their time and resources to build up social capital and see it spent on transformative projects, cultural expressions and effective conferences.  The spaces in which this may take place may be virtual or real, but they are social, they are vital, and they are created thanks to the connected city.

Edinburgh Fringe: constitutionally challenging.

Recently, in the past few weeks, I was informed that I’m a member of the Festival Fringe Society in Edinburgh. There are a couple of hundred members, with varying degrees of contribution to the society and festival it supports, and they are the folk who get to vote in trustee elections and so on. I knew I once was a member, but it seems no one’s taken my name of the list – literally, the Board have decided not to revoke memberships while they go through the current constitutional discussions.

And so it came to pass that I found myself at The Hub last week listening and occasionally contributing to the detailed, wide ranging, sometimes repetitive discussion. I arrived late, thanks to teaching commitments, which also serves to restrict the number of questions one wishes to ask: maybe they’ve already been answered?

It was really good to see a number of people who I usually only cross paths with when they’re working or we’re both drinking at the end of night on the festival tiles. The next occasion comes in a month, when a special meeting may vote on the final proposals put forward I believe. It’s not for me to comment here on what I think of the arguments, partly because a lot of it is about the balance between interest groups, yet the definitions of who falls into which group seem to lack… definition. At stake however is the future of the Fringe, whether it remains a festival to which 99% of shows subscribe to the Society and avail themselves of its services, or, not.

The others at the meeting had much more at stake than I, so I kept my own counsel for much of the afternoon – after all, surely my questions had already been discussed, no?